The Many Faces of the Teacher: Dominic Ocampo

September 11, 2018 Voluntourism

Not too long ago, the weekend hobby I was so passionate about was mountain climbing. So, when I was told I had to interview a mountaineer, Dominic Rover Ocampo, I was, of course, excited. 

First, I read his profile and discovered that Dominic is a teacher who gave up the comforts of teaching in a classroom, where he was already Master Teacher II, to teach in remote communities in the mountains. Helping communities in the mountains is also an active policy close to my heart.

Second, the site of the interview was to be at the foot of Mount Halcon, a mountain I climbed more than ten years ago and which remains my most challenging hike ever. A very memorable place for me!

I confess I was a little nervous too. After a mountain climbing accident, I became nervous about hiking. I had already stopped recreational climbing and I only trek when I need to, as in this case, or when I am leading my group, TREK or TRails to Empower Kids, during our outreach efforts.

But I am not one to veer away from opportunities like this one. I went to the interview with a friend, who is also into the same hobby.

We stayed overnight in the port town of Calapan before proceeding early the next morning to Baco, where Teacher Dominic was waiting for us. We met at his host school, and from there, we drove to the jump-off site, a mountain resort. We had to wait a while for the community leader so I had time to explore the resort. Once he arrived, we hiked for less than an hour to reach the community.  

starting point of our hike
Teacher Dominic who was still nursing a broken arm

I got to know a bit about Teacher Dominic from my interviews with the community members, as well as Teacher Dominic himself. I also got to know the reason why he pursues this passion.

As a mountaineer, Dominic is used to roaming around the mountains and mingling with tribal members. He is also all too aware of the of the struggles they face.

Because of their isolation, getting an education for members of these ethnic communities has never been easy. Some don’t have access to any education facilities at all. This leaves them illiterate, so they become objects of ridicule and discrimination, and easy targets to be swindled and shortchanged.

Teacher Dominic thus decided to focus all his energies, as an educator, to help this underserved and, sometimes, unserved sector of the community.  

He conceptualized ‘Backpack Alitaptap’ to symbolize his work as a mobile educator. Thus, he brings light to the Mangyans of Mindoro - literally and figuratively. 

He brings light to Mangyan communities in two ways. First, he ensures they will have the chance of a brighter future by providing them with basic and functional literacy skills. And second, he literally brings light to the communities by providing them with solar lanterns and panels that serve as their light source during the classes they take at night - the only time the Mangyans can study as they work during the day. 

I mentioned earlier that I had already climbed Mount Halcon, but it turned out my knowledge about the mountain, and the communities that live on it, was very limited.  

Teacher Dominic told me of a community on the mountain that is so remote it takes him four days to reach.  

The community’s name is Tinaan. Teacher Dominic stayed in the village for twenty days to teach basic literacy. And he did not do just that – thanks to hishelp, a water system was installed in the village.
Dominic also handles six other communities. He considers Sulong, which we visited, his model community.

One of the village elders
Kids from Sulong 
View from Sulong
Aside from the gift of education he brings, the communities he serves have also received, through Dominic's efforts, useful donations of things like solar panels. This gift made them the first solar-powered, indigenous people's community in Mindoro.

The other communities he looks after are Aruta Village, inhabited by Alangan Mangyans; Camalig Village, which can be reached only after a four-hour hike and which is occupied by Iraya Mangyans; and Sitio Bituin, Catarata Village, and Pinagpala Village, all inhabited by Iraya Mangyans.

In Aruta Village, Dominic is working on an evacuation center for the residents which will also double as a livelihood and learning center. Until now, when typhoons strike, the natives just dig and hide underground to protect themselves.

Dominic also regularly donates school supplies, clothes, vegetable seeds, and other necessities to the communities he serves.

His journey in becoming a mobile educator has not been an easy one. He had to face, and overcome, many challenges.

Since I am not new to community work in the mountains, I also asked Teacher Dominic what had been his biggest challenge. I knew, of course, about the strenuous hikes, the extreme weather conditions and the lack of food, but I had not guessed that Teacher Dominic had faced something far more challenging.

His immersion in the communities led to him acquiring a skin disease, common among the Mangyan communities. But, despite all the setbacks, Dominic has persevered, and because of that determination, has been achieving great things.  

I found him to be hugely inspirational. So much so that before we left the community, the worst thing I could think of happened to me - and I handled it well. I tripped and damaged my already bad knee. I just looked at Teacher Dominic, who at that time happened to be nursing a broken shoulder from a motorcycle accident. I managed to muster the courage and fortitude to make the long trek down the mountain from the village.

It was difficult and painful, but I did it! I then had to nurse a swollen leg for about a week. But with the surge of inspiration I experienced from meeting Teacher Dominic, it was nothing.

This is second in a series of five stories about teachers who are devoting their lives, not just to teaching, but to uplift the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters. I recently travelled around the country interviewing teachers who are finalists in the annual awards of Diwa Learning Systems and Bato Balani Foundation. This is called ‘The Many Faces of the Teachers’. Five of the twelve teachers are working to educate tribal members. I am doing this series as my heart is close to the country’s indigenous peoples. The other seven teachers, if I may just add, are just as inspiring. You can also read about them in the local papers.

Some photos by Ian Gongona and Dominic Ocampo. 

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