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 Bukindnon. It was home to the Tala-Anding 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 Tala-andig 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.
It has been nine years since the community’s desires and aspirations were articulated, owned and given response through a then-fledgling NGO.
Today, that response bears fruit: college graduates are back in their community, rendering service to their tribal community as teachers, youth organizers and scholars’ formators. Pre-school alumni excel in the parochial high school. Parents take active roles in the education of their children, as pre-school assistants and learners of the Alternative Learning Sessions.
This is the Tala-Andigs’ story of sowing the seeds of their dreams, and reaping its fruits-- through a collaborative program model that utilizes resource networks and an empowerment approach. Theirs is a continuing story that Cartwheel aims to replicate with its partner indigenous communities in the country. As partners, these communities work hand in hand with Cartwheel in customizing programs that fit their own unique realities and dreams. And it is through Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education that Cartwheel builds more bridges with different indigenous communities all over the country.
Today Pamulaan Center-- a newly launched college for indigenous peoples-- throbs with life and potential. It is operationalized through partnerships with various organizations, each contributing its own capacities and resources in assembling infrastructure, syllabi, and management. In it are indigenous youths taking custom courses, each harboring dreams for themselves, and for their communities.