I couldn’t breathe right. The colors were blurring both my internal and external lenses. The blacks and bright reds of the North, greens and deep maroons of the South. All moving and laughing back at me and how little I knew of their mystery. I loved it. I never felt so happily small in a crowd of great people.
What was to be an ordinary afternoon for me turned out to be a paradigm tilting one. Mid-week of shooting sound-bites for a UN anti-poverty TV ad, someone suggested I go to Our Lady of Peace Hospital along Coastal Rd because representatives from 19 indigenous tribes from all over the Philippines were there. Having more questions than answers (like why were they here in Manila in the first place and why are they housed in an out of-the-way hospital?) I called a few photographers to come with me. My contact from UNDP said they were more than willing to garb themselves for the video shoot.
I thought the act of dragging photographers with me was (still is) part of my ignorant attitude towards the indigenous collective. I thought of them as ‘making great portraits’ because their features are so beautifully distinct and their outfits were always of interest. Like many of us, I am embarrassed to admit that lame attitude I possessed. It was easier for me to exoticize the indigenous people because they aren’t familiar to me. Ironically, this is because I am grossly Westernized. Yet again, another question of Filipino identity for me. It is high time to get to know ourselves, I said. So off I went.
Turns out, the group has been in Manila for two weeks now. They’re here to attend a Community Health Workers’ Training given by the Our Lady of Peace Foundation. Every year this group gives health education training so the indigenous people can augment the lack of health provisions in their area. That fact alone was enough to make me happy, that such an organization exists, and that they conduct these workshops. But that’s not the main point of this narration.
After inter-acting with everyone, Shirley, Dario, Ronald, Teresa, Marge…. I told them what Rock Ed’s projects were about and one by one they gave me slips of paper with simple requests for donations. A guitar, a dictionary, a microscope, cold and flu medicines, storybooks for children, school supplies. They each left me a scrap of paper with their requests scrawled on. Plaintive requests, it hurt to sift through the oddments they left me. And once again I wished I had money. That happens a lot in this field. The quiet, dignified manner by which they asked for these ordinary things left me embarrassed and inexplicably apologetic. So here’s the list. Text or call us if you can provide any of these wishes.
Text: Gang Badoy
Photo credit: Leonardo Coll © 2006
Acknowledgments to UNDP’s Charmaine Cu-Unjieng for referring me to this project and to Abi and Paul for warmly facilitating my meeting with the group.