“Ang Kilum-Kilom sa Kinabuhing Lumad” (A Young Girl’s Dream to Serve)

Circa 1995.
I was in my 2nd grade when my teacher asked me about what I want to be when I grow up.
I looked at her and I answered shyly, “I want to help children like me build a home for children who are astray; to feed them with Spaghetti like my Mom used to cook for me; and give them Barbie dolls so we could play together.”
My teacher believing that I had an innocent and quite ambitious dream supported my answer by saying, “So, you want to build an orphanage?”
Without knowing what an orphanage was, I simply nodded and said, “Yes!”

April, 2015.
After 20 years, I realized that I am never close to my dream. I am still thriving to become a better person and working my way out to earn a living. Overlooking and forgetting the dream I created decades ago, I tried to convince myself not to feel guilty. After all, people change; and when they do change, their dreams also change. But as what “The Alchemist” is trying to convey to its every reader, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”, I started to relive my dream.

The War Divided the Land and Tore the Children
The influence of social media, people are vulnerable to whatever news (biased or unbiased/propaganda or factual) they see or read. Confusion, anger, and even emotional outrage could happen. This exactly was the situation when I scrolled the newsfeed sometime in March, 2015. The headline caught my attention. I then found myself following the news between the NPA, the AFP and the Indigenous People and the injustices I believe these chaos brought about. Women were slayed, children were killed, houses were destroyed and disputes turned into overall mishaps. These scenarios weren’t new but these kind of news and information always bring me heartaches, trauma and hate.
Then, I remembered Mindanao - “The Land of Promise,” a land bestowed with so much natural resources,  beauty, a culture so rich and the “lumad” generation that has been surviving in the advent of modernization and might literally vanish because of war. A film then rolled in my cerebral cortex while uttering the words, “I must be there! I must take part. I am a Filipino! I must do whatever it takes to help the IP’s.”

The Casual Meeting turned into a Promise
Davao. October 2014. Somewhere in a fast food chain, my friend and I were talking about my experience when I had my climb in Mt. Apo a few days ago. At the same time, he also shared his experience while staying in Davao. The conversation became serious when the topic about the “lumad” group was mentioned out of nowhere.
“How do you want to teach?” he finally asked me.
“I can volunteer as long as I am needed,” I replied without a second thought.
“There are deafening bombs…there are rebels and military from time to time…are you ready for that?” he said apathetically.
“I am ready to serve,” I did not hold my answer.
“When are you going to start?” he asked with strong conviction.
“I will arrange that ASAP,” was my reassuring reply.

Half-A-Year and I am Back
True to my words, I returned to Davao with a greater cause - to fight for the oppressed “lumad”. I was accompanied by a friend and my Mom. Except from the tremendous flight experience, we were all set to fulfill a promise I made months ago. It wasn’t easy. Even if my friends agreed to my plan for an Outreach Program, we need to consider the financial aspect and the logistics. With only a few months of preparation and donations we gathered, we finally booked a flight in January while gathering as much information as we could and widening our contacts for the “Lumad Project”. (The flight tickets were from our own pockets.)

April 1, 2015. Two days before our flight to Davao, we received an information warning us about the place.
“It is a military hotspot,” was the text message we received.
Then we called the informant.
At the back of my mind, I still wanted to go.
“Are you okay about this? I won’t compromise my job,” was my friend’s reply when we were getting ready a night before the flight.
“I am. We can do it.” I insisted.
Another phone call this time a straight warning.
“You will be accompanied by a group for you to be safe; otherwise, you wouldn’t want to blame us” was our trusted-confidant.
Without much being said, we made a diversion – another plan.

 Bagobo/Bagobo-Klata and their Fight for their Ancestral Home
Since we made a diversion of our plan to visit the Manobo Tribe, my friend from Davao offered his help to look for another IP group. We were endorsed to the Bagobo/Bagobo-Klata Tribe in Sitio Kahusayan, Tugbok District, Davao City. 
"Vigourous kids during our art session."
Ever since we arrived in Davao City, we had to work non-stop for the outreach program – health kits (shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and hand towel), feeding program (hotdog, fish ball, egg and rice), and educational kits (notebooks, pencils and crayons) and of course, since I would be teaching these children, we bought something for the visual aid. Finally, we finished our preparation at 4 o’clock in the morning; had a little nap and headed to Tugbok District.

A Mountain Home
"I was amazed that in the community, they have these twin brothers."
Sitio Kahusayan is home to a community of Bagobos, Bagobo-Klatas and Bisaya peasants. Since 2014, the Kahugpungan sa Lumad has partnered with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanogon (Unite for the Defense of Our Ancestral Land -- a Talaingod Manobo initiated school system for lumads and marginalized peasants) to build a kindergarten and elementary school within their community. 
"Classes are held here"
The Kahugpungan sa Lumad is composed of 55 households, 62 families, 125 males, 113 females. For school year 2015-2016, Grade 2 had 10 pupils, Grade 1 had 12, Kindergarten had 13. The nearest elementary school is an hour or so walk away. The Kahugpungan sa Lumad has been the victim of, and continues to face the threat of land-grabbing and forced eviction by Apollo Quiboloy (yes, the religious leader, self-proclaimed 'Appointed Son of God').

It was a long ride from the central city to the mountainous area. We need to ride a “habal-habal” bringing along our provisions. Though it was a tricky and bumpy road meters away from the location, we managed to arrive safely. We were greeted by the tribe’s female head as she welcomed us in her “bahay-kubo”. We introduced ourselves to the community and much from our expectation we were received with great hospitality. We were led in a classroom that was decent enough to handle classes.
I felt the greatest joy when children in the community started gathering; first by pair and then by group. The tiny classroom was slowly filled with children of different age groups. Their innocent faces and eyes vividly manifested tremendous excitement. Those eyes were filled of dreams and aspirations, yet they learned to be content to whatever they have. I could almost burst with tears from what I saw.

Day 1. My friend woke up earlier than I did. She prepared the necessary stuff to bring with us to the school. I was up a few minutes after while giving final touches to my visual aids. At that day, I decided to retell the story of “Ang Pagong at Ang Matsing.” It was challenging in my part since I need to speak the Filipino language (closer to Tagalog). My guy friend had his share too. He always made it sure that we could carry on with the activities.
I was amazed by the enthusiasm of these students (at all age group). The respect I gained from these students are at par from what I had received from the city. Every face painted a picture of hope. These angelic faces transcended through my heart and soul. The will of these children to learn were enough for me to keep going and to make each lesson worthwhile.
"Kids making their own name tags"
"Cute kid..."
Before we headed for lunch, I taught these children how to perform proper handwashing. My friends and I together with the community folks distributed the individual health kits. I could see how excited they were to receive their own kit. Lunch was served and I felt overjoyed seeing them enjoy the food we served. After eating, they were also taught how to brush their teeth properly. I could see how eager they were to participate. 
"Lining up for lunch"
The afternoon session was handled by my friend. Children were encouraged to bring out the artists in them. They were again, very participative. I was checking on the elderly’s blood pressure and other health issues (within my Nursing scope; more into health teaching). At the end of the first day, my friends and I evaluated it with contentment.
"Art session with Ate Apol"
Day 2. The female leader prepared naturally grounded coffee (one of my favorites ever) in a very early morning. I was also preparing my lesson for the day, “Ang Gamo-Gamo at ang Lampara”. By 6 in the morning, somebody knocked on our door. We heard a high-pitched voice of a female kid. We were startled because we instructed the kids to meet them at the school by 8 in the morning.
“Ate!” the kid’s voice called up.
“Inday…” I spoke.
“Ate, magsugod nata…” was the answer.
My guy friend opened the door of the house, and we saw a very neat little girl with her hair on a bun holding her educational kit while looking up at us. (tears…I remembered her face while writing these lines…I miss her!)
“Lenie!” exclaimed my girl friend. “Sayo kaayo ka, inday. Ka-nice! Ready na kaayo ka!” she added.
“Hello, Len…moapas lang mi inday ha. Mo-eat sa mi tapos mo-adto dayon mi sa school. Ingna nalang uban nimo nga friends…” I explained to Lenie.
“Humana man mi, Ate. Nagclean na pud mi sa classroom,” she replied softly. (tears…it makes me want to go back to the place again…)
“Sige…sige..magready na mi, inday…thank you!” I assured her.
Since we were not able to come on time, the children flock together to the "bahay kubo" where we stayed. It was so heart-warming. My heart almost burst because these children trusted us too much. 
Not until we were done with the lessons, lunch and art sessions, we realized that we were not still ready to go. Personally, I wanted to stay. I wanted to be these children.
"These kids are our future. Let us take action! NOW!"
"Ang kilum-kilom sa kinabuhing lumad" or the difficult life of the indigenous people are worth mentioning for. This minority group receives less attention from the national level. They even become subjects of ridicule when they are seen in the city.
I hope the majority will take a great mind shift and treat these IP's with equality and justice.
Lenie, Carlo and the 60 plus kids founded their dreams with the belief that someday these dreams among people who have the heart and soul that feel what they feel.
Like me, these children aim to become the best individual as they can be.
Let us become their instrument to achieve their goals.
Let us awaken our young heart and pure mind to serve others - we don't want to lose our future generation, do we?

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About Marie Angelique Villamor

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