The early morning light played on the wet grass as the young man helped in the harvest of vegetables from the school garden one early morning in August 2018.
Chad Booc, a 26-year-old graduate of the University of the Philippines, has volunteered as a teacher for indigenous children, in a remote tribal village in the southern Philippines.
“There are already a lot of people, city people, who work for huge companies and corporations,” he told LiCAS.news.
“Look around you,” he pointed at the children. “Here, you can see people who are underserved, people who are being discriminated against.”
Chad lives in the upland hamlet of indigenous people in Han-ayan in the village of Diatagon in Lianga town in Mindanao.
“This is where city people, like us, must stay and do our part,” said the Computer Science graduate who teaches Math and Science for the alternative school for indigenous people.
He met them during the 2016 protest caravan in Manila. The young activist decided to join the protesters when they went back home to the mountains in Mindanao.
Chad could have been a software designer for a multinational company if he did not choose to “serve the indigenous people” and live life in the periphery.
When he was in his fourth year in the university, Chad received recognitions for his undergraduate thesis.
With another student, he developed “PsychUP,” a campus-based mobile application that provides mental health service to webmail account users of the University of the Philippines.
Among the features of the app is the ability to send messages that allow conversations among users and for peer counselling.
Anonymity is also an option, allowing students or app users to freely express themselves without getting the stigma of having mental health issues.
Chad said “mental health first aid” is necessary especially for people who lack or have no access to professional help.
“I want to do what I did in the university here for the indigenous communities,” he said. “Not the mobile app, but help them battle mental health issues,” said the young man.
Chad said he saw the “urgency to respond to the needs” of the indigenous people who suffer from traumatic experiences but have no access to psychosocial treatment.
“A lot of people here do not know that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health-related issues,” he said.
In 2015, two tribal leaders and the executive director of the tribal school were killed in front of villagers people by members of a paramilitary group allegedly linked to state security forces.
Chad, who graduated with honors from the university, admitted that living in the mountains ang teaching tribal children is not the kind of job that he dreamed about.
Today, however, said he realized that “it is the most fulfilling job that a person who grew up in the city could do.”
The indigenous territory where Chad lives since 2016 has been in the middle of armed conflict for years due to the entry of “development projects” that are being opposed by the people.
The government has tagged the tribal school where he is teaching and the village itself as a training ground for communist rebels.
When President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of tribal schools, students and teachers were forced to seek refuge in the cities, including Manila, Cebu, and Davao.
Rius Valle of the Save Our Schools Network said more than 170 schools out of the 216 schools in Mindanao have been shut down since 2017.
De to the coronavirus pandemic, the remaining schools became non-operational. “Thus, more than 10,000 tribal students are displaced and disenfranchised,” said Valle.
When the government imposed a lockdown due to the pandemic in March 2020, Chad, who was in Cebu for a vacation, joined his students who sought temporary shelter in a Church-run university.
They were supposed to go back to Mindanao in April 2020 but were forced to prolong their stay due to the pandemic.
On February 15, Chad made headlines after he was arrested, along with five others, during a police raid on the house hosting the tribal children at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.
Police alleged that Chad and his companions had been training 19 minors in their custody to be “child warriors.”