Arian Maui Estrellado (21 years old): “I never felt that I was discriminated. I felt at home. Everyone welcomed me regardless of my being a transgender.”
“We cannot accept you in this school unless you cut your hair short.” These words traumatized the then 17-year old Maui when she tried, for the second time, to enroll in a public high school in Zamboanga City, Philippines. Her applications were denied twice by two different schools because of Maui’s gender preference, which led Maui to stop school and just stay in her house to take care of her growing siblings.
Arian Maui, her real name registered in her birth certificate, is the oldest of three children. She dreamt of excelling in life through formal education, however, her gender preference became a hindrance in achieving this dream. She was rejected thrice from entering formal education. Her first experience of rejection was when she was in Grade 6. Her next experience was when she was 17, and her most recent experience of exclusion was when she was 18 . After three rejections, Maui has resigned herself that her dreams of finishing formal education are unreachable.
For two years, Maui stopped schooling.
In 2016, Maui heard of the SUGPAT program of Ateneo de Zamboanga University and UNICEF. She applied and was chosen as one of the 30 scholars of the SUGPAT Alternative School for Peacebuilding and the Arts, a learning center for creative and artistically inclined out of school youth. The chosen learners are given the chance to complete the Alternative Learning System of the Department of Education and be trained in peacebuilding and the creative arts. The aim of the SUGPAT program is to capacitate out-of-school youth learners in areas of peacebuilding and the creative arts. During her participation in the program, Maui was not only able to complete the ALS program of DepEd. She also was able to instill in her peacebuilding competencies and enhanced her creative thinking abilities to address conflicts in her community.
“When I applied to the SUGPAT program, I was hesitant if they will accept me in the program because of my being transgender. But when I was accepted and started going to Ateneo for our classes, I felt welcomed. It was the first time in years when a school accepted me regardless of my being transgender. For that I am most thankful for.”
“Our art classes not only honed our creativity and talents. It helped us understand the importance of collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Also, our peacebuilding classes trained us how to be peace builders and mediators. In my family, whenever there is conflict, I make sure that we sit down and resolve the conflict.”
While waiting for the result of the Acceleration and Equivalency Exam of the ALS program, Maui volunteers in her community. She is an inspiring voice that unites her fellow youth in making sure that they build a better community for the future.