The Tboli communities, also known as Tagabili, are one of the old indigenous peoples living in South Cotabato. They are usually known for their Tnalak, a piece of cloth made from Abaca fibers, painstakingly dyed and handwoven to reflect an original design – a design which is revealed to the weavers through dreams. That’s why most of the weavers are also known as Dreamweavers. Their Tnalak has already made its name in the global market – thanks to the generosity of some Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and private individuals.

A close encounter with the Tboli communities in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato reveals that more than the novelty of the Tnalak, what makes them special is their great love and pride for their cultural identity. It can be felt in the way they assert and protect their rights through the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) Law and more importantly, it can be seen in their local governance. A spirit of unity, collaboration and openness manifests itself not only during festivities but even in the daily rigors of life.

Perhaps it is this same spirit that inspired the then Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), Br. Armin A. Luistro, FSC and Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ, President of Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) to agree on a partnership – the establishment of a culturally-sensitive and responsive Senior High School program designed for the Tboli communities in Lake Sebu.

In this partnership, ADDU facilitates the community preparations and all other processes involving the Tboli communities. ADDU also takes the lead in the development of the curriculum and provides technical assistance in the implementation of the program. The Department of Education on the other hand provides all of the program’s administrative, structural, and logistical needs.

Designing a culture-based Senior High School program for the Tboli communities is wrought with passion and sacrifice. It demands a deeper understanding of the Tboli culture, open-mindedness, sensitivity, and a great deal of patience as there is a need to navigate carefully and at some point challenge the paradigm of those in the Department of Education, collaborate with the community and coordinate with the Local Government Unit (LGU).

After about two (2) years of constant dialogue with all the stakeholders, the Tboli Sbù Senior High School (TSSHS) was finally launched on May 19, 2015. It was set to have an advance implementation so as to pilot test the Grade 11 curriculum designed for the Tboli students. The name Tboli Sbù was asserted by the community elders in order to give emphasis to their identity as Tbolis of Lake Sebu since there are also Tboli communities in the municipality of T’boli.

The TSSHS offers the course Sustainable Community Resource Management (SCRM) under the Technical-Vocational Track. It has two (2) specializations: SCRM – Livelihood Management & SCRM – Eco-Tourism. In the Livelihood Management program, students are taught the skills of Tnalak weaving, Loom Weaving & Embroidery, Brasscasting, Woodcarving and Sustainable Crop Production with entrepreneurial and management skills. In the Eco-Tourism program, students are taught environmental conservation vis-a-vis sustainable tourism management and practices. These programs were conceptualized based on the community’s resources, cultural heritage and aspirations. Aside from all these technical skills, the TSSHS also commits to inculcate the six (6) core values identified by the community elders as follows: reverence for the Holy, pride for the culture, respect for the Elders, love for peace, hospitality and passion for learning.

Currently, the TSSHS is now pilot-testing the Grade 12 curriculum where students are already into either of the two specializations. Community Indigenous Knowledge, Systems & Practices (IKSP) Holders, the culture-bearers of the community, are tapped to engage with and hand-down these cultural skills to the young Tboli students.

Central to the whole process of developing this culture-based program is the engagement of the culture-bearers (IKSP Holders) in the community. Although it is a work in progress and is far from perfect, but it is built on their cooperation, collaboration and participation as they find this program the only effective way of maintaining their cultural identity and exercising their self- determination.

The Tboli Sbù Senior High School is not about the Department of Education, nor is it about Ateneo de Davao University, but it is about the Tboli communities of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, asserting their cultural identity and standing up for the whole world to see that they, like their Tnalak, are a people with very strong conviction and aspirations to bring their beautiful culture to the whole country and the world.

Ms. Eufemia Aguelo-Faller
Tboli Sbu SHS Coordinator

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