Groups gather in Tawi-Tawi for Bajau empowerment

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Attendees at the 9th Pastoral Assembly of Care for Nomads and Bajaus in the Philippines (CNBP) at the Beachside Inn in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi from May 16 to 19 (Photo: John Frances Fuentes)

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi, May 17, 2016–A gathering of different groups based in Mindanao is happening here to empower the Bajaus, who are considered a marginalized group in society.

The Claret Samal Foundation Inc. (CSFI) based in Basilan has organized the 9th Pastoral Assembly of Care for Nomads and Bajaus in the Philippines (CNBP) at the Beachside Inn in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi from May 16 to 19.
Bishop of Jolo Angelito Lampon, who also heads CNBP as president, said members were gathered from different areas in Mindanao like Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga, Basilan, and Davao tol have the chance “to experience the life and culture of the Bajaus.”

With the theme, “Empowering Bajau Communities: Educational Innovations for Cultural Development,” the assembly also gave the participants a glimpse of the living conditions of the Bajaus and the educational initiatives to improve their lives during their visit to the Bongao Bajau Village.

Education = empowerment

CSFI brought two of their graduates, Gaira Nelson and Rowena Nulaji, who are now teaching in learning centers for Bajaus in Basilan, to participate in the assembly in Bongao to prove that education will help fellow Bajaus and to encourage them to pursue education.

The gathering also aimed to encourage the Bajaus to preserve and be proud of their cultural and spiritual identity.
The gathering also presented educational innovations that will integrate the Bajau culture and improve their quality of education, as well as inputs from speakers coming from the academe and from the government.

Discrimination against Bajaus

During the sharing of stories, it was learned that Bajaus feel discriminated, not only by settlers from the Visayas but also by other tribes like the Tausug.

Sr. Cresencia Lagunsad of the Sisters of Charity of St. Charles Borromeo said she initiated the day care center in Matina Aplaya in Davao City to prepare children, who are finding it difficult to continue schooling, to enroll in elementary schools.

She added that non-Bajau children bully the Bajaus to the point of physically assaulting them.

She said Bajaus are looked down because they are considered filthy beggars, especially since they are seen asking for alms in cities like Davao and Metro Manila.

In an interview with CBCPNews, Ma. Wendy Parojinog of CSFI said the foundation set aside a reserved area in Maluso and Pangasahan in Basilan exclusively for the Bajaus, adding that other tribes tried to settle there, but the CSFI strongly opposed it to protect the Bajaus.

She added the Bajaus are peace-loving people who would opt to avoid conflict and leave their houses, specially if violence arises.

Meanwhile, CSFI plans to hold the 10th assembly in Maluso, Basilan to also share their best practices in promoting the Bajaus’ welfare. (John Frances C. Fuentes / CBCP News)

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