Photo courtesy of SMU DSWD MIMAROPA

Meet Juda Diklay, the first member of the Tau’t Bato indigenous people of southern Palawan to graduate from university.

Juda’s journey from the Palaw’an tribe living in Singnapan Valley to earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the Western Philippines University (WPU) in Puerto Princesa is replete with tales of overcoming prejudices and financial hardship.

The tribe rarely goes down from the mountain, surviving through gathering wild fruits and vegetables, hunting, planting crops and rice. Their community can only be reached through an 8-hour hike from Brgy. Ransang, Rizal, Palawan.

Juda’s educational journey began with a Christian missionary group called Youth with a Mission (YWAM) which has been trying to convince parents of the tribe to send their children for studies in the lowlands.

Juda is the first from her tribe to attend formal classes in the lowlands of Palawan after her family was convinced to relocate from their dwellings near the crater of an extinct volcano.

Juda became a 10-year-old student with her younger brother Jonathan at Ransang Elementary School. Unfamiliar with the lowland culture and encountering prejudice, Juda kept to herself and hardly socialized with her younger classmates. Her experience made the little girl decide to go home to her tribe after finishing her studies. To her surprise she earned the highest grades and graduated Valedictorian.

Her achievement gave the young Juda motivation enough to pursue high school studies in Puerto Princesa City where she was sent by YWAM. Juda once again had to adjust to new a environment, encountering more prejudices and envy from the city-culture-bred classmates. She again though of packing up and going home to the valley but her YWAM support group kept her going and she eventually finished high school, eyeing further studies in education.

Photo courtesy of SMU DSWD MIMAROPA

“Ang lagi lang pong sinasabi nila sa akin ay ‘we are living by faith’ kaya lagi ko lang daw silang ipagdasal (They always tell me that ‘we are living by faith’ that’s why I should to pray for them),” Juda told writer Maria Alyssa Esguerra of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Juda Diklay went on to study at WPU and soon experienced an environment that accepted her and everyone else’s uniqueness. However, YWAM could not shoulder all of the expenses of her university studies so she turned to the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program which provided for her tuition and other expenses. On April 11, 2018, Juda was finally able to get her teacher’s degree.

“Siguro kung nagpadala ako sa mga negative na naiisip ko noon, hindi ako nakapagtapos at may asawa na ako at anak, (If I did not overcome my negative thoughts, I won’t be able to graduate and I already have my own family now),” Juda said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jacom Maentz Photographer

When asked what she will do after, Juda said, “babalik na po ako sa amin at magtuturo ako doon. Ipapakita ko sa kanila kung gaano kahalaga ang edukasyon, (I will come back home and teach there. I will help them realize the importance of education)”.

Juda vows to use what she has learned to improve not only her family’s life but also the lives of other people in her community. She does not want people to belittle them just because they live in the mountains and do not know how to read and write.

“Iniisip ko pong magturo ng ALS doon sa amin para lahat ng mga tao doon ay makapag-aral, (I am thinking of teaching ALS in our community so that our people can study),” she said.

Being the first from her tribe to graduate in college, Juda is now an inspiration to the people of Tau’t Bato in recognizing the full worth of education in overcoming the hardships in life brought about by poverty.

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