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Ewald Hauck Dinter, a 70-year old German priest, has been living for 22 years among the Mangyan people of Mindoro Island, learning their customs and even their spoken Buid language. During that time he has gained the trust of the people and become an advocate for opening up educational opportunities for them. A recent Philippine press report about him emphasizes the importance of providing a good education for the Buid and the other Mangyan peoples.

Fr. Dinter has been in the Philippines since 1967. At first he moved about from one place to another, but he then settled in the mountains of Mindoro, which he fell in love with. He explains that he has a very strong interest in the Mangyan culture. He has not only learned to speak their language, he also has learned to read the ancient writings.

At first he was viewed as an outsider when he moved into a hut in the mountains. “I had to wait for a long time before I was able to earn their trust. When I [taught] them about what I learned with my anthropological background, they would just stare at me blankly and refuse to listen. Some lowlanders would even call me stupid man. I realized I was facing a wall because they wouldn’t let me in their world,” he told the reporter.

After some months, as the tribal elders continued to study him, they began to change their attitudes. “Two elderly Mangyans came to me at a feast and told me that I was observed very closely. They said you never made any negative remark about our culture. Now we decide you may know everything.” He was thrilled that they had finally accepted his presence.

He repays their trust by advocating for schools for their communities. He is the coordinator of Mangyan Mission, Inc., a non-governmental organization that has helped establish 27 public elementary schools in many Mangyan communities around Mindoro. His organization discusses the need for schools with the communities, and builds them to meet community specifications. After the schools are built, they are turned over to the Department of Education.

He emphasizes similar themes as the ones covered in news stories reported last week in these pages about the importance of melding the best of the outside world with the strength of their indigenous culture. He expresses himself effectively:

“With indigenous education (patterned after the non-formal system called the Alternative Learning System), there is no grading system. No competition according to the Mangyans. It is all about equality. Anyone regardless of age can study. We usually don’t hold classes during the rainy season because it is hard for the students to walk going to the school on the mountains. We also have adult education at night time for the parents and elders,” he indicates.

He doesn’t mind discussing the many accomplishments of his mission—the thousands of Mangyans who have graduated from school, and the people who have come back as teachers, nurses, and midwives to work in their society. He is especially proud of one Mangyan youth who is now an attorney working with the provincial government. That man “is proud of his Mangyan culture. He always introduces himself as a Mangyan. In his graduation [from] law school, his grandfather who had never worn any pants, came in [a] g-string. But he was proud of him,” Dinter says.

The priest admits that some Mangyan young people gain an education but become ashamed of their villages. He tells them not to feel inferior, to be proud of the societies that they represent. To help along the process of building pride in the local culture, he has published a six-volume work on Mangyan folktales. He is also active in efforts to preserve the Buid writing system.

In recognition of his educational work, dedication, and service among the Mangyan people, Fr. Dinter will be feted at a “Tribute to Teachers” program to be held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City on September 27.