Exclusive interview with Mindanao’s viral teacher: A story of warmth, sacrifice and ongoing fight

  • A heartwarming story about a teacher in Mindanao and her father’s surprise visit gave light to some of the stories of the Lumad people. 
  • Clare Mercado, an Applied Economics and Araling Panlipunan teacher in Mindanao shares her experiences on being a teacher in a Lumad school as well as the struggles the Lumad people have.
  • She affirms that despite the struggles, that “it is not impossible if we work together.”

At the beginning of September, a heartwarming thread circulated Twitter sharing the story of a teacher in Mindanao who was visited by her father.  

Via Clare Mercado’s Twitter Account

Clare Mercado, an Applied Economics and Araling Panlipunan teacher in Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao shared to Twitter how she was touched when her father visited her workplace in an effort to understand the nature of her work. 

True enough, the story not only touched the lives of Twitterverse but it also hefty impression on the plight and sacrifices of the Lumad people, and their fight for their rights to education.

The Pacific Voice had the opportunity to talk to her and share more stories about her experiences being a teacher in a Lumad school, as well as the stories the Lumad people also have. 

I first asked about her origin story, and how she came to be inspired to teach in Mindanao. 

“I grew up in Southern Tagalog but I took my undergraduate degree in Manila where I also worked for a few months after graduating. The decision to teach in Mindanao, particularly in a Lumad school was not an easy one. I learned about the situation of the Lumad people during Lakbayan 2016; and in late 2016, I became a member of a mass organization,” she said.

She narrates that her visits to the bakwit schools were her gateway to learning about the struggles of the Lumad people, about how their schools are being shut down, and the militarization of their communities. It was then where she said she was inspired to teach to “ensure that everyone gets to enjoy their right to quality education.”

In the tweet, Clare shared that some parents did not always understand why their children would choose to fight and be activists. 

“Until now, some parents find it hard to embrace that their children grow up to be activists. Perhaps this is because activism – offering solutions to the problems of our society as well as a perspective of what more our society can be – goes against the norm of simply going with the system.”

Although Clare did acknowledge that activism is a subject of debate in the community now, she doubles down on her point. 

“Still, we must remember that even though activism is not widely embraced by everyone, it is a necessity. After all, measures to ensure that workers, students, and professionals get to enjoy their rights are only made possible through activism.”

When asked if there is an understanding between these parents and children, Clare reasoned that “we cannot ensure that a total understanding is possible in all cases,” however when parents see “that their children are fighting for what is right,” it leads to them supporting their children’s decisions.

Provided by Clare Mercado

At the very end of the Twitter thread, Clare finished with a powerful statement that resonates to the current state of our country and in the rest of the world. She affirms that “it is not impossible if we work together.”

“History shows that societies change. While the current state of our society is dire – indigenous peoples’ communities are militarized, farmers are landless and hungry, and workers are still contractual, as the masses, we have the capability to build a better future. However, such is impossible if we would not stand together to protect each other from the system that continues to exploit the people,” she said.

“In the vernacular, ‘nasa atin ang kakayanang pandayin ang isang lipunan at kinabukasan na mapagpalaya’  [we have the power to forge one community and a future that is free]. We must collectively analyze the roots of poverty and in the process, work towards a society where our basic rights are met.”  

Teaching in a Lumad school has exposed to the stories and struggles of the people. She tells stories of the resiliency of her students despite their schools being shut down. 

“I am slowly witnessing how the indigenous peoples’ schools are being shut down in line with big mining companies entering their communities. Such is the case in Pantaron range. On the other hand, I am also witnessing the resiliency of the students particularly their desire to protect their ancestral lands and their desire to uplift the lives of their tribes.”

Clare also shared about other volunteer teachers who uprooted their lives in the city to teach in Compostela Valley. She shared a story about her colleague who was a teacher in a prominent school in Quezon City before relocating. 

“When the Lumad students went to Manila last school year, she became their teacher during weekends and after that, she decided to come here in Mindanao. She also changed her Masteral thesis so that it will be aligned to her exposure here. Like any typical city based person it was a struggle living under a bare minimum set up and on top of that, the amount of danger that the students and teachers can encounter, it was like a 180 degree turn on her life.”

We close the interview with Clare saying that by upholding the Lumad students’ rights to education, it will “secure not just their own tribe’s future but the life of their ancestral lands here in Mindanao.”

Provided by Clare Mercado

“Indigenous peoples are the number one protector of the environment thus they ensure that natural resources are not exploited by the big private companies and multinational corporations. Indigenous peoples are being targeted with different types of aggression because of their ancestral lands part of this aggression is the forced closure of their schools.”  

— The Pacific Voice

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