Cultural Workshops for Children and Youth in Mining-affected Areas by Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK)

Kin-iway, Payeo, and Besao West, all of Besao town

Luz Maranan, Ivan Emil Labayne, Jesusa Paquibot, Kelly Ramos, & Julie Ann Mangili

Through a cultural and creative clinic, the children and youth in the target communities will utilize Theater and Literary Arts as creative processes to deal with their trauma and fears about the disaster that has impacted their lives. With psycho-social intervention as preliminary and diagnostic method, the act of writing and performing traumatic experiences will be helpful through all the phases of healing and expressing what they look forward to or a wished-for future.

DKK envisions to educate and empower youth and children members of the community through cultural workshops among other creative forms of discussion and participation. This will be best realized through the formation of a cultural youth organization in Loacan which will sustain the program DKK started with the help of Tuklas.

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Sustaining the project entails financial and technical support. Regularly conducting workshops, trainings and meetings will need resources such as art materials, speakers or facilitators and workshop venues. Additional funds can also be used to enable the core group of Loacan youth to replicate the project by acting as workshop facilitators in other communities.

dkkculturalalliance@gmail.com

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HOW CAN ARTISTS HELP IN TIMES OF DISASTER?

The concept came from discussions of a few writer and artists friends post-poetry reading at Baguio’s own Mt. Cloud Bookshop. Soon-to-be innovation team lead Luchie Maranan with painter Kelly Ramos and poet Kislap Alitaptap were all members of Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK), an umbrella group of writers, visual artists, dancers and actors from all over the region.

“In times of disaster, artists are often relied on for funds generation or solicitation of relief goods through benefit concerts,” said Ms. Luchie. “We are asked to perform and move the hearts of those who would become donors to the cause.”

Upon discussion with Tuklas Northern Luzon Lab staff, the team entertained the idea of going further than moving the hearts of people to donate their money and material belongings to disaster survivors. How about if they develop the use of the arts for psychological healing?

It’s not a new idea, the team concedes. But they are testing it in a
specific context: with children and youth in a high-risk mining community
with a majority population of indigenous Igorot (60% Ibaloi and 40% Kankana-ey).

Ikaw ba’y nalilito
pag-iisip mo’y nagugulo?
Sa buhay ng tao
sa takbo ng buhay mo?
Ikaw ba’y isang mayaman,
o ika’y isang mahirap lang?
Sino sa inyong dalawa,
ang mas nahihirapan?

DKK’s partner community in the innovation cycle was Barangay Loakan, in the heart of mining country, the town of Itogon, province of Benguet. The town itself is home to the first large-scale mining operation in the country, starting in the year 1903, a few years into American colonial rule. In return for mining the gold deposits, the mining companies supposedly contributed to the modernization and “development” of Itogon, nearby Baguio City and the whole of Benguet. Farmlands of the indigenous communities slowly disappeared to make way for the open-pit and underground mining concessions.

From 1903 to present, a total of 115 years, Itogon is now nearly depleted of gold. Most of the old mines have been abandoned. Nearly all of the barangays near the mines are all on steep slopes as it is; they also sit on perilous hollowed out earth. Add to this the (very) wet season from July to November each year and small landslides and appearance of sinkholes is almost certain.

During the inception workshop of DKK with students of Loakan Elementary School, the children relayed to the team that the last major landslide occurred in their barangay before they were born. But they often hear terrifying stories of a relative, parent of a classmate, or a neighbor being buried in the mines. These happen yearly and they remain unreported in the media, with families accepting it as fate for being miners working in dangerous conditions.

Masdan mo ang mga bata
ikaw ba’y walang nakikita
sa takbo ng buhay nila

In August 2018, members of the team reported to Tuklas that they could hardly conduct any community activities in Loakan. The whole of Benguet including Baguio City had been drenched with Habagat rains since the close of July. The team had already conducted several successful (pre-test) workshops, where students were asked to draw their perceptions of disaster risks and hazards.

The drawings, from children 7-13 years old, showed swollen rivers, flooding, and heavy rains. There were hardly drawings of quakes and landslides. Maybe it was because they didn’t have firsthand experience because it was difficult to draw earth shaking and collapsed mountainsides.

A few days before Super Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) came roaring through, DKK community member and organizer Julie Ann Mangili reported that pre-emptive evacuation had been suggested for the mining communities. However, very few thought much of it, with the cyclone being predicted to have a more northern track across Cagayan, Apayao, and Ilocos Norte.

On September 15, the typhoon indeed lashed through the region, its eye nowhere near Benguet. Everyone, from the local government to national and international humanitarian agencies, was focused on the Cagayan and Ilocos provinces. Though extensive crop damage happened in these regions, very few human casualties were recorded. That was why, when news came out of the massive landslide in Itogon, everyone was horrified,

Hundreds feared dead: the news proclaimed. Hundreds.

Ikaw ba’y isang tao
walang pakialam sa mundo
ngunit ang katotohanan,
ikaw ma’y naguguluhan:
tayo ay naglalakbay,
hawak natin ang buhay.

By October, nearly a month after the disaster, more than a hundred
people had been confirmed dead.

With staff of Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera (CHESTCORE) who were trained in psychosocial debriefing, the
DKK team went back to their young partners in Loakan Elementary School. They asked after the kids. “We said, kamusta kayo (how are you?)” said Jes, a member of the team. “And the kids politely nodded, we’re okay now. There are a lot of people helping.”

However, the children’s creative output, a visual representation of the disaster, jarred and disturbed the team. Dead bodies littered all of children’s drawings. Dead bodies in the rivers, under and outside houses, in the mountainsides. When asked to explain, the children spoke of uncles, cousins and relatives that remain missing. This was a big concern to the Igorot, who practice a ritual burial of their dead.

But when asked about the issue of mining, because it was being hotly debated in the national news as the main cause of the disaster, the children were divided. They knew that mining had weakened their mountains. But they also knew that it was the source of livelihood of their parents, their community. How do they reconcile this cognitive dissonance?

Masdan mo ang mga bata
Ang aral sa kanila makukuha
Ano nga ba ang gagawin
Sa buhay na hindi naman sa atin?

The DKK team learned a lot during their innovation process: (1) that one can’t smoothly schedule prototyping and testing if the weather does not permit it; (2) knowing and hearing about disaster and actually seeing its impact can never be compared; and (3) psychological trauma is often verbally inexpressible but can be seen and processed through art. The
potentially serious cases were referred to professional psychologists for processing.

The biggest lesson that the team learned from the children of Loakan though is this: their innovation will remain a band-aid solution unless broad structural and social changes were instituted in the town. If very few
livelihood opportunities exist outside mining, Itogon breadwinners will still
go back to the dangerous tunnels and mountainsides. The children point towards a return to farming, is it possible?

The people of the town, of the whole province, must be united in pursuing a healing of their land. They heed the voices of their children. They must identify sustainable sources of income for their people. Otherwise, children of future generations will still suffer the same psychological trauma their parents and grandparents did.