Stories of Sesotunawa: The Artisans

October was Indigenous People’s Month. We wanted to do more than just honor the culture and traditions of the Tboli of Lake Sebu. We also wanted to celebrate the successes of our artisans and put the highlight on how Sesotunawa has inspired them to hope for a brighter future. Here are their stories.

"My vision for starting Sesotunawa is rooted in my desire to help other artisans in Lake Sebu. I want to show them that we can market our own products and sell them at a fair price." - Joel Blunto

Joel Blunto - Tau Temwel (Brass caster)

Joel Blunto

About two years ago, Joel Blunto sold L'wok Sbu for less than a hundred pesos. He was also at the point of making his customers decide how much they were willing to pay for his heritage. One of our volunteers clearly remembers Joel sitting in front of a glass table where his Temwel products were laid. One of his knees folded towards his chest, head bowed down, he said, "Kamo na bahala sir kung pila na." (You decide the price, sir.)

A lot has changed since then. Joel has been to many places and has met many incredible people. He even brought home an award as a Top Indiepreneur under the Creative Economy Sector, awarded by the Open Collaboration for East Asian Network (OCEAN). He has showcased his products and demonstrated the art of Temwel in front of many eager faces. Now, Sesotunawa has its own website.

Lwok Sbu (Brass Wave Ring)

Joel's dream has definitely surpassed his personal success. In an interview with him last Saturday, he contemplated on his dream of going back to help a remote community in Lake Sebu. This time, Joel is no longer sitting on a couch. He is on top of a hill overlooking Lake Sebu's sunset, dressed in his Tnalak attire, looking at the camera and with both feet planted firmly on the ground he says:

"My vision for starting Sesotunawa is rooted in my desire to help other artisans in Lake Sebu. I want to show them that we can market our own products and sell them at a fair price."

Jeneth Sukan Beader

Jeneth Sukan

No dream is ever too small if the opportunities to make dreams a reality are abundant.

For Jeneth, aiming high and dreaming big were close to impossible. Before Sesotunawa, her income from beading was barely enough to support her family and send her kids to school.

Jeneth’s income from Sesotunawa is now able to support her kids and her family. Using her own money, she was also able to fund a small fishing business in Lake Sebu.

She dreams of owning a house, of her kids completing their education, and of helping her husband raise a healthy family.

In her own words, “Kung ang pangarap ko sadto gamay, ang pangarap ko subong dako.” (My dreams used to be simple but now I dream of bigger things.)

Jimboy Blunto Tau Temwel

Tonton “Jimboy” Blunto

Tonton “Jimboy” Blunto has been practicing the art of Temwel for 19 years. Just like his older brother, Joel, Jimboy learned the art of brass casting from watching and helping his parents craft bells and accessories in their workshop. He is the artist behind our bestselling Hanak (arrow) bracelets and rings.

Before Sesotunawa, his Temwel products were sold at a very low price. Since he joined Sesotunawa, he has learned how to put more value into his work.

Life has started to improve for Jimboy. His proudest moment was being able to pay for his motorcycle, which he loaned, through his income from a Sesotunawa bazaar earlier this year.

Michell Kunay Aguilar Beader

Michelle Aguilar

Kunay (Michelle Aguilar) only joined Sesotunawa this year. Despite being new to the team, she has already taken on bigger roles. She’s also our fastest beader!

Before joining the community, her income from beading was only enough to buy food for her family. Being part of Sesotunawa has allowed her to financially support her husband in their small fishing business.

“Proud gid ko nga nakasulod ko sa Sesotunawa. Tani tuloy tuloy na gid sya.” (I’m very proud to be a part of Sesotunawa. I hope it succeeds.)

Henia Blunto Tau Temwel

Henia Blunto

Before Sesotunawa, Henia relies on her husband’s income (Joel Blunto) for her kids’ needs and only waits until Joel hands her money. Henia and Joel had to work with no rest in order to make ends meet, but their income is almost always not enough given that they had to send the kids to school and put food on the table. This must have been a harrowing experience for Henia as a mother and wife. This is one of the reasons why she was very uncertain of her kids’ future before they started Sesotunawa.

With Sesotunawa’s mentoring program for artisans and other enterprise development initiatives, Henia has highlighted that rest is no longer a luxury. Also, she already has her own income which empowers her to set aside funds and buy things that can make their lives better. With Sesotunawa’s income, Henia was able to buy a refrigerator for their kitchen.

When asked if her dreams have changed, Henia stated that she now sees hope. “Kung tuloy-tuloy ang Sesotunawa, makapa-eskwela na kami sa mga bata...” Henia delightfully added, “sa college,” after a quick pause.


Stories originally appeared on our Instagram and Facebook pages for Indigenous People’s Month. Words and photos by Sesotunawa.