At first glance, Benjamin Abadiano
could easily pass for a busy white collar worker in one of the country's business districts.Wearing a simple white shirt paired with the usual plain dark pants and black shoes, Ben
, as he
is called by colleagues at work, is much more than what his
physical features project. Ben
happens to be this year's recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership for his
contribution to the socio-economic and educational development of the indigenous Mangyans in Mindoro Oriental.
"The first time I learned about the award, hindi ko pinansin (I ignored it).It was only when a Magsaysay Awards
staff called me that I soon realized I had won the award," relates Ben
Born in 1963, Benjamin Abadiano
was an orphan boy, who was raised by Catholic grandparents who wanted to give him a better life."I was born in Manila, but I was raised by my loving grandparents in Mindanao," he
relates."My grandparents were strict, but they loved me so much, some of my siblings and relatives envied me." He
was trained and guided by his
grandparents, who taught him everything they knew about hard work and achieving success.
To pursue a higher education, Ben
left home to study at the Xavier University
in Mindanao."At that time, my faith was in limbo.I questioned and challenged God all the time."One time, he
was alone praying inside the school chapel when he
started challenging God for a miracle.
Following that experience, Ben
faith back in one piece and asked for God's complete forgiveness.Confronted with the prospect of entering the mission to become a priest, Ben
decided to first take up Anthropology, an academic course where he
would soon find his
niche with ethnic tribes.
As an Anthropology studies major, Ben
was constantly exposed to provincial and rural life.
To cut the story short, Ben
found himself again involved in a native tribe's simple way of life.He decided to stay and work as a volunteer.
Despite the lack in training in curriculum development or even in teaching, Ben
said, "With God's help, I was able to draft a curriculum from scratch.Instead of building a concrete school, I decided to take the education right inside the Mangyan tribe because I believed that was the best way to do it."
Such became the foundation of the Tugduan (Seedbed) Center for Human and Environmental Development.Abadiano
originally launched the Center with only 12 students and a small hut, which he
shared with them day and night."I was not only a solicitor, I was also the principal and teacher...all in one," a smiling Abadiano
In the nine years Abadiano
spent with the Mangyans, he
was able to develop a small school into a functioning learning center complete with classrooms and meeting halls, a library, a science laboratory, a pre-school and a Mangyan cultural resource center.
"In time, I sought the Department of Education's help.They questioned my skills and credentials, saying I had no business running a school.This did not stop me from pursuing the education program I had established for the Mangyans," Ben
says."Their negative perception changed as soon as they saw the progress I had made with the school.They decided to help me instead."
With new improvements came new students as well."I recruited new teachers and solicited more funds until such a time the school became sustainable."Ben
left the Mangyan in 1997 to pursue formal studies in preparation for the priesthood with the Jesuits in Ateneo de Manila.
Award and incentives
When the Ramon Magsaysay Award committee awarded him the prestigious Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, Benjamin Abadiano
was neither prepared nor excited about it.What was important to him was knowing that through his
personal efforts, he
was able to contribute to the development of the Mangyan minority in Mindoro Oriental.
I asked Ben
intended to take advantage of these incentives."I want to continue helping people from the grassroots.Doing that is fulfilling and that makes me a happy person," he
As far as development work is concerned, Ben
is back in Mindanao, this time working with the Assisi Development Foundation
to lead efforts in aid of victims of war atrocities in Mindanao.He is currently the executive director of Tabang Mindanaw, a rehabilitation program integrating social welfare, governance and livelihood with strong emphasis on peace building.