When Wilson and Cora Ladringan, leaders of Aetas Bible Study Center, sent the Aeta students back to their villages in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 lockdown, they had hoped to have the children return when school opened in June.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered all facets of life in unprecedented ways. People and institutions have had to adapt to the changing landscape brought on by this global crisis. One area that has seen significant modifications is education.
The Philippines’ education department has canceled face-to-face classroom instruction until a vaccine for the virus becomes available. It has instructed all schools to implement distance learning for the continued education of students.
A deprived, marginal tribal group
For many years, education was not available to the aboriginal people group in the Philippines called “Aeta” on the northern island of Luzon and “Ati” on the central island of Panay. Marginalized, disadvantaged, and impoverished, these Filipino aborigines found themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Because they were destitute, they were illiterate, and because they were illiterate, they could not advance economically.
Two partner ministries of ANM, burdened by the Lord to help this ethnic group, have been instrumental in improving their lot in life by sharing God’s love with them and providing them with educational and economic opportunities.
Bringing the school to the village
Aetas Bible Study Center in Zambales province has helped nurture and educate hundreds of Aeta children since 1988. Their Christian school, To God Be The Glory Christian Academy, offers education up to 12th grade. The school has made it possible for some of the Aeta children to become pastors, missionaries, and teachers. Others have finished vocational training and are now gainfully employed as welders, electricians, mechanics, and drivers.
To continue the children’s vital education during the pandemic, the Aeta ministry’s mission team, composed of eight teachers and six staff from the Aeta Children’s Home, will go to the villages. The teachers started implementing the government-mandated Modular Distance Education Program on October 5, while the other team members took charge of feeding the children.
In June and July, the teachers had gone to the villages to enroll 120 Aeta students. According to Wilson Ladringan, “Our teachers are bringing the school to the village since classroom instructions are not yet allowed by the government.” Online learning is not possible in the villages due to the lack of WiFi signals and equipment.
Maricel, the headteacher of Aetas Bible Study Center’s Christian school, expressed, “In this time of the pandemic, it would be challenging and even scary to go and teach the [Aeta] kids in the villages. But it is also the best time to exercise my faith, love, and dependence upon the Lord and also for God to display and continue to show His faithfulness to me, to the school, and also to the children.”
Most of these Aeta villages are in remote areas. Teachers will need to walk and cross rivers, lahars (volcanic mudflows), and mountains to reach their students.
When asked if she’s willing to go and teach her students in the tribal villages, Maricel replied, “I will submit to God’s will and offer my service to God through ministering to and teaching the kids in the villages. It is my pleasure and honor to serve and work with God by my side.”
Another teacher, Salvy, who teaches grade 5, shared, “Yes, if that is what the Lord wants, I must obey Him. And I am more than willing to teach my students in the villages, not just in academics, but also about the Lord. It will be a great privilege for me because I will have the opening to minister to their parents, too.”
Parents of the Aeta students had to familiarize themselves with the new program. Aetas Bible Study Center’s teachers went to five villages using motorcycles and tricycles (motorcycles with a small, simple sidecar). The rainy season made travel significantly harder. Their tricycles got stuck on the muddy, narrow roads. The team had to push their vehicles until they reached the village.
Upon arrival, the team checked the Aetas’ body temperature, following COVID-19 protocol. One of the teachers shared the gospel, a crucial part of the team’s mission. The Aeta parents accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior! Another teacher shared with them their duties and responsibilities in their children’s education. The parents each signed an agreement using their right thumb, as most of them cannot read or write.
Teachers will go in pairs to the different tribal villages in Zambales province at least once a week. They will go from house to house to give their students the self-learning modules and explain clearly to them and their parents how to use them. The modules, provided by the government for free, are printed for distribution by the ministry.
Their goal is to provide the Aeta children with mobile learning and proper nutrition so they can learn better. Many of the students are sickly due to malnutrition. The Aeta Children’s Home, where they usually stay during the school year, will prepare food packs for them.
Classes exclusively for the Ati children
ANM’s other partner ministry reaching out to this ethnic group is in the country’s central part. Ati Tribes Mission, led by Rogelio “Roger” and Sylvia Elosendo in Iloilo (EE-lo-EE-lo) City, ministers to the roving Ati people on Panay Island, many of whom they found begging on the streets of the city. Roger and Sylvia also care for more than 40 Ati children.
Thanks to the generosity of ANM friends and supporters, the Elosendos have established an Ati community on the outskirts of Iloilo City. Once nomadic with no fixed dwelling place, many Ati families now have their permanent abode in 24 concrete houses. The community has a two-story concrete building with the second floor serving as a worship center and the first floor as a children’s center, the pastor’s office, and the dining hall.
Before the pandemic, the school-age Ati children attended a nearby public school within walking distance of the Ati village. With the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the government has temporarily suspended in-person classroom instruction.
The nearby Lanit public school principal recently visited the Ati village. He recommended that classes be held exclusively for the Ati children inside the community. High school classes will meet in the church, elementary grades on the ground floor, and preschool in the recently finished nipa (or palm thatch) hut. Classes started on October 5.
A Japanese-sponsored NGO has trained the principal and two of his teachers on a three-month math curriculum module. The NGO has provided computers for training. The Ati students will learn this module from October until December.
The Lanit public school will supply teachers to handle the modular instruction in the different classes for the Ati children. The school has already sent books to the Ati village for the students’ use.
God has mercy on the poor and needy. By His providence, these underprivileged aboriginal children can continue their education, which would have stopped because of COVID-19 government restrictions. Their continued access to formal learning opportunities helps them break free from the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
Your continued financial support of these partner ministries allows them to give impoverished tribal children a hopeful tomorrow.