Sikat:  School of Indigenous
Knowledge and tradition​

Lake Sebu, S. Cotabato, Philippines

About This School
This school was started 17 years ago; it is a place that provides the children with an education and where they learn about and embrace their tribal culture and traditions. The school was started by a woman, Ms. Maria, who owns a guesthouse where she teaches Tboli dance and music as she wanted a place where the children could grow in their heritage.  The school is supported by the guesthouse, but this is not enough. 
The teachers at this school are, you guessed it, Tboli.  There is
not enough money to pay these teachers and year after year they are working more volunteer hours than paid hours; it is there passion for the project that keeps them there.  But this cannot continue, these teachers have families they need to support and incomes they need to bring home.
The school is extremely
low on supplies. Reading books, notebooks, study books, pencils, chalkboards, and so many other things, are needed. Things like science equipment, a computer for the students or the principal, etc., are not even a consideration at this point.

The building is rented; it is very small with a dirt floor, pretty much full to capacity with the students and has one of the classrooms outside under a tarp.  The dream is to own a building that cannot be taken from them and that will hold, in doors, all the students.  But with no funds to even pay the teachers, this is not a reality anytime soon.
We need to raise money to pay the teachers, get supplies and hopefully one day, a proper building. The sales of this book will go towards firstly the teachers, and hopefully in time we can raise enough to help with the other issues.

My Story
This school came along right after working on two books; one in Cambodia and one in the mountains in The Philippines. I left the mountains and went to stay with the ​family of my sister-in-law, who is also Filipino. I wanted to meet my brother’s new family.

​‘Auntie and Uncle’, as they invited me to call them, ​were so kind to me and even insisted that I sleep in their bed while they take the floor. Can you imagine! They were in their late 50’s to early 60’s and they insisted on taking the floor and would not take no for an answer!  This is a great example of how wonderful they were to me during my entire visit.
Uncle took the week off of work in anticipation of my visit, and took me everywhere. He wanted me to have the best time I could possibly have. Knowing that working in schools and creating these books was my passion, he took me all around to find a new school to work in. The funny part is that I had just finished working two schools back to back and was tired, the thought of another school was not that exciting for me. I arrived at the house on a Monday, Wednesday we found the school and made plans to return on the weekend, and start working with the kids on the following Monday. As it turns out, the experience that came with working in this school was one of the best experiences of my life!​
Thursday, before heading off to the school for the weekend, I went to the dentist, yuck!  While home in Canada I had mentioned to my sister-in-law that during my travels I had hoped to get my teeth cleaned and some cavities filled.  Low and behold, it turns out that ​​​​​​​my sister-in-laws mom used to be a dentist!  So it was arranged for me to visit one of her dentist friends that she trusted.  As I sat in the chair getting drilled I kept waiting for the freezing... it never came.  I asked and as it turns out they don’t give freezing unless you ask for it.  Growing up in Canada we always received freezing when getting a filling, it is unheard of not to. I realized from this visit to the dentist, where I received a cleaning and 7 fillings(!), that freezing is not necessary!  When it got a little bit deep and hit a nerve, I would jump a tiny bit and the dentist would back off and drill a different area. I came out of the dentist chair after 7 hours of work and ate pizza!  In Canada they give you freezing all the time because we have dental plans that pay for it, so the dentists just go ahead and charge. Scandalous.

Heidi attacks!

Saturday evening Uncle and I headed to ​​​Lake Sebu on his motorbike to stay at a ​guesthouse that is affiliated with the school. It was the perfect weekend to stay because there was a crew there filming a documentary on Kublai Millan, a famous Filipino artist, who was friends with Ms. Maria, the owner of the guesthouse and founder of the school. On that evening we had a feast! We had sticky rice baked in banana leaves, which once opened we used as our plates, pan fried tilapia, purple sweet potatoes that tasted like candy, fresh melon off the tree, bananas cooked in palm sugar and water, and more. Together we all sat on the floor with the feast spread out in the middle of us all, about 15-20 people.

Lake Sebu Guesthouse

​​The next day we had a visit from ​​​​​​​Gintuy Kultow, an elder from one of the Tboli villages up in the mountains. He was such a sweet man and even with not speaking the same language, I felt we bonded.  He had hoop earrings all the way up his ears, joined together by strings of beads, and a tribal hat.  Maria brought out the hegelung, a long handmade guitar with only two strings, and Gintuy played us a lovely song.

Gintuy Kultow

That evening some of the ​​​children, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​teenagers and adults all got dressed up ; the women wearing the swat koyu on their heads (a headpiece made of wood and decorated with thousands of beads), and the men wearing clothing made of tnalak (a fabric made from abaca fibre, a plant in the banana tree family), and performed dances and beautiful music.
​​They performed the ​​​​​​​​​​​Kadal Tahaw, also known as The Bird Dance, the Kadal Tahu, which was a very graceful dance with slow footsteps, and the Monkey dance, where the men jumped around and fought each other with their swords and shields. It was incredible! They played beautiful music on the kulintang, horizontally laid gongs, the kubing, a bamboo jew’s harp, the T’nonggong, a drum made from deer skin, and more, and one of the ladies sang a song for us acapella. It was an evening unlike any I had ever experienced. I felt so blessed to be there at that time and included in the group.
The next day we headed to the school. The building was built of grey concrete and very small. Inside they had ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​three “classrooms” with dirt floors and only one wall to divide the rooms; the other two were divided by the chalkboard, and outside under a tarp was a fourth. The chalkboard had a hole in it, there were the little chairs with desk tops attached, but half of them were missing the desk part, or only had half of it.  But, all that aside, it was full of children eager to learn and teachers eager to teach. One of the teachers was so amazing, he got right in on the drawing with us. He drew with me on the chalkboard to help the kids with their imagination, he also drew his own pictures alongside the kids and handed it in, he was wonderful. All the teachers were wonderful; they translated for me and encouraged me when I wanted to play with the children. At recess they would toss coins in a game and one day I felt spicy and started doing cartwheels, you should see what the kids started doing!!

Currently in the ​​​​​​Philippines the New People’s Army (NPA) is trying to take over. While I was working at the school on the Tuesday, the NPA attacked a village 7 km away!  They looted stores and set homes on fire; hundreds of people fled to safety.  When looking for a school for me to work in, if we hadn’t found this Tboli school, the next village we were going to try was the same village that got attacked. This was very shocking for me, I could have been there!  Being from Canada, we rarely experience things like this, and when we do, it shakes us.  The locals where saddened by this news, but not shaken. They all felt that 7 km away was far, they were safe. I couldn’t believe it.​​​​
Working with the Tboli tribe was definitely a blessing and a privilege. It was so wonderful to experience so much of their culture and traditions. Together, with the children of this school, we are pleased to present to you, ‘Nga Di’s New School’!​​​​​​​
Heidi-Marie xoxo