The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world in different aspects, especially the health systems, the world’s economy, and our social fabric. No one was immune and everyone was affected. Both high-income and low-income countries fell flat to this very notorious virus. Up until today, we are still all battling with it.
However, with the different interventions by governments and private sectors, I cannot help but notice that the efforts were not inclusive. If high-income countries who were equipped with advanced healthcare systems and have more economic reserves are still weathering the challenge of this pandemic, low-income countries, like the Philippines, who have fewer options, will then experience a more painful blow. With that, I first thought of the vulnerable group, not just the indigents but the specific communities who, even before this pandemic, were already challenged, the indigenous people. When the opportunity to support an indigenous community came to me, I had no second thoughts and accepted it. In fact, I was very much excited to immediately start.
The engagement with Sesotunawa came as a surprise to Business Clinic. A friend and client of mine, a Designer-Entrepreneur, introduced me to them. I have been hearing about them through her as some of her jewelry pieces included some elements created by Sesotunawa Tboli artists. I am quite familiar with the Tboli people and they are really close to my heart as they are closer to home, my birthplace in Sultan Kudarat.
When I met the dedicated core group of volunteers, Karl, Jen, Oni, and Gabs, I felt an instant connection. Our principles and values about community development, Filipino culture and social justice were truly aligned. I knew then that my working relationship with this team will be great.
Meeting the community, I must say, was the highlight of the engagement. As a business solutions firm that aims to help businesses realize their potentials and generate more social impact, Business Clinic will never impose but only persuade its partner-clients. We can never proceed to anything unless the community partner accepts us. Also, the Sesotunawa core group of volunteers and Business Clinic mutually adhere to this principle of “community first.” Even if we want the engagement, unless the community agrees, we can never proceed. And so, it was such a great delight to me personally that the community opened their doors for us and even invited us to further explore the beauty of Tboli culture and the natures beauty of Lake Sebu. That community warmth indeed felt like home.
Usually, as a business improvement practitioner, you are a witness to the positive changes of your partner-client but my engagement with Sesotunawa is different. Personally, I am experiencing the positive change myself, primarily because of the nurturing atmosphere I received both from the volunteers and the community. Their wealth of knowledge, experiences and wisdom is truly admirable. If we are just humble enough to watch, listen, and experience with them, we can, in fact, learn more from these indigenous communities which can best complement our logical and scientific learnings. What was planned as knowledge transfer to Sesotunawa became knowledge-sharing with Business Clinic. With their artists’ ingenuity and the strength of their community wisdom, you will be a fool not to respect it.
Though our engagement is still on its infancy, it really feels like we have been together for so long. Few improvements, few changes, and few agreements have been made and so far we are both happy where we are together.
My journey with Sesotunawa and its community reflects the very true nature of the Tboli people, gentle and peaceful, like the serenity of Lake Sebu. We are still far from where we want to go but like how I have personally journeyed around the beauty of Lake Sebu, not all parts will be calm, some will be troubled. Yet I am sure of this, it will be worth it.
Bong salamat, Sesotunawa.
(Field work photos from different communities around the Philippines.)
Words and photos by Roma Padua, founder of Business Clinic PH