Healthcare and beliefs in the Badjao tribe

We would like to extend our thanks to both Venerva and Janice who sat and told each of us their stories throughout our time spent with the Badjao. Venerva and Janice have both given full permission to share their stories here.

By Hannah Coady

In a perfect world, losing a loved one or battling an illness are the most difficult experiences anyone can face. Imagine facing that hardship while struggling to afford basic needs, like food and clean water, on a daily basis. The possibility of being treated for a terminal illness is overshadowed by having to respect the beliefs of your elders or partner for a lot of the Badjao community.
Although many Badjao’s attend regular, mainstream doctors visits, they often return home having been told they’re fine. In cases like that the Badjao perform healing rituals, believing their soul will be their true healer.
Due to the lack of nutrients and vitamins within the Badjao diet- as well as the constant risk of high fever from consuming dirty water- the Badjao youth have very low immune systems. If they’re unwell with a headache, a tape called salonpas is applied to the temples and forehead. If the illness is more severe, Pakansumangat will take place. This is when the healing elders visit the patients and perform a ritual that supposedly heals their soul.
If you happen to be a person that believes in modern medicine but can’t afford it, the health centre provides care to the community once a year. Think of all the ups and downs young children go through in a year of life. The Badjao children don’t have the luxury of constant self-care. The best option for them is to hope that their parents can take care of them.
With all that being said, the strength and resilience of the Badjao community is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Behind such a fantastic amount of positivity, they deal with heartbreaking tragedies everyday. That’s one of the many reasons I’m inspired by people like Venerva and Janice, along with every teacher in the Nano Nagle school.
In 2016, Venerva’s life was turned upside down when her daughter, aged 7, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. At first they thought it was a case of tuberculosis but after testing her bone marrow they shortly realised how severe her condition was. Venerva strongly believes in science and modern medicine and of course wanted to do any treatment that would save her little girl. Chemotherapy was suggested by the doctors and they wanted her to start immediately. Of course with such a big decision Venerva discussed everything with her husband and mother so they could decide as a family. Venerva’s husband and mother are very traditional Badjao’s and decided that treatment wasn’t the best thing to do. He didn’t think his daughter should lose her hair, become frail and not look like herself when she passed away.
Venerva had no choice but to respect her husband’s beliefs. For the last 4 months of her life, her daughter lived at home. She constantly asked her; why can’t I go and play with the other children and why can’t I eat the food I like? Venerva decided then to give her daughter everything she wanted. They went to Jollybee and ate as much as they could and went to playgrounds, but all of this was overshadowed by the fact that She was always getting sicker. The healing rituals weren’t working, nothing was. Venerva felt and still feels responsible. She believes, as many Badjao do, that she didn’t struggle enough as a child or teenager. Because she lived a happy life and had a happy marriage, she was being cursed with this heartbreak. After the death of her daughter, Venerva found it difficult to leave the house. Instead of medicating or spiralling into self-hatred, she began helping the other children in the community. She attended seminars on how to deal with the grief, all while feeling like she was to blame.
Venerva says she gets through each day by remembering that she still has so much and so many people that care about her.
I’m so proud to say that I’m one of those people. As she told me; if you are lucky enough to feel love then you will always have to feel pain.
Janice is facing a similar struggle with her husband who has stage five cancer. Janice is also a teacher in the community, and one of the most genuinely happy people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Janice’s husband suffers with diabetes, which is a manageable disease- when you have the means to do so. He needs 2 insulin injections per day in order to live pain free. Having the necessary payments for this is near impossible for their family. Because of this, he was taken into hospital last year and has rarely been out since. He was struggling to breathe and with 2 children under the age of 8, Janice had to send them away from their father’s bedside. Of course, her children couldn’t understand why Daddy was so sick, all they could do was ask Janice to tell him not to go yet. They weren’t ready to lose him, but how can anyone ever be ready for that? During her daily hospital visits, Janice is also taking her children to school, supporting her husband through his trauma and working to pay the weekly 2,600 peso that is needed to pay for the dialysis he’s undergoing. Every morning at 3am, she wakes up to begin cooking food to sell at her market stall. Janice works there until 6am and goes home to do the household chores and care for her children. She then goes to work in the school until 4pm before going back to the hospital. This may seem like a lot to us, but for Janice it’s nothing new. At 14 after losing her grandparents, Janice began working to provide for her younger sister so she would have the opportunity to finish school. She didn’t second guess sacrificing her own education for the good of her sister, just like she didn’t second guess giving her life to caring for others. Janice decided at the beginning of her husband’s illness that they would make the most of each and every day, because their children need their parents. Having gotten to know her two children, it’s clear how much of their mother is in them as they’re two of the most spectacular kids I’ve ever come across.
I asked Janice how she still remains so positive. She told me that her heart is always heavy, but when she’s at Nano Nagle teaching, she forgets about everything because all she can feel is love and support from her fellow teachers.
Nano Nagle is so much more than a learning centre of a job for Venerva and Janice. It gives everyone that’s involved in it a reason to keep going and find the good in things even in the worst of times. This is all a credit to the amazing staff and students  that spend their time making the Badjao community the place it is today.

Experiencing Beira, Mozambique

By Orlagh Henry

When I arrived in Mozambique three weeks ago I had no idea what to expect from this experience. This morning when I woke up, I still had no idea what to expect from the day. Beira is unlike anywhere I’ve been before and continues to surprise me day in, day out, whether that be due to a frog jumping out of the toilet at me, the genuine connections that you forge with the locals despite speaking different languages or the medical and counselling centre that is being constructed on the YA Dondo campus as I type. This is a place where I am excited to wake up every day and where I’ve learnt to never expect the expected.

If you’ve heard about Beira, Mozambique recently it may be due to Cyclone Idai and the devastating effects it had on the city. You may envision a place of misery and poverty which is to some degree accurate. Beira is still recovering, homes were destroyed, families are grieving and if you look around you can see this, however this is not what defines Beira. While staying at Young Africa I’ve met some of the most genuine, welcoming and all around amazing people. From the moment we started work here we’ve been welcomed with a smile and friendly “Hola”, we’ve been invited into English classes and been taught Portuguese, we’ve shared stories and jokes with the students through their broken English and our broken Portuguese and I’ve even been taught to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

The people here are never without a smile in their face,despite having so much to worry about they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in their problems and the trivial day to day stresses which so often occupy our life’s at home.What has to happen will happen even if it’s a bit delayed,for example when the basketball hoops were only being assembled at 10:30am on sports day despite the fact that the first match was due to take place at 10am. The competition still went ahead,winners were crowned and all the rest but unlike at home where panic stations would have been at level 100 here they simply went about their work in their usual nonchalant manner.

I think Beira and Young Africia would surprise many and it certainly opened my eyes to the fact that poverty does not mean that these people live a life of complete misery or that they are far behind the times. Most of the students here own a smart phone of some sort, despite the fact that some of them may not have a proper home to go to in the evenings. Out in Dondo a medical and counselling centre is being constructed on the Young África campus and counselling facilities are available here at the Beira campus already something which certainly came as a shock to me considering that in Ireland we are still working to reduce the stigma around mental health.
I’ve learnt so much since arriving here and it’s an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Final Week in Morning Star

By Amy Considine and Aisling Moran

Before leaving Ireland, one month in India seemed daunting but it has passed by so fast it is difficult to separate the days and the mix of emotions we feel. It will not be until we arrive home, until we begin to tell our stories of Morning Star, that the weight of the experience will hit us.

Many people will be curious about what life was like in an Indian orphanage. But for us the word orphanage does not fit. Morning Star is a home. It has a family like you and I, the difference being, that everyone in the family has different backgrounds. While the school children come to Morning Star from unfortunate or distressing circumstances, the boys and men with disabilities have, in almost all cases, experienced rejection. This home opened up its doors and embraced them, giving each and every person who walks through the gates a better chance at life.
We have seen new boys being taken by the hand and given shirts off other boys backs. We have watched the children holding hands while draped over each other. There is a clear sense of unconditional love that exists here. Bonds of brotherhood have been formed which will last long after the boys leave the warmth and security of their home.
Our role in Morning Star is not to be a teacher or a master. Despite helping the children with their English, we both found ourselves being the student. While we listened, talked, and played with the boys and men, transactions of knowledge, generosity, and love occured. It would been unrealistic and ignorant if we had arrived with the expectation to dramatically change each boy’s life. They are their own agents of change and, instead, have changed both our own mindsets and desires.
Before heading to India we were cautioned over the people we would meet and interactions we would have. Thus, we expected the project to be difficult and challenging, but in fact, it has been the opposite. The people we have met here have welcomed us so gracefully. Ireland is often called the Land of a Thousand Welcomes but there is surely no competing with the kindness we have been shown.
We have created significant relationships and meaningful bonds with the boys and men here. We have realised that the experience, in this home, has opened our minds in ways we have never expected, because everyone is so kind. As it is approaching the final days here, we are truly saddened to be leaving. Memories of us both walking in to Morning Star on our first day contrasts to our last, as we walk out with eighty more friendships and countless special memories.

Final week in APD

By Sile Byrne, Michelle Cannon and Zara Hennigan

As curtains fall on our experience in India, we reflect on the whirlwind of the last 4 weeks. Leaving home on the 10th of July this day felt so far away. Now it is upon us there is an element of disappointment to be leaving, satisfaction at having achieved so much, regret and sorrow at leaving all our wonderful new friends behind, and excitement at returning to our loved ones at home. The relationships we’ve built here are for a lifetime and we’ll carry the impact of them as we return to normal life in Ireland. 

Coming to India as a volunteer triggers an array of emotions, from curiosity and wonder about the stories we would hear, to enthusiasm about beginning our work and anxiety that the contributions we make may not be as meaningful as we’d hope. 

Although our roles in APD centered around teaching, early intervention and therapy, we all found ourselves becoming the students. Though we shared knowledge and experience through meaningful  interactions with the staff and pupils, the sense of community, strength and love that we witnessed each day is by far the most valuable aspect of the experience we will carry home with us. 

As we reflect on our final week in APD we are struck by the strength of the people we have met here, they exude a joyful vitality despite the challenges, disabilities and difficulties they must overcome. This was made very evident when we travelled to the community, to the schools, to clinics and on home visits. Although these families had very little for themselves, they stretched their arms in offering to us. 

 APD is a community that empowers people to build on their individual strengths and become the best version of themselves, regardless of the obstacles that may impair them. The satisfaction we got from being part of this community and sharing its ethos is immeasurable. 

Just as each volunteer has their own unique set and strengths and abilities, so too does each person and child with whom we crossed paths in APD. We spent time with the older children and young adults in the training centre and were humbled by the trust they placed in us. We worked on the subject of Self esteem with them and the motto they seemed to take from this was ‘I can, I will, I must.’

 We hold this message with us as our experience in Bangalore comes to a close. We can empower ourselves and others to think the best of themselves, we will overcome apprehensions and fears with the help of friends, we must work as one to promote the kind of positive, inclusive atmosphere APD has shown us where ever else we may go. 

We came to India with expectations of challenging times, and while we were forced to think outside the box, what we found have been challenged most are our preconceptions. Those we have met have welcomed us with warm hearts and such sincere smiles, though we were many thousand kilometers away, somehow this made us feel closer to home. 

Effect of arranged marriage in the Badjao

By Jessica Farrelly

For many people in Ireland their wedding day is the most significant day of their lives, with months of planning and excitement leading up to it. For many of the Badjao people this is not the case, in traditional Badjao families women are only told that they are getting married a few days prior to their wedding. Often they only find out who they are marrying at the ceremony in front of all their family and friends. Arranged marriages (Buya) are organized by the parents of the couple and the elders of the Badjao community. Typically the man will go to his parents and tell them who he would like to marry, the parents will then discuss with the proposed women’s parents and the elders in the community whether they think the couple will be compatible together. This will be negotiated with a dowry which is offered as a token to the brides family from the grooms. The amount varies from family to family, if the woman is educated the dowry will increase in price as she is seen as a more desirable asset to the groom, a basic dowry is 10,000 peso (€180) and can exceed up to 50,000 peso (€900). The dowry can come in many forms such as rice,kitchen utensils, fishing nets and cash which is presented to the family prior to the wedding, the date of the wedding is also announced during this ceremony. The wedding ceremony is usually a few days after.

There is a stark contrast to the lead up of a Badjao wedding compared to an Irish wedding as the bride has little to no involvement in the ceremony planning, choosing her wedding dress or choice of husband. In the week prior to the wedding the bride must remain inside and cannot have any contact with the outside world. The wedding celebrations last three nights and two days consisting of tribal dancing and singing. The elders of the community organise the ceremony and guests at the wedding must only dance with their own families. The bride and groom must show no emotions throughout the ceremony until the last dance as a smile can suggest premarital sexual activities which is highly disapproved of. From my time with the Badjao I have heard many stories of women running away from the community with their desired husband to avoid an arranged marriage. From time to time women have been known to run away if they become pregnant before marriage as this is highly frowned apron, often returning to the community at a later stage to ask for forgiveness which is not always granted.

Many women live in fear of being married off as it has a major effect on their education and childhood. Women are deemed ready for marriage when they start menstruating, once a women is married she is expected to forfeit her education and to start a family with her husband. Due to the influence of Nano Nagle school and the importance that it puts on education, the Badjao are encouraged to wait until they are over eighteen to get married and have children. Contraception isn’t utilized by traditional Badjao people as it goes against their beliefs. Women have very little rights as the male decides when and how many children the couple will have.

The Badjao are not exposed to sexual education and they lack knowledge of the menstrual cycle as it is a taboo topic in their culture, as a result of this there is a lack of family planning. Due to extensive family sizes the eldest child is often deprived of their childhood as they regularly have to take care of their younger siblings and help provide for them. I have found it very hard to comprehend the idea of girls as young as five carrying their younger siblings around with them all day while they try to play with their friends. The emotional attachment I have witnessed between the baby and the child is uncanny to that of a mother and child, when the elder sibling puts down the baby for even a second it cries out to be held. This results in the older child missing out on vital childhood development as they are forced to take on responsibilities an Irish child would never dream of.

During my time here I have found it very upsetting to meet many amazing openly gay people within the Badjao community who will be expected to marry someone of the opposite sex as gay marriage isn’t accepted. I was pleasantly surprised by how accepting the Badjao are of gay people but was deeply saddened when I asked will they be allowed marry someone of the same sex and I was told they could never dream of it.

I have found it hard at times to understand the traditions of the traditional Badjao people, at twenty two and just having completed my final year in college my life is very different to a Badjao women of my age. Most Badjao women my age are married into an arranged marriage with on or two children and they have very rights within their relationship. I really admire the Badjao women they are strong, determined and resilient. I was lucky enough to get the chance to run an embroidery workshop for the women. I was blown away by their creativity and their eagerness to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute that I have spent with these amazing people, the wealth of love and support that they have for each other is incredibly admirable.

Boat Making in the Badjao

Ciara Sheehan

The Badjao are a plethora of amazing things, strong, caring, smart. They also happen to be exceptionally skilled Fishermen and boatmakers. Once a nomadic sea tribe they settled in Cebu in the 1960s and have since remained on land. However they have not forgotten their roots and still rely heavily on the sea as a source of income and food.

received_490594808424369One of the Fishermen and boatmakers, Mohammadjani sat down with me and explained the boat building process. A buyer approaches him and they decide on the size and price of the boat depending on its uses. Then a ritual called Janji is preformed by one of the elders, usually Mohammajani’s mother. The buyer of the boat will bring a downpayment of 3000 peso. The money is blessed and handed over. The boatmaker is also blessed and a piece of thread is placed on his wrist to ensure he will be safe and healthy while building the boat.

Next the materials which are usually just plywood, wood and nails are bought from the local market. It begins with the bottom or hull. The shape is carved out of the plywood usually with some sort of wood planer. It’s then cleaned polished and sanded. Following that step is Giyak. This consists of thin wooden strips being placed perpendicular to the hull and spaced out evenly along it. This is the foundation of the sides of the boat and is what will support the plywood on the port and starboard sides. Subsequent to that is Rerhyan or raghan. These a big wooden connectors placed on the inside of the boat which will be nailed to the plywood to ensure it stays in place. There is a lower and upper strip which run parallel to the bottom of the boat.

The last basic part to the process is Palomar. This involves the construction of the head and foot of the boat which can be as plain and embellished as the boatmaker decides. A camonote is also assembled. This is a little engine room which covers the engine keeping it dry and can store equipment and fuel. The barsan or propeller is usually sat about three quarters of the way back in the boat. The whole process usually takes about half a month if you are building everyday.

IMG_20190801_093758The boat owner, who is someone within the Badjao will paint it themselves. Sometimes there can be a ritual performed that will bless the boat and ensure secure fishing trips. The boat is tied to the house of the owner as the ritual takes place. If you the boat is well maintained it can last about 3 years.

As well as a talented boatmaker Mohammadjani is an accomplished Fishermen. The Badjao are exceptional pana(spear) fishers. They dive with flippers and spear guns. The can go up to 30 feet under water and can go an impressive five minutes holding their breath. They dive for a type of fish called Tanigue and sometimes, depending on the fisherman you will pray that the dive will go well.

Before Fishermen could stay near Cebu and catch many fish. Unfortunately due to water pollution the men can’t dive beneath the plastic to catch the fish and there is no fish left in Cebu as waters are so uninhabitable. As a result Fishermen have to travel further out to sea to reap their rewards. The nearest fishing spot is now located in between Cebu and Bahal, another island. Each journey uses approximately fifteen litres of petrol. They are gone for at least a day and possibly will have to sleep on the boat in order to catch enough fish to reap a profit. Usually they catch on average two to three fish in one trip. The fish are then sold at a a local market called Pasil.

From my time in the Badjao I’ve learned so many things about myself and the people in this wonderful community. Even though fishing and sea life is such a huge part of their culture it does not define them. They are some of the most amazing, strong and intelligent characters I’ve ever met and I feel very privileged that I was welcomed into the beautiful community.