“No Greater Service”: Memoirs From a Mission to the T’boli Community of Lake Sebu

by Matthew Escosia
SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service
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By: Godfreyna Canja


To capture the beautiful moments in our lives, we take photos, paint pictures and write down these moments in our journals, blogs, and whichever creative outlet we choose to. Leaving a legacy is something we humans can’t help but do, for our loved ones and the people we share common experiences with, we can’t help but share the lessons we learned and the beauties in life that we witnessed.

For Mr. and Mrs. Alvin and Prima Hower, it is something that would touch, not only their loved ones but also people across regions is how they envisioned their legacy to be. Thus, their Memoir called “No Greater Service” is born.

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

A collection of letters, photos, and journals of the author

It is no easy feat to write a memoir, but after nine months of reading through journals, nostalgic letters and trying to reconnect with old friendships from across the globe, the authors triumphed and created a beautiful and awe-inspiring book filled with nostalgia. According to Mr. Hower, it was a challenge to get permissions from persons mentioned in the journal and letters but being able to reconnect with them was  one of the most pleasant surprises and welcomed moment of their journey that lessened the challenge.

Their photo memoir offers a personal and vivid account of their remarkable life, author Mr. Alvin Hower serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the remote and underserved area of Southern Philippines recounts his experiences working and living together with the indigenous T’boli people, and of course his romantic encounter with a lovely Filipina girl that turned out to be the love of his life.

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

Mr. and Mrs. Alvin and Prima Hower

In an interview with one of the authors, Mr. Alvin Hower, he recounts his experience with working with the T’boli people and his most unforgettable memories during his time in the Philippines. The authors both worked at Santa Cruz Mission (SCM) in 1972 to 1974, Mr. Hower as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Mrs, Hower as a teacher. Located in barrio Lake Sebu, it was one of the most remote and mountainous areas of Surallah. As the author recalled, the only way to travel from the closest town of Surallah to Lake Sebu was via the Canahay Road that took 2-3 hours to travel 23 kilometers, and at times the mission could only be reached on foot, which then takes 10 hours or more.

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

Author’s first trip to Santa Cruz Mission, 1971 with fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Dottie Anderson.

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

The Santa Cruz Mission School and dormitories for the teachers and T’boli children. The dormitory was built so the children who live 3 or more hours walking distant from the Mission could attend school. 1972

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

The author, his friends, and the T’boli pupils of Santa Cruz Mission School. September 1972.

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

Lake Seluton, the second largest of the three lakes. It is one of the most beautiful sceneries at Santa Cruz Mission. The author lived in the dormitories overlooking this lake with T’boli people as their neighbors.

The author also reminisced how the living conditions were primitive in the T’boli village of Lem-ehek back then. No radio or movies, no indoor plumbing and that electricity was available only from 5-9 p.m. A small Mission store sold staples of mostly canned goods that’s why Mr. Hower and his fellow volunteers would always scrounge for fresh fruits and vegetables. Even with all this the author revealed, “Working with the T’boli people of Lake Sebu was the most singular assignment of my Peace Corps years. The colorful costumes and rich culture left an indelible and lasting impression. Under the title of Management Consultant, I wore many hats. The job offered an opportunity to examine and discover myself and contribute skills that I thought irrelevant or took for granted, like working as a photographer for the Santa Cruz Mission promotions. I set-up bakery and cafeteria, train local managers in various phases of economic production and write feasibility studies, budget, and project proposals for funding development projects. “

SEA Wave - T'Boli community - No Greater Service

Together, the authors left priceless gifts to the people of Lake Sebu, they solicited financial support from various domestic and international charitable organizations such as USAID, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Misereor (a German Catholic Bishops’ Organization for Development Cooperation) and more, that helped the community in various ways. Misereor awarded grants to Santa Cruz Mission to build a hospital, a high school and college, and other road building projects. Ms. Prima helped in establishing an “Adopt-A-Child” program whereby all the students at SCM were provided free education through financial sponsorships from the United States and beyond.

“I really love being a Peace Corps volunteer and very proud of the work we do. Peace Corps has done a lot for me, especially in terms of showing me that the American way of doing things is not the only way, nor always the better way. It is humbling. And that the trappings of wealth are not always the answer to happiness; a simple way of life can be a source of utter joy and fulfillment.” – Alvin J. Hower in his letter to his dad, Chapter 16, Peace Corps: No Source of Pride More real, page 346.

Apart from that, the authors believe that education is key to everyone’s growth, with both of them being teachers, they want to impart as much knowledge to people as they can, Ms. Prima Hower believes in the saying that “A book no matter how old is new to one who has not read it.” , and with that their family decided to establish The Hower-Bates Library Network which collaborated with the Notre Dame School in the Philippines where Mr. Hower had taught to establish their first Children’s Library. Since then the family has been sending books to libraries in the Philippines since 2004 and have sponsored more libraries in 2017 and 2018, currently they are building their fourth library called the “T’boli Library and Culture Hub” in Lake Sebu, Surallah. (See SEA Wave’s story on the community library here.)

The book, “No Greater Service” is available on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and liferichpublishing.com and all profits from the sales will be donated to The Hower-Bates Library Network and T’boli Advocacies.


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