One thousand three hundred kilometers from the airconditioned halls of the Batasang Pambansa is an open-air barangay gymnasium jampacked with hundreds of members from a Lumad community. This is where Chad Errol Booc, a volunteer teacher for high school students in the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), has been staying for almost a week prior to the president’s state of the nation address (SONA). Their community fled the agricultural school, which is also a boarding school, due to continued threats from the military presence in their areas.
ALCADEV was established in 2004 as an “alternative learning system especially designed to provide secondary education to indigent indigenous youth from the Manobo, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talandig, and Mamanwa” in the Surigao and Agusan provinces comprising CARAGA. Academic courses are taught in a way as to include vocational and technical skills, often rooted in agricultural traditions in their respective communities. The need for establishing schools arose when Lumad leaders realized how education could shield them from abuse. In the past, they were tricked into signing spurious contracts which gave away their ancestral land for a few cans of sardines. It was when the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur was created, which then gave birth to ALCADEV.
Hailing from the College of Engineering in Diliman, Chad earned his Computer Science degree cum laude and was recognized for his undergraduate research project which he had presented in academic forums abroad. He was cut out for a corporate life just like most of his peers. But exactly five SONAs ago, he joined a rally for the first time and began seeing other realities and possibilities.
Chad became an activist and found himself in the middle of Manilakbayan 2015 on the eve of the killing of the ALCADEV executive director at that time. “I witnessed how the Lumad stood up as a tribe for self-governance and self-determination. The fact that they built and ran their own school without our help, even if we are deemed more educated because we finished college,” he recalls. This encounter inspired and challenged him at the same time; and after graduating, he veered off the corporate track and finally decided to volunteer in Mindanao in 2016.
He chose ALCADEV because, prior to graduation, he had the chance to integrate with the community for several weeks. It was particularly difficult explaining the decision to his family. But through several Facebook posts and even more hours patiently sharing his firsthand struggles and adventures with his worried family, he finally made progress. His choice appealed to the humanitarian sensibilities of his parents, both active members of their church. Serving the oppressed and marginalized was a value they shared.
Agriculture as source code
The primary goal of ALCADEV is to empower and equip its students to be self-sufficient and self-reliant and to rear the next generation of leaders in their communities. They are trained to take on leadership roles in community-based work as future teachers, health workers, agriculturists, and local leaders. Some graduates of ALCADEV are now helping pilot their own agricultural schools in SOCSARGEN in solidarity. The “boarding school” format ensures a more holistic style of education. Chad remarks, “Agriculture is at the center of each learning area. For example, in English we teach translation of agricultural terms. In math, we learn how to compute for the most equitable distribution of yield from the plantations. We also teach basic farming so what they harvest is what we consume together here in ALCADEV.”
Chad is currently handling Math classes for second- and third-year students and science classes for freshmen. On a typical school day, he wakes up at 5 or earlier to work on the farm with his students and to prepare for classes later that day. Morning sessions are usually spent on academic classes, while afternoons are for more leisurely activities, such as sports, games, and value education workshops.
“Our roles as teachers are not confined to teaching; we are sometimes advisers, even doctors or nurses when something happens to them,” Chad confides. “We also schedule engagements outside the comfort of our campus, such as when there are military attacks when we put on the hats of paralegals and human rights workers.” With Chad in ALCADEV are two other UP Diliman Psychology and Education graduates. He also handles the promotion arm of ALCADEV by establishing the school’s social media presence as a way to advance its advocacy and show outsiders what its around 150 students are accomplishing.
There are still many conflicting stories reaching Manila on the situation in Mindanao, particularly in Lumad schools like ALCADEV. But when asked what the biggest misconception about his vocation is, Chad replies, “I’m still taken aback when people tell me ‘Wow, what a big sacrifice you’re making!’ when I tell them I’m volunteer teaching in a Lumad school.” He realizes that what people perceive as a more burdened life has actually felt lighter.
“Now, I’m no longer alone in what I do because we perform all the tasks as a collective. I’m not chained to self-enrichment because I don’t have to worry about paying bills as a corporate slave in a cutthroat environment. In that set-up, one can easily lose a sense of purpose. What is all this work for? For whom?” He relates that his work gives him drive because he knows he directly contributes to furthering the cause of an aggrieved sector in society.
His advice to fresh graduates and fellow iskolars looking to volunteer? Go for it. Immerse and integrate with basic sectors, from Lumad, to peasants, farmers, workers. During his tenure, he is learning many useful skills such as basic journalism and documentation, community organizing, even public relations. He believes there is no point romanticizing what he does because it should not be viewed as a deviation, but rather the baseline of what a UP student must offer the people he or she serves.