Lakbay Paraoma: Why students must join BMI, ‘lakbayan’ of farmers

By Reynard Magtoto and Angel De Mesa

LEGAZPI CITY – Why students must join farmers’ ‘Lakbayan’?

You will never be convinced unless you engage yourself in educational discussions and importantly participate in Basic Mass Integration (BMI) according to student leader who is now leading one of the buses of Bicol Lakbayanis traveling to Metro Manila for their ‘Lakbay Paraoma’.

The caravan starting today is part of the “Pambansang Lakbayan” of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas to demand free distribution of land and end to fascist attacks on farmer communities by the government forces.

“I do not thought to join the ‘Lakbay Paraoma’. But because of studies and previous basic integration with the masses especially with the farmers, I realized the connection of the students and the farmers,” said Albay’s Kabataan Partylist Youth Leader Kath Taopo.

Taopo said that BMI convinced her to join Kabataan youth group and to recognize the peasant sector. “Because they are the basic sector who provide great force and large percentage of population in the country,” she added.

BMI is being practiced in progressive organizations like Kabataan which they must experience the life of different sectors like how farmers till their lands.

“You need to merge yourself with the masses like with the farmers to shout and spread to the people especially to the youths their real issues and their real feelings. It is part also that you can’t experience yet the integration but it is really important that you must,” Taopo encouraged youths to join them attend the camping of lakbayanis outside the Department of Agrarian Reform head office.

Most students in Bicol are on a semestral break. Some of them already joined the caravan of “Lakbay Paraoma” while others will follow them in Metro Manila.

Alex Guerero of Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Naga City and Mel Cortez of Ateneo De Naga City expressed to join the protesting Bicolano farmers in Manila after their academic exams.

Through integration even in ‘Lakbay Paraoma’, they will understand that it is not simple to till lands and they will find out that it is big thing for the farmers to till the lands that they do not owned according to Taopo.

NARRA for peasants

Other youth group, NNARA Youth or the National network of Agrarian Reform Advocates Youth Sector, are also standing before and after them, giving voices and fighting for their rights.

NNARA supports the peasantry’s plight and call for genuine agrarian reform program. BMI is also part of their campaigns and struggle to educate themselves with the real situation the peasant were experiencing. In this case, they try to live with the masses and experience the life peasants.

“The special characteristic of NNARA Youth is that, it sends out the students to peasant communities because we believe that education is not only seen and learn within universities, that the real education that serves the masses can be found and learned by our students and young people in the very presence of the people”, said Steven Besana, the BMI executive committee officer of NNARA Youth.

Life with Peasants

Last June until July this year, three members of NNARA Youth have undergone the BMI here in Bicol. They were students from University of the Philippines Manila both taking up BA Development Studies.

BMI was part of their curriculum. This time, it is way too far from their first integration since it was six-week-long integration.

“At first it is scary, but if you really know what to do you’ll remain calm and stay put,” said Precious Jewel Manalo who didn’t struggle much since her parents was also born in the province.

Manalo admitted that she often spoke in English and rarely in Tagalog. “The solution is that you read, and admit that you have been struggling. Days will come and you would not notice that your communication skills is improving”, she said.

Apart from farmers, Manalo realized during her integration that fishermen are really the ones who are the most poorest since they are not given much attention by the government. There is no signal, the information was hard to spread to fishermen and only few has TV and cellphone in their area.

“For me, this is life changing. It may sound cliché but when you go through this experience, whether or not in your curriculum, you’ll know it is different to live in the countryside with just a simple life,” Manalo concluded.

Unexpected ‘comfort’

Thea Catherine David also a BA Development Studies student had experienced one of her unforgettable moment during her BMI in Bicol. For her, it was shameful, but at the end of the day she learned something.

That is the moment when her stomach ‘broke’ twice. At the first time, she was relieved immediately, but the second time was far different. She couldn’t imagine the distance they have gone so far just to go to their meeting place.

After the long ride, she asked immediately where the toilet was, but sad to say that no one responded to her that fast at the moment.

“I was a bit annoyed because no one pointed out where the CR was,” Thea said.

A boy accompanied her and led her to a small room. “I was wondering around, where there was just a small bedroom with a curtain and an arenola. I was surprised but I continued because I said my group was not around,” she shared.

After that, they were told that it was the house where they will stay in. This experience made her discover the true situation of poor people and suddenly realized that she was blessed upon the things she has.

“I became more aware of it, because before I just hear it, watched it at the TV, listening to classmates’ stories, but if you were to live with them, I think you will be truly moved and come to think with the things you might do to help them,” Thea added.

Importance of BMI

According to Jian Santos, chairperson of NNARA Youth, BMI is such a beautiful experience that enlighten the students who does not really understand the situation of the Society. From six weeks, you can learn a lot from it that was not experienced when you are just in a classroom.

“You will learn lessons when you walk under the sun, or when you ride a boat with the fishermen, you will know their experiences in their stories and that is when you’ll learn, especially when you get involved in the mode of their production,” said Jian.

NNARA Youth recognizes the miserable situation of country’s agricultural sector and peasants are incessantly harassed and killed for fighting for their legal rights.

“I will not forget the time when we need to wake up early in the morning, about 2 AM. Even though there was no light, we need to ride on a boat and start fishing. You just need to trust the fishermen where to go and as soon as they feel it is the right place you’ll be shocked and at the same time feel happy because you’ll realize that they are right and soon we have caught some fish”, Jian shared.

Jian does not consider this as his once in a lifetime experience, because according to him, if given the chance again he will still repeat the integration and definitely come back to the communities where they stayed in Bicol.

“My overall realization is that, you need to put aside your interest and your comfort because there is no place here that would cater that. If you set it aside, you will understand the situation of the peasant and at the same time you’ll get to see your improvement. You will understand here why the peasant needs genuine reform, why do they often go to streets and rally. You will understand their sufferings and difficulties and then you’ll realize where to go to join,” Jian concluded. (BaretangBikolnon.com)

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