In 1998, a young teacher and former Jesuit Volunteer, Gina A. Alfonso, during one of her soul-searching breaks and retreats stumbled upon the beautiful farm land nestled between Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon. It was home to the Talaandig community of Brgy. Miarayon.
Gina met with Fr. Kit Bautista, a Jesuit priest assigned in Miarayon. Fr. Kit joked her about setting up a school for the young children in the area. Gina’s immediate reaction was to decline, not wanting to make any impositions on the community.
Fr. Kit responded quickly by calling a community meeting on the same day. In that meeting the village leaders spontaneously shared their concerns about their children wanting to learn, but having no place to start. Being a Mother Teresa fan, Gina knew she had to try putting her drop in the ocean. So she said yes.
In 1999, a year after Gina’s visit, Sta. Teresita Pre-School run by three Talaandig teachers was born. It was the fruit of forged partnerships—initial teacher training and financial support was given by Gina’s friend Gigi Go and the community of The Learning Child School. Other initial support were from Gina’s friends who later on became the first members and incorporators: Nanette Lorenzo-Santos (who came up with the name Cartwheel), Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng, Frances Yuyucheng, Ria Nunez, Noey Lopez, Felipe Alfonso, Maricel Genzola and Joey Cruz. Everyone helped paved the way to get Cartwheel on its feet and where it finds itself today.
As years went by, that response bore fruit: college graduates come back to their respective communities, rendering service to their tribal community as teachers, youth organizers and scholars’ formators. Pre-school alumni excelled in the parochial high school. Parents took active roles in the education of their children.
For these efforts, Cartwheel was recognized in July 2003 by former President Corazon Aquino as one of the 20 NGOs of the People Power People Movement for bringing “health, livelihood, education and hope” to Indigenous Peoples.
In June 2006, Cartwheel contributed to the establishment of an Indigenous Peoples College called Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education in Mintal, Davao City. Together with partners University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP), ILAWAN Center for Volunteer and Leadership, Assisi Development Foundation, Office of Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Region XI, Pamulaan provides college education to IPs who dream of an educational program rooted in their life, culture, and aspirations as a people.
Moreover, the cycle of sowing and reaping that characterized the success of the Miarayon model has been extended to other partner indigenous communities such as the Kalanguya of Ifugao, Dumagat of Nueva Ecija, and Umajamnen of Cabanglasan, Bukidnon. It is the same succession of giving and receiving that enables Cartwheel to sustain its current programs with the Tagbanua of Culion, Palawan, Higaonon of Agusan del Sur and the Badjao of Lucena and Zamboanga. As partners, these communities continue to work hand in hand with Cartwheel in customizing programs that fit their own unique realities and dreams.
Today, 15 years after it 1st partner community’s desires and aspirations were articulated, owned and given response through a then-fledgling NGO, Cartwheel continues to grow in breadth and in depth with the following programs: Early Childhood Education for its young learners, Young Indigenous Peoples Leaders Program for future leaders and the Adult Capability Building Program for tribe elders.
Sowing and Reaping. Giving and Receiving. These have characterized Cartwheel’s journey through the years. And it is through these dynamic processes that speak of collaboration, empowerment and co-ownership that Cartwheel hopes to serve more indigenous communities in the years to come.