We are happy to report that the Class of 2016 at the Pamulaan Center, a university for Indigenous Youth in the Philippines that HOPE-JP supports, will be graduating at the end of this month. Being the first in their families to ever attain a Bachelor in the Arts or Sciences, it is a time of great celebration for the graduating class, but as they make their way in a world that poses many challenges for Indigenous Peoples, they must think not only of their own futures, but also those of their communities and heritage.

Michelle, graduating with a degree in Social Entrepreneurship, feels the pressure. As Pamulaan scholars, she and her fellow graduates will now utilize the education that they have attained to help their tribes address poverty and become advocates for the preservation of Indigenous People’s culture in the Philippines. While she looks forward to this prospect, high expectations have been placed on her, and she wonders if she will succeed.

For Michelle, the biggest challenge lies in encouraging her fellow youth in the tribe to be interested in preserving their culture as well. She recalls how she also didn’t care about the prospect of her culture vanishing at one stage, but Pamulaan changed her life and attitude forever. As she says, “Pamulaan made me realise my blood and helped me gain a deeper knowledge about my heritage that I didn’t have before. Modernisation is happening so fast – youth are adopting it so fast – and I am disappointed because they are the ones that are discriminating against our culture so quickly.”

Returning to their communities and telling youth that valuing tribal dances, music, stories, clothes, knowledge, are as important as aspirations for wealth and modern amenities, may be daunting, but the graduates are determined to do their best. For the social entrepreneurship students, addressing poverty, helping others, and valuing cultural heritage also go hand in hand. Speaking passionately on social entrepreneurship, Michelle describes it as something that “gains profit, but the benefit goes to the people. The highest percentage has a goal to strengthen the capabilities of these employees, owned by the people.” She plans to promote agro forestry in her community and use it as a means for creating a social business that will contribute to her Talandi tribe’s livelihood.

Addressing poverty and cultural preservation are large responsibilities for young graduates to carry, but they are keen they are to make use of their education and give back. They are their tribes’ hopes for a sustainable future. We wish Michelle and her fellow graduates all the best, and we look forward to hearing of their progress and keeping you updated.