Firm supports education, restores IPs’ cultural pride

Adat B’laan youth playing traditional music using klubing, a bamboo mouth harp

AS THE youth of Adat B’laan, an indigenous group in South Cotabato, experience increased exposure and enjoy the benefits of modernization, embracing mainstream society practices has sometimes taken priority over knowing and understanding their ethnic language, rituals and traditions.

In the past few years, this has resulted in the cultural erosion of the Adat B’laan. Team members at the leading BPO and digital solutions firm TELUS International Philippines (TIP) learned of the Adat B’laan situation through a funding proposal submitted by the GeoChris Foundation to TELUS International Philippines’ Community Board and decided to help.

The TELUS International Philippines Community Board awarded GeoChris and the Adat B’laan community a Php 455,396 grant (USD $8,464) to finance programs to revive cultural awareness among the Adat B’laan youth.

GeoChris Foundation is a non-profit organization that believes in holistic education, cultural invigoration, and sustainable living for indigenous communities in Abra, Palawan, and South Cotabato. GeoChris Foundation helped the Adat B’laan draft their grant application to the TELUS International Philippines Community Board.

The TELUS International Philippines Community Board, the firm’s grant giving foundation, looks for worthy causes and innovative ideas that support communities with unique needs in the areas of health, environment, and education. It distributes approximately Php 5.1 million (USD $100,000) every year.

With the funding, community elders formed the Adat B’laan Cultural Group and developed learning modules on traditional musical skills like malem (summoning chant), flalok (native lullaby), faglung (lute), tambol (drum beat), and salmagi (gong), ritual and worship dances, and literature. Leveraging the modules, the elders cascaded the knowledge to the younger members of the community through Saturday learning sessions.

Carlo Tio Casi is one of the Adat B’laan youths who initially felt disconnected with the culture of his community and benefited from the program. Like the 164 other participants in the learning sessions, Carlo now looks forward to the weekend to steep himself in their native customs and traditions.

“Relearning our culture helped me and the other participants become prouder of our heritage as a community. Through the project, we can protect our future even when our ancestors have passed on,” said Carlo.

Apart from offering learning modules, the Adat B’laan aims to widen the reach of their culture and establish partnerships with private and government stakeholders. They have also expanded their offerings to service research, cultural shows, and exchanges, in the process generating income for the community through cultural tourism.

The learning sessions not only served to educate the youth, but also reawakened the desire of families and the entire community to preserve their culture. The project, in fact, was instrumental in unifying the different B’laan communities from different barangays in Tupi.

“Serving ethnic communities is the core of our work at GeoChris Foundation. We are glad to have partners that champions youth formation and cultural preservation to help sustain these communities,” said Marcela Octaviano, GeoChris Foundation Executive Director.

The project has been so successful that it has been nominated at the CSR Guild Awards organized by the League of Corporate Foundation for the Arts and Culture Projects category.

Since it started operations in 2012, the TELUS International Philippines Community Board has donated over Php 35.7 million at current rates (USD $700,000) to 79 advocacy projects and programs like constructing the science laboratory with GreenEarth Heritage Foundation at Sitio Malapad na Parang in San Miguel, Bulacan; writing for the web training for Persons with Disabilities with Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV); and the “Plastic Mo, Kinabukasan Ko” (Classroom in a Bottle) Project at San Agustin Elementary School in Magalang, Pampanga with Kapampangan Manalakaran Inc.

“Through our Community Board, our presence is felt not just in the BPO and digital solutions sector but also in the communities across the country that are in need,” said TELUS International Philippines Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Phoebe Carrera.

“Through these activities, we are able to expand our reach beyond our sites and contribute to building a more inclusive and connected society.”