This journey of life
Seven years ago, I was torn between entering the corporate world and pursuing further studies. It was that time of the year when sunflowers lined University Avenue, and my batch mates were busy looking for jobs or applying for postgraduate studies. As the elder of two children, I felt the pressure of living up to the expectations of my parents, relatives, and family friends, who all thought I would become either an excellent lawyer or a well-compensated private employee sooner or later (that is, after graduating from college). I was only 20 years old then.
In my job-hunting, I noticed that most of the available positions in companies that required applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology or other social sciences were related to human resources. Because I could relate to these positions as a sociology major, I submitted my resumé to some of the companies. However, I didn’t pursue my applications despite a few callbacks; I gave in to my (other) desire instead: a second shot at college.
I was often asked, “Why not take a master’s degree?” My reply entailed explaining over and over that I had fallen in love with anthropology, thanks to its holistic approach as a discipline. I took anthropology subjects as electives while completing my sociology degree, and I was interested in the other subjects. Besides, I only needed to take the few remaining units to obtain my second college degree while lacking the self-confidence to be a graduate student.
Becoming an anthropology major felt like a fresh start, and I was able to enjoy newfound freedom. My parents let me join field work without a chaperone; I traveled with my classmates and we became friends with the people in the communities we visited. I got to travel to places often mentioned in books and presented in documentaries. And I gained deeper understanding of culture, met diverse groups of people, and explored and appreciated the other facets of life at the University of the Philippines (but that’s another story).
I must say that I was able to get out of my shell, and I felt I had become more independent because most of the major courses required field work far from the comforts of home. With my classmates I had my first airplane ride, travelling to Davao from Manila, in December 2006. We were conducting research on an indigenous community in Bukidnon, the Matigsalug, and we had to travel for two hours or so by land from Davao to get there. In April 2007 I was also able to travel overseas for the first time—to Sabah—again with my classmates, for our research on indigenous peoples—the Iranun, Badjao, and Dusun Tobilung—in the town of Kota Belud. We stayed there for about a month, interviewing the IPs, living with them, and observing and documenting their everyday life. (The outputs of our researches/field work were several papers written as part of fulfilling the requirements of our degree.) The language differences did not prevent us from establishing a good relationship with the communities and with our foster families in field work. In Kota Belud, for instance, we became the “adopted” children of those who took us into their homes; some of us were able to visit them years later.
When I graduated again in October 2007, I again wondered what to do next. My sister, who is just a year younger than me, began working in a private company immediately after graduating from college, while I was at home most of the time, thinking about the future. I also thought of my parents: My mother was about to retire from work; my father had been a retiree for several years already. This was why I became motivated to look for work after a few months. Eventually I became employed as a human resources assistant in a company with global clientele. I enjoyed my full-time work for almost a year until I decided to give law school a try. I resigned from the company and prepared for the UP Law Aptitude Exam. But I was unable to pass it and, again, I felt stranded.
But then one of my batch mates (and later coworker) informed me that there was an available position for a research assistant in a nongovernment organization providing services to IPs—and the rest is history.
My work involves a considerable amount of research and writing, as well as strenuous walking, mountain-climbing, and river-crossing to reach IP communities and work with them. I am with a staff assigned to Occidental Mindoro under a consortium project for the Mangyan groups in the province. Our tasks include facilitating capacity-building training, assisting in the titling of the IPs’ ancestral domains, and formulating their community development plans. We work in line with our organization’s principle that the results should be “mula sa katutubo, para sa katutubo (from the IPs, for the IPs)”—that is, culturally appropriate. I also get a chance to visit other IP communities in the country.
I am now in my fourth year in development work and it has been fulfilling. Not only do I get to practice the learning from the academe, I also continue learning by doing while building a career and engaging in advocacies. And I am truly grateful for my background in sociology and anthropology, which are regarded as twin sisters by anthropologist A.L. Kroeber for the theoretical frameworks and research methodologies. I also feel that each experience in every place I go is new. Alongside my experience in the corporate world, this background has helped me in interacting with various people and in adapting to ever-changing environments. Because of it I have become open-minded and more sensitive to varying situations.
I still want to take up a master’s degree—in sociology or anthropology, or even international studies—in the near future. I also want to put up a small business for my parents, who are now in their 60s, as soon as I am financially stable. I expect more travels, explorations, and surprises (including changes), and I believe the moral support and guidance of my family and friends will stay the same.
On decision-making, American sociologist C. Wright Mills once said, “Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them—and then, the opportunity to choose.”
Negotiating the road less travelled is not easy, but I am ready to engage with every new possibility, one step at a time. I just have to move forward while realizing my full potential and surviving this journey called life.
Marian Rica O. Lodripas, 27, is a project staff member at Anthropology Watch Inc. (AnthroWatch), an NGO working with indigenous peoples in the Philippines.
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