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Filipino Jesuits ramp up education drive for tribal people

Mindanao mission aims to fuel 50 percent increase in scholarship project with coffee

Filipino Jesuits ramp up education drive for tribal people

Jesuit Father Bros Flores takes a selfie on Ash Wednesday at the Jesuit mission in Bukidnon in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. (Photo supplied)

Jesuits in the southern Philippines say they intend to increase the number of scholarships for their college and social entrepreneurship program for indigenous people living in Mindanao by 50 percent.

However, the key to whether the plan works will depend on how good their coffee is. 

“Nearly everywhere in the world, ethnic minorities remain among the poorest and most marginalized peoples. They suffer disproportionately in areas like health, education and livelihood, notwithstanding threats of displacement, exclusion and loss of identity and culture,” the Jesuits said on their website on March 4 to announce the increase in scholarships.

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Mindanao, the country’s poorest region, is home to more than half of the Philippines’ indigenous peoples.

The Jesuits have been empowering indigenous communities in Mindanao for decades.

One priest, Father Mat Sanchez, 85, has been doing so for many years in the mountains of Bukidnon province in northern Mindanao.

In 2017, he and other Jesuits in the Bukidnon mission introduced a scholarship program to send 100 indigenous youths to a nearby college each year.

This year they said they will add 50 more scholarships using funds from the Philippine Jesuit Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Jesuit mission apostolates in the Philippines.

It is also funding a coffee project where indigenous people learn the business and art of coffee making and baking.

Jesuit Father Bros Flores, the project coordinator, said they ultimately aim to use the profits from this project to finance the tuition of the indigenous students studying in college.

“We cannot just beg to send these scholars to college,” Father Flores told reporters.

He said getting donations had been a “challenge,” so they needed to look for ways to infuse funding in the scholarship project.

“Our plan is to acquire an excellent coffee machine and other items so that we can start up a coffee shop,” he added.

The Jesuits believe their efforts will succeed despite the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the Philippines.

“Nothing they [indigenous people] have encountered so far is insurmountable. If anything, their experience speaks of the ability and faith of indigenous communities not just to survive but also to thrive,” the Jesuits said on their website.

They said the scholarship program has produced 12 graduates who specialized in midwifery, automotive technology, hotel and restaurant management, tourism and education.

Several graduates have returned to their communities to serve in the Jesuit mission, while others have decided to work elsewhere or entered religious life.

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