Haniel Garibay and I recently took part in a two week medical mission/advocacy trip to the Philippines. In addition to the medical mission, we learned about human rights abuses and environmental justice in Mindanao. Twenty-one of us came from the US. Most – but not all – were United Methodists. The oldest of the group was in his late 70's; the youngest, a 17 year old still in high school. We flew to Manila (a 13 hour flight) and then on to Davao which was our base of operations.
We were greeted in Davao by a local group of about ten people – including two United Methodist missionaries – who were handling local arrangements. The connections of our local hosts allowed us to meet an amazing variety of people in Davao and be received as friends when we traveled in the remote mountain areas.
A significant part of the trip was the four days and three nights in the mountains at sitio Dulyan. The people of Dulyan belong to the Ata-Manobo, an indigenous tribe. The tribe sees the land and its resources as a common possession to be used for the benefit of all in the tribe.
To get to Dulyan, we rode the bus ride for two hours to Talaingod in Davao del Norte province. The paved road ended there. Then, we transferred to the backs of motorcycles for a 45 minute ride up a muddy, twisty dirt road into the mountains. The 21 missioners from the US were joined by about 80 local missioners from Davao.
There was a welcome program the evening we arrived. Tribal leaders shared about their tribe and their struggle to protect their ancestral lands from outsiders seeking to exploit its resources. They talked about how the different Ata-Manobo villages had come together to successfully resist government efforts to build large dams for hydro-electric power.
The next day was the medical mission. Hundreds of people came for medical and dental care. Some were from Dulyan. Many others walked for hours – or even a day or longer – from neighboring villages.
The third day was devoted to conversations. Tribal leaders from 24 of the 80+ Ata-Manobo villages shared how their tribe was looking for help with education, medical care and better ways to feed everyone. Afterwards, women from our group met with women from the tribe; younger people met with young people; and those interested in education met with the teachers. The women shared about their hope of being able to choose how often they were pregnant. The young people and teachers shared how education was giving the tribe more options for choosing how to interact with the outside world. Many talked about their fear of the army and how soldiers mistreated and sometimes killed people in the tribe. You can watch a short video about this part of the trip here and here.
Another day we went into different mountain range. We learned about the struggle of small scale miners against plans for large scale, open pit mining. You can read MFSA’s statement here.
We also learned about Father Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, a Roman Catholic missionary, and others who had been killed for their work helping the people of Mindanao.
The Mission Trip has a report back site on Facebook. The site continues to be updated with new videos, pictures and comments. If you can join us by live stream on Friday Sept. 21, 2012 at 7 pm Pacific Time at http://ustream.tv/channel/davao-advocacy
UPDATE: Report Back video can be seen here. While the video is about 2 hours long, there are lots of photos and videos.
Rev. Richard Bentley, Jr is one of MFSA's Cross-Cultural Coordinators. He also serves as Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Alhambra, California, a multicultural congregation worshiping in English and Mandarin.