Kibalatong is a sitio of Barangay Panialum, Paquibato District. It is a community of Ata Manobo. To get there from Malabog, you have to ride a motorbike for 30 minutes, and then, as there is no road anymore, you have to walk, in my case, for one hour to reach Kibalatong.
There is no electricity in Kibalatong, and while on a visit there in February of 2004, a boy with an empty Tanduay bottle went house to house to ask for kerosene which is commonly called gas. When he came to our hut we learned that the gas he was collecting was for the use of the teachers.
The people who shared some drops of kerosene showed their simple way of supporting the teachers and the school that was built for the indigenous children of the area. I was awestruck that from their own poverty, they were willing to share the little they had for their teachers.
The bottle got half filled and the boy gave us the collected gas which provided us light even more than enough for the night.
In June 2004, I took my new assignment of working with the Lumads of Malabog. It would be my first time to work with people who live in the mountains. I felt like treading on new and unfamiliar grounds. I felt apprehension, anxiety, and uncertainty, but I knew God was with me to help carry on the work He/She has entrusted to me. I believed I would learn something and grow with the people I would be working with.
June 20, 2004
After a few days of rest to recover from amoebiasis and asthma, I left for Kibalatong early morning today. Going up the mountains and breathing the fresh cold air helped expand my lungs. It was still foggy and the dewdrops still on the leaves dancing as the sun started to penetrate the snow-white clouds. My heart soared up to heaven as I walked slowly up and down the trails on the mountains.
Although it was very early, my perspiration was starting to trickle down my forehead and back. I experienced a lightness of spirit and prayed a prayer of praise and gratitude to God for having given me this opportunity to walk, smell the fragrance of the grass, touch the corrugated branches of the trees, and feel their strength and energy. They were indeed alive and seemed to welcome me in their midst as I touched some of them and leaned on their trunks to find rest and solace from the walk.
The hike refreshed me especially after having had a bout of asthma. My companion, Sr. Anna, was worried about me but I assured her I was okay. My heart beat with so much gratitude for God’s gift of experiencing the people of Kibalatong who with warm and wide arms welcomed me. I was moved as they shared with me about their struggles for survival. They even went as far as making me privy to their secrets for which I feel grateful. I keep them in my prayer.
“The pulse of prayer is praise, the heart of prayer is gratitude, the voice of prayer is obedience, the arm of prayer is service.”
June 22, 2004
Yesterday we met with all the members of the community of Kibalatong. One of them was Ari Lominga, known among them as the Singing Woman. Our meeting opened with a prayer sung by her. She accompanied herself by playing her saluroy, a Matigsalog wind instrument.
Friendship was readily established between us. I remembered then that she was the woman who sang and danced at our Assumption Convent a few years back. Today Ari Lominga came to the teachers’ house and brought a handful of mushrooms which she had picked from her farm. I was struck by her generosity in giving and sharing with the teachers the few mushrooms she had. In return, she asked for a little vegetable oil which I knew she would use to cook her mushrooms with at home.
She could not speak Visayan nor could I speak her language in Matigsalog, but I felt we somehow understood each other. We communicated with the language of the heart…LOVE.
July 6, 2004
Today we climbed the mountain of Toruyan. It was a long travel from Malabog to Pangyan where we started trekking up and down and crossing streams before reaching the community. Going uphill and climbing through the mountain trails was too much for my heart. I felt as if my heart would go out and I was afraid I might slip and roll down the mountain slopes.
I had to ride on a horse to move on. It had been a long time since I rode a horse. I was a bit afraid but I had to do it to be able to reach the new extension school of the Assumption School of Davao for the Lumads in the mountains.
The Lumads who were with us helped me mount the gray horse and slowly we made our way up the mountains. I named the horse “Tor” because it belonged to the community of Toruyan. To quell my fear, I kept talking to Tor, asking him if I was too heavy for him or whether he was getting tired. He seemed to answer me that he was okay, so we trudged on as he steadily bore me through the hard climb. Then suddenly an unexpected breeze rushed out of nowhere which was quite refreshing for both of us.
July 7, 2004
We had a meeting with the Lumad community to discuss the problem of building the school for their children. We emphasized and acknowledged their contribution for the building. I recognized specifically their support for the teachers and thanked them for this. I told them it is not the bigness or smallness of their contribution that is important. What matters most is the love in their hearts.
In the evening, there was a faint knock at the door. It was from a little girl who brought a single egg for a teacher to express her love and support for her Ma’am. I was moved by the gesture of the girl and her family in sharing the one and maybe the only egg they had.
A simple gesture of love and gratitude. I was deeply touched by their spirit. Somehow this experience brought me to a deeper reflection of my own generosity and vow of poverty.
How can this be?
The poor are able to share from their own poorness!
It is from a heart where love abounds that one can share with others from poverty.
October 27, 2004
I went up again to Toruyan riding on Tor. While we were going up the mountain, I fell twice because I was not careful. I was lucky to evade Tor who almost stepped on me when I fell.
Thank God, it was not yet my time “to go”…wasn’t it, Tor?
Sr. Mila L. Gimeno of the Missionaries of the Assumption (M.A.) is presently working with the Lumads of San Luis, Agusan del Sur.