By: Godfreyna Canja
The T’Bolis are an ethnic group from Southwestern Mindanao, they are famously dubbed as the “Dream Weavers” for their unique skill of weaving their traditional clothing known as t’nalak, made from krungon or wild abaca fiber.
Last year, SEA Wave had the opportunity to feature Michael Yambok, a community youth organizer and head of the T’Boli clustership, and his ambitious dream of building a library and culture hub for his community. Amid the struggles of last year due to the pandemic, it was inspiring to see how much the Filipino bayanihan spirit can move people to do great things for the community.
Earlier this year, the longtime dream of Michael finally came to fruition! The first T’Boli Community Library and Culture Hub (TLC Hub) was built in Sitio Upper Kawig , Barangay Poblacion, Lake Sebu, with the help of Prima Guipo-Hower, co-founder of The Hower-Bates Library Network which has provided over 50,000 books to libraries all over the country, and many more kind souls that brought together their passion for service and the community.
Michael Yambok – or more affectionately called in his community as Yumi – started his dream of building a community library way back in 2015. Initially, the project began as a mobile reading program, and while the project greatly helped the community, it had to end due to Yumi’s busy schedule. Little did they know they know that the future had bigger plans for their community.
In 2020, a remarkable coincidence led Prima Guipo-Hower and Yumi to meet and join together to make the TLC Hub come true. Prima and her husband Alvin Hower were former teachers in Sta. Cruz Mission in Lake Sebu, and both also have the passion for learning and community service. They decided to launch the Hower-Bates Library Network which established their first children’s library in the Notre Dame School in the Philippines. Since 2004, they have been sending books to the Philippines and have sponsored more libraries in 2017 and 2018. With Yumi’s dream and the Howers’ dedication for service and community development, they slowly but surely created a beautiful library for the children of Lake Sebu.
Calling last year, a “challenge” would be an understatement, and it was even more difficult for someone who was trying to build a community library. As Yumi recounted, there were instances that the construction had to be delayed due to insufficient funds, materials and workers, however these obstacles did not discourage him from continuing to build his dream for the community.
“There was a point when there were delays on the delivery of the lumber and the construction had to stop, and [I] had to shoulder some of the costs of the labor. I felt ashamed, knowing that I had little amount to share for the library but I cannot thank Ms. Hower enough, for being so considerate and generous in this endeavor,” reveals Yumi.
Donors all over the world were able to raise over three thousand dollars and donated over four thousand books to Yumi’s efforts, and thus the T’Boli Community Library and Culture Hub persevered and was finished in March 27 this year.
Currently, people come over to the TLC Hub to read the books as well as learn T’Boli music and dances. The Library Hub houses a wide range of reading materials that were donated by people around the world. Books ranging from Christian literature, educational reference materials to children’s novels, storybooks, and even Philippine literature such as the Noli Me Tangere can be enjoyed by the community. More importantly, a number of books about the T’Boli culture can be found in the hub such as A Dream and a Melody by Rebecca Santos-Gerodias, and even theses pertaining to T’boli and indigenous cultures. On weekdays, the TLC Hub welcomes students from elementary to senior high school for their mentoring classes. Different activities are also hosted in the hub such as the T’Boli of the Past and Present (TOPP) online lectures hosted by Prima Guipo-Hower, and gender and development seminars.
I cannot find a better word other than “bayanihan” to perfectly describe how this milestone came to be. For us readers this may just be an inspiring story from a faraway community, but to those indigenous children and people of Lake Sebu, the TLC Hub is a powerful avenue that gives them a chance to learn – not only about their culture, but also about information and knowledge passed on from the books that they received from many different parts of the world. A one man’s dream has become a vital development for the community he serves, and that trumps all the obstacles hurled by the pandemic.
The community is ecstatic for this development, but that does not mean that their dreams stop here. Yumi plans to establish more reading centers for people in the far-flung areas just like what he did in Lake Sebu. Furthermore, he wants to develop the current TLC Hub by adding audio-visual equipment, computers and other electronic gadgets that would aid the learning of children. With these upgrades, the children can connect themselves with modern technology while preserving, protecting, promoting and practicing their arts, culture and tradition.
Right now they are in need for donations to make these new additions possible, as well as to furnish the TLC Hub’s office with proper furniture, shelves, and equipment. To make a donation you may call the TLC Hub hotline at 09635656408/09051295592 or email Michael Angelo Yambok through email@example.com.
SEA Wave magazine’s SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness.