Learning to build, building to learn

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Last March 11 to 13, 2016, iEmergence, together with volunteers and the support of various individuals and groups, facilitated a gathering where Ata tribal leaders, coming from the villages of Sorayan, Napusukan, Panaga, Butay and Malapanit, shared stories of hope for establishing a place where they can teach and learn their cultural practices and values. A place they call Panuluanan.

Panuluanan, coming from the root word "panulu", or to learn, is what the Ata tribe in Paquibato hopes to build in their community. According to the leaders, Panuluanan will be a space for cultural learning and leadership development, a place where elders can pass on their knowledge and traditions in music, dance, traditional clothes-making, metalwork, traditional livelihood, and the Gantangan Palabian (their Indigenous Justice System) to the younger generations. It is also their hope that Panuluanan will foster oneness and strengthen good relationships between and among the people in the community as it builds on the good and the beautiful of who they are.

Datu Arate Balimba, a community leader in the village of Sorayan, shared that the tribe needs to go back to their culture, as they have been moving down a path where they are gradually losing connection with their identity as Ata. He emphasized that they need to cultivate their culture so that the new era of tribal leaders are able to carry it forward for future generations.

The history of Panuluanan dates back to its first launching in 2013. Through the leadership of several Ata community elders and youth from the villages of Nigubatan, Napusukan, Sorayan and Tapak, this “place of teaching” allowed the elders to impart their wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous ways and values to the youth of the tribe, particularly through beading and traditional clothes-making. There were challenges during the first two years of its implementation. One particular challenge shared by some of the elders was the lack of a physical space where the activities within Panuluanan could be centralized. A safe space where tribal youth not only are able to learn traditions but also where the richness of their culture is tangible to other communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

During the month of April 2015, in an effort to re-energize the Panuluanan, the community leaders who originally spearheaded the initiative, together with iEmergence, decided to revive the conversation around creating the place of learning and lead the community once again towards making that dream a reality. This conversation sparked the rebirth of that dream.

The gathering in Sorayan last March was an expansion of the initial conversation not just among the leaders but with the whole community as well. The voice of the youth and women of the tribe needed a space in that discourse. The wisdom of the elders, who are the bearers of the past, needed to be honoured and heeded by the tribe. Their stories and, perhaps, new hopes for Panuluanan had to be shared and documented.

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Through the Appreciative Inquiry workshop facilitated by iEmergence, the community was able to find time and space to have that conversation and discover ways forward for Panuluanan. One such hope for the future is to build an actual physical structure for the school. A building or "baloy" where all can learn, tell stories, and affirm their unique culture. The structure will become a concrete symbol of what they hope to achieve through Panuluanan – their tribe being rooted in their culture and identity as Ata in the generations to come.

This collective commitment to revive Panuluanan comes timely as a similar vision was shared by other villages during the signing of the free, prior and informed consent agreement for iEmergence, Inc. Philippines to directly engage with the Ata community in Paquibato District, Davao City last November 2015.

This is only the beginning. We, at iEmergence, hope to walk with the Ata community in this journey of cultural regeneration even farther. Through continued collaboration and partnership with the community and other stakeholders, it is our own dream to be a part of seeing their vision materialize in the near future.