In the Philippines, when you say ‘Badjao’, people often picture dark-skinned folks who are either begging in the streets with several of their small children or swimming at the pier and asking boat passengers to throw them some money.
But this picture is slowly being changed by Mindanao State University (MSU) Tawi-Tawi, a public school in Tawi-Tawi, southern Philippines. MSU Tawi-Tawi offers special scholarships exclusively for Badjaos.
Because of this, a number of Badjaos have already graduated from college. Most of them choose to take a two-year diploma course in fisheries technology because most of their livelihood in Sitangkai (a municipality in Tawi-Tawi some 4 hours away from the school) involves fishing.
Roben Abdella is a rare exception. Not only did he take Bachelor of Secondary Education, major in English, he also graduated magna cum laude!
But while many would probably laugh (many actually did throughout his college years) at a Badjao taking an education course majoring in English, MSU Tawi-Tawi professor Basil Sali defends Abdella. According to the professor, Abdella actually has a good command of the language, both in speaking and writing!
“Once you ask him, alam mo ‘yung substance nung content, naibibigay niya (he can give the substance of the content). And then he’s an excellent worker,” Sali told Rappler.
Proof of that is the magna cum laude honor conferred to this rare Badjao – and the fact that he was part of MSU Tawi-Tawi’s theater troupe Sining Parmata! Not only was he a performing member of the theater troupe, he was also the head writer!
Further proof of Abdella’s brilliance came when the school hired him right after graduation. Abdella is now pursuing a master’s degree while teaching at MSU Tawi-Tawi. He hopes that other Badjaos like him will also be given a chance to study and improve their lives…