70 Cordillera youth tell their stories
You help send us to college each time you buy our products.”—Cordillera youth
Those words are on the caps of the jam, jelly, and marmalade jars sold (sold out, sometimes) at the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) Mountain Maid Training Center (MMTC) store in Baguio City. The hands-down bestseller is, of course, the ube jam that, on some days, might require crowd management. But the baked goodies, like the ensaymada, can hold their own, especially when one lingers for a cup of brewed upland coffee while beholding the hills from the viewing deck, or passing time beneath the pines near the statues of St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier and Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Unbeknownst to many, the MMTC products pass through the hands of young Cordillera students who work their way through college and are under the guidance of the Good Shepherd nuns. Through the decades, thousands of student workers (not scholars), as their mentors prefer to call them, have passed through MMTC and graduated into life beyond their Cordillera homeland and Baguio City with college diplomas to show. But more important than the academic degrees and skills were the values they had imbibed during their four or more years of stay. These values would serve them well when they face the forks on the highways or take the roads less traveled. They have been equipped to face life, it is hoped.
As October, Indigenous Peoples Month, draws to a close, reading the coffee-table book “Celebration 3: Seventy Years of the Good Shepherd in Baguio, 1952-2022” can induce reflection. It is a tribute to the Cordillera youth who were part of MMTC. “Celebrate 3” because it is the RGS Baguio community’s third milestone after its 25th and 50th year.
The RGS came to the Philippines in 1912. Founded in France in 1835, the congregation has both apostolic and contemplative nuns present in 72 countries. They “build partnerships that promote the dignity and human rights of all, especially women and children.”
Notably striking is that “Celebrate 3” does not focus mainly on the Good Shepherd nuns but on the student workers (female and male) and their stories, 70 of them, each one crying out to be told—and read. These are not student stories oozing with angst or questioning life’s blows with eloquence and spunk. The stories in “Celebrate 3” are straight from the ground, from the mountain peaks and trails of the Cordillera, if you may, and the indigenous communities whence these students came. Short and crisp, no frills, but they pack a wallop. One nun said she practically sobbed into one story while she was reading it. It was difficult to imagine, she said, what one so young had to go through in order to step into college.
Once in college as a student worker, it is another ball game. Working in MMTC enables student workers to be enrolled in nearby colleges and universities. A hostel in the Good Shepherd compound serves as home to most, if not all. It is not all work and study. It could be a healing experience for some.
It is after college and beyond that the back stories begin to gel and wait to be told, not too easily perhaps, but with time, distance, purpose, and grateful hearts, memories become sharp and clear. And so “Celebrate 3” became the medium. The stories include what life was like at MMTC, the mentors, fellow workers, tasks, school, overcoming personal insecurities, courses they chose.
But as in many stories, the flashbacks could take center stage. I noticed similarities—the difficult lives the storytellers had before MMTC. Abandonment by parents, absent parents, walking for hours to reach school, extreme poverty, addiction, large families, life in the hinterlands. Now, think of Filipino brats who went to some of the world’s most expensive schools but dropped out, preferring a happy-go-lucky life, or later, politics.
The courses finished are varied—education, hotel and restaurant management, medicine, accountancy, law, business, nursing, information technology, engineering, name it. As the stories tell us, these graduates have become enabled, productive citizens of the world.
From the storytellers, before I run out of space:
“During those sad, painful moments, I felt God’s love and became closer to Him. He gave me best friends I never had before. He gave me a new family I will always cherish.”
“Working with the RGS planted the seed of hope and confidence in my village girl’s heart.”
“My overriding sentiment is gratitude.”
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