LUCENA CITY — At the mercy of harsh weather, young children belonging to the Agta indigenous group are holding classes in makeshift tents made from donated canvass, cartons and even leaves.
“Their blackboard is the back of a hanging illustration board. Instead of school chairs, the students sit on damp soil covered with cartons and sacks,” said Lenie Sollano, a volunteer of a nongovernment organization.
The schoolchildren were among scores of Agta people from the Sierra Madre range who were displaced by renewed fighting between government forces and communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in northern Quezon.
Sollano, a volunteer of Dare to Care, has appealed to netizens to help alleviate the plight of the tribe.
On her Facebook account, she posted photos of more than 43 Agta families who left their mountain community at Sitio Dadyangaw, Barangay Umiray, General Nakar town, after Army soldiers and NPA guerrillas engaged in furious battles last month.
Dadyangaw is more than five hours by boat from the temporary settlement site of the families near the Umiray Bridge, also in General Nakar.
“They left their community, their school and all their personal belongings to escape the intense fighting. Now, they themselves are fighting their own battle—how to survive far away from home,” Sollano said in a phone interview on Saturday.
She said most evacuees were young children who were supposed to be studying in the comforts of their school in Dadyangaw.
Despite conditions far from ideal, three women teachers are holding regular school sessions to feed and nourish the minds of their students from kindergarten to Grade VI.
Sollano and a male volunteer stayed at the evacuation camp for two days, helping cook food for the Agta people and assisting the teachers.
She said the community could barely survive from donations, including those made by Army soldiers.
The parents of the schoolchildren are looking for any kind of employment so they may feed their families, she said.
“What they wish is for the NPA rebels and the government forces to stop the fighting and leave their tribal community in peace,” Sollano said.
She said the young children had been traumatized by the fighting.
“I personally witnessed how a frightened young boy ran to her mother after he saw a man wearing camouflage, which he mistook for a soldier,” she said.
Last month, Army soldiers and NPA rebels engaged in a fierce battle at Dadyangaw that left one government trooper dead. Two alleged NPA members were captured.
The military reported that it found an abandoned rebel camp, composed of 30 makeshift huts that can accommodate more than 100 people.
Zone of peace
Sometime in 2007, mountain tribes, lowland residents and officials of Real, Infanta and General Nakar towns, declared a zone of peace in their respective places to spare themselves from clashes between government troops and rebels.
Their announcement, however, has often been ignored by both sides.
The Duterte administration and communist rebels are set to resume peace talks next month, hoping to end the nearly half-century insurgency that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 combatants and civilians.
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