A Pala’wan teacher in the mountains

Unlike your typical young professional who prefers working in the city, 22-year old Christma Nelie Colili has embraced life in the hinterlands of Saraza, Brooke’s Point teaching her fellow members of the indigenous group Pala’wan.

Christma, a proud Pala’wan, is a licensed elementary teacher. She spends most of her time teaching in Kelwi, a secluded area in the said town. She receives a regular monthly salary of around P22K.

Kelwi Elementary School is located atop a mountain with an elevation of 720 meters above sea level and going to work for Chrisma meant a six-hour uphill trek from the village center.

Christma is an alumna of PSU-Brooke’s Point. She is a daughter of a Pala’wan who works with a non-government organization that cares for indigenous peoples.

Home beyond home

Christma hails from Amas, Brooke’s Point where her family lives, but she has found a second home in the mountains–at Kelwi Elementary School which was established in 2016.

The school is under the supervision of the Department of Education with only 59 students from Kindergarten and Grade 1 levels. She has found a home in a school resembling a typical “kubo” (hut), the existence of which was inspired by the dedication of the students to wake up early and go to class every day.

Christma spends the five days of each week in Kelwi. Asked how she copes with the challenges of living in a remote place, she says making friends with her students is enough to keep her spirits high.

“Humahataw na lang kami sa text at FB kapag nakakauwi kami. Bawi-bawi din ‘pag may time,”  she says.

She considers being independent as a challenge. “Bawal magkasakit” is her motto because no one will help her in the mountains.

Christma considers her Pala’wan language skills her asset to get the attention, and eventually the trust, of her students.

“Noong una, sobrang hirap talaga. Kasi hindi sila nagtatagalog. Kapag nagtagalog ka, matatakot o mahihiya na sila. Hindi ka na kakausapin,” she said.

She believes that sincerity in helping her students is an important factor needed to be an effective teacher.

Beyond teaching basic reading and writing skills to her students, she said she wants to inculcate in the minds of her students the value of independence and critical decision-making.

“Kasi dahil nga sa tingin nila alam namin, lahat na lang itinatanong sa amin,” she said.

Christma’s dream is to have all her present students finish elementary and one day produce professionals among their ranks.

She is not just a teacher, she wants to be an instrument to preserving the indigenous culture, making use of each opportunity to uphold and promote the “katutubong kaugalian.”

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