You may recall that I have written about our work with the Subanen people of Northwest Mindanao in the Philippines. The Subanens have survived as subsistence farmers, living and working their fertile, yet mountainous native lands. For generations, they’ve managed to eke out a living and feed their families until recent years when deforestation and mining have threatened their very existence.
The Subanen Crafts project is a livelihood project for Subanen women and was started several years ago by Columban Fr. Vinnie Busch. Handicrafts produced by the Subanen women focus on the Sacred Story of the Universe and the Wonders of God’s Creation. This focus honors the deep spiritual bond that the Subanen people have with their faith and their habitat. Through the Subanen Crafts project Subanen women are able to produce, promote, and market their art and jewelry. With modest incomes from the sale of their crafts these women can provide decent food, basic education, and proper health care for their families Recently, some of the Subanen crafters went on a trip to the island of Negros to visit Columban Fr. Brian Gore and the Negros Nine Demonstration Farm. The trip was the first time that the women experienced flying in an airplane, hearing the Ilonggo language, and eating new kinds of food. Many had never before left their native island of Mindanao! Mercy Gawason, one of the Subanen crafters, reflected on her trip to Negros:
When we arrived in Bacolod, Negros, everything was new to us. The language of the people there is Ilonggo and is beautiful to hear. The people showed us deep respect and concern for our situation. Despite being a long distance from home, we felt safe in their care. The best place we visited was the demo farm with Columban Fr. Brian Gore. Fr. Brian explained how the farm uses sustainable ways of producing food and livelihoods for the poor. After his talk we traveled to the farm site in the mountains. The road was very difficult but the trip was worth it, because it is such a beautiful place and because of the warm welcome given to us by the people and staff.
At the farm we saw how the staff cares for the plants, trees, and the whole mountain ecosystem. We saw the wind turbine which produces electricity for the farm. We also visited the reforestation area where we saw the “Mother Tree” of the forest. The staff called it the “Mother Tree,” because it was the only remaining tree from the original rainforest. We also had a briefing about the serious problem of human trafficking. Human trafficking is also a problem for the Subanen people. Illegal job recruiters entice poor tribal women like us with jobs in the urban areas of the Philippines and abroad. Sometimes the women they “recruit” are never heard from again.
After our trip, we became more thankful that we are Subanen Crafters. We will bring back many ideas that we can use to promote sustainable agriculture and hopefully improve and rejuvenate our tribal lands.
Finally, we thank all of you who have supported our Subanen Crafts and who help make our work possible. We give thanks and pray that God will always grant you His peace and blessings. Indeed, to echo Mercy, may God always grant you His peace and blessings for your generous and abundant support of Columban projects like Subanen Crafts and the Negros Demonstration Farm. Through the generosity of people just like you, Mercy and the other Subanen women have found livelihoods, regained their dignity and avoided exploitation of their people at the hands of the human traffickers. The future of the Subanen people is much brighter thanks to you. “… I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” (2 Timothy 1:3)
Please consider a gift to the Columban Fathers today. In gratitude, you and your loved ones are remembered always in our Masses and prayers. Thank you for partnering with us and being a bearer of the light of hope for the Subanens and people anywhere Columban missionaries live and serve. Donate to help those in need