The Many Faces of the Teacher: Sherlaine Tubat

September 15, 2018 Voluntourism

My impression of the Badjao was that they were either sea gypsies or kids roaming the streets begging. I once had a discussion with a friend who told me that the Badjaos were a peace-loving people. That is very far from the image their presence in the streets would suggest, and the stories that had painted images in my mind.  

That view changed when I had the chance to visit the Badjao Floating School in Isabela City, Basilan, and meet one of its teachers, Sherlaine Quisel Tubat.

It was my first visit Basilan. The province was not really on my must-visit list, although I do hope to visit all eighty-seven provinces of the Philippines. While I was happy to get the assignment to interview Teacher Sherlaine, I was also a bit apprehensive because of all the negativity I had heard about Basilan.

We met Teacher Sherlaine at the port where we boarded a small boat to Malamawi Island. It was a short ride; it isn’t far from the port to Malamawi Island. From the open sea, we cruised into narrow channels, passing a number of stilt houses, until we reached the Badjao Floating School.  

Kids beating drums and a lei made of cloth welcomed us. It was moving. 

After meeting the school officials, who welcomed us, we walked the path to the Principal’s office for the interview.  

There, I learned more about Teacher Sherlaine’s heroism and her efforts to help the Badjaos, more formally known as the Sama Dilauts.  

Isabela City in Basilan has three indigenous peoples’ groups – the Badjaos, the Sama Bangingihs, and the Yakans. Among these three, the Badjaos are the most marginalized.

The Badjaos traditionally earn their livelihood by harvesting the bounty of the sea. But, their traditional fishing techniques are no match for the systems used by other fishermen. And, because they are peace-loving people, rather than get into conflict with other cultural groups, they opt to go away.   

Teacher Sherlaine says that granting the Badjaos ancestral rights to their part of the sea would alleviate their plight a lot. This is her dream for the Badjaos.  

Sherlaine has been teaching mostly Badjao students for eleven years now, and she has had several community immersions. It is safe to say that she understands them.

“Doon ko nakita yung tunay na sila. Pag naintindihan mo sila, mas maintindihan mo pupils mo. Pag mas maintindihan mo ang pupils mo, mas magaan magbigay.”(That was where I came to understand the real Badjaos. Once you understand their culture, you will understand your pupils more. Once you understand your pupils, it will be easier for you to give).

Teacher Sherlaine, aside from teaching, is also leading the development of the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) framework for Badjao and the Badjao Orthography.

These educational resources for the Badjao group are the first of their kind in the country, and will serve as the national template in addressing the unique educational needs of Badjaos, who are present in almost all parts of the Philippines these days.

Their work includes detailing the Badjao’s history, practices, livelihood, political system, faith, food, characters, and other information about their lives.  

The output of the IPEd, which is currently undergoing evaluation from the central office of the DepEd, will eventually become a primary reference of information for their teaching and learning processes.

Aside from that, Teacher Sherlaine is also actively involved in showcasing the culture of the Badjaos. One project is the building of the replica of a Badjao stilt house, which gives visitors a glimpse into the daily lives of the Badjaos. It houses native instruments, kitchen utensils, the pandan mats made by the Badjaos, and other Badjao relics and artifacts.  

We were able to visit this mini-museum, which is located inside the Badjao Floating School.

For Teacher Sherlaine, promoting and preserving Badjao culture is very important. Her ultimate goal is for the young Badjaos to not be ashamed of being called Badjaos.

Tribal elders confirmed the value of Teacher Sherlaine’s work to me. After our interview at the Badjao Floating School, we visited two elders in their homes and asked their opinions on the works of Teacher Sherlaine.

I left the community with a better appreciation of the Badjao culture. I do hope Teacher Sherlaine will be granted continued good health, that she will be able to sustain her drive to help the Badjaos, and of course, accomplish a great deal.  

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

Some photos by Ian Gongona.

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