By: Godfreyna Canja
Bayanihan is a term that is all too familiar for us Filipinos. It is simply the act of helping one another in the community, without expecting anything in return, for the sake of the good of the community. A selfless act, it is one of the traditions and practices that stayed throughout our history that still makes Filipinos proud.
With the recent and proliferating issue of the pandemic, it was not a surprise when people stood up again and once more revived the spirit of Bayanihan. People were cooking meals for those in need, raising funds for causes; these acts of kindness and selflessness have become more common these days.
In any situation seeing people come together and do things for the betterment of others is always inspiring, encouraging us to do the same. Creating a better environment for the people in the community by solving an issue, sometimes is not such an easy feat.
However, for Michael Angelo Yambok, these difficulties did not stop him from helping his community. Born a pure T’boli from Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, he was able to witness and appreciate the beauty of their tribe’s culture. After getting his degree of Community Development from Sta. Cruz Mission school in 2003, he worked as a community and youth organizer at Sta. Cruz Mission and was able to explore communities as far as Sarangani Province. Now he is the head of clustership in the National Commision for Culture and Arts T’Boli/Ubo Cluster, the director of the world-renowned Tboli performing arts group, the Helobung, and founded the Lake Sebu Youth Network, wherein they have annual programs on arts, culture, tourism, community development and education with youth volunteers.
Even now, indigenous people such as T’bolis lack learning facilities and materials for kids, illiteracy among the children continues to be a glaring issue for their community. Michael, who is passionate about arts, culture, tourism, education and community development conceptualized a personal program and advocacy called the Community Mobile Program where he taught indigenous kids how to read with reading materials he bought out of his own salary. With the help of some youth volunteers and other young professionals, their program was successful— until they had to stop because of Micahel’s busy schedule.
Though it was unfortunate that his program had to end, Michael was still driven to help his community. He believed the importance of education in lifting the children’s lives out of poverty and widening their worldviews through reading.
Early in 2020 he had the opportunity to meet Ms. Prima Guipo Hower who had been working in their community since the 70’s but was now based in the U.S. At 22 Ms. Prima Hower taught English at Santa Cruz Catholic Mission school in Lake Sebu, she lived and worked with the T’boli people for two years and was able to meet Michael’s parents Cristina and Agustin Yambok, and grandmother Gumban Sulay, whom she recalled played the S’ludoy (bamboo zither) beautifully.
As they were communicating online, Michael shared his vision and dream of building a small hut where he could gather books and teach children. He calls it T’boli Library and Culture Hub, a place for children to learn to appreciate reading and increase literacy. at the same time, encourage them to preserve their vibrant culture.
Impressed by this, Ms. Hower lent her support to Michael by organizing a birthday fundraiser for the project. Aside from raising money, Ms Hower also pledged to send thousands of books for the library. Michael’s vision of the first community library in Lake Sebu, slowly becoming a reality will allow the children to learn and appreciate reading, learn and keep the T’boli traditions and culture alive as he plans to have the traditional musical instruments displayed and have the kids continue to learn the T’boli tribal dances.
Apart from this project Michael has also led different initiatives to help the community during the pandemic through #WeCareWeShare Outreach – a fundraising initiative wherein the proceeds will be converted to grocery and food packs to be given to the indigenous community. As Michael said, “I had been doing this for so long, for, who else will help us except ourselves as T’boli.” Aside from this he also believes that empowering the T’boli artisans is important and in the future by the Community Enterprise Project, they will look for a market outlet for the artisans’ crafts. “Lake Sebu is blessed to have skilled men and women who are known in their own crafts such as T’nalak weaving, embroidery, woodcrafts, brass casting, and the like. I think these projects entail funds that would help empower our artisans. We buy their products and we will look for the market outlet.”
As of now they have raised over seventy thousand pesos for the construction of their first community library! His dream may have had a long journey but with the help of kind-hearted people, soon they will be able to help children realize their dreams through education.
Let’s empower our indigenous communities through education. Let’s help them build the T’boli Community Library and Culture Hub. For donations, please contact Mr. Michael Angelo Yambok at 0926 924 0365 or Mikel_SCMSI@yahoo.com.