The move towards urbanisation in previous decades has brought about ecological and cultural degradation in Batanes, the Philippines’ smallest province.
Because they don’t recognise their own province’s potential and opportunity, more and more Ivatan people who are native to the province are leaving their hometown to work elsewhere.
A professor who believes the province’s valuable natural resources and local cultures can create good opportunities for the Ivatan people, has tried to bring locals back to their hometowns. He began by having teachers learn about local knowledge and culture academically before passing this knowledge on to their students.
“Consciousnessraising makes people learn about themselves,” said Dr. Florentino H. Hornedo, dean of the graduate school at Saint Dominic College of Batanes.
His college provides a master’s degree to teachers who want to become principals. In 1991, there were 64 graduates from the Master of Arts in education and 63 of them stayed and worked in the province. Before 1991, almost no native people were principals.
Florentino encouraged them to do research theses about local cultures in the province that is composed of 10 islands.
“The theses are now being used as resource material for students who are taught to produce agricultural tools, basketry, native wine and cook food from local raw materials,” he said.
Now the national government requires 30 per cent of the social studies’ curriculum to include local cultures, he added.
“In 1991, the master teachers, principals and supervisors were mostly from other places. Now 8595 per cent are Ivatan people and 95 per cent of all the teachers in elementary and high schools in Batanes have been my students,” said Florentino.
These teachers now teach students to realise the value of local cultures and resources.
Florentino said when they were educated on such topics and realised the significance of local wisdom, there were more reasons for them to stay and work in the province.
Florenino said local employment for children could prevent them from going out of the community. With the recent development in tourism and hotels in Batanes, men and women who left the province have now come back to work as they have more job opportunities.
He said in the 1980s, population was about 15,000 and now it was over 16,000, meaning some were coming back.
People of Batanes have utilised cultural adaptive strategies to ensure their survival and guarantee food security.
About 75 per cent of the Ivatans are farmers and fishermen. The rest are employed in the government and service sector. Sources of livelihood include fishing, cattleraising and farming. They plant garlic, sweet potato, cassava, and so on.
The community received assistance from the Asian Public Intellectuals (API) Fellowships Programme, which provides a grant to successful applicants to carry out research projects and/or professional activities in a country or countries participating in the programme, including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
API fellows engaged communities by conducting teachers’ training, a public forum and a heritage building workshop.
The centres were Khiriwong in Thailand, Biwako in Japan, Kali Code in Indonesia and Tasik Chini in Malaysia. Challenges to the humanecological balance in these countries were caused mainly by government action, industrial investment and tourism. The fellows helped empower them to solve these problems and develop their own communities.
The work of the fellows was presented at the regional project culminating event held recently at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok to exchange knowledge derived from API’s regional collaboration with the communities.
The event was held under the concept “In Search of New Practices: Common Challenges to HumanEcological Balance in Asia”.
“For a better Asia, multidimensional regional collaboration should be more efficient and should provide more practical solutions than any attempt that focuses on a single dimension – such as the economy,” said Prof Surichai Wun’Gaeo, director of API Coordinating Institution.
Prof Decharut Sukkumnoed, academic from Kasetsart University was invited to meet the fellows at the event. He said the government controlled authoritative power, knowledge and social perceptions, which the API projects tried to address. The challenges for API communities was not only making people inside and outside local communities learn or understand, but making them feel for and share the situations. The most difficult thing was how to make change and help them respect others and nature, he said.