Today is a celebration of Sacred People, Sacred Earth, and we, the indigenous youth here in Bendum in northern Mindanao, Philippines, put together an image of how we see ourselves as guardians of our ancestral domain and its ecological services.
In this image are some of the leaves, around 150, of different forest species. These include leaves from the pioneer species, the early trees that grow from the low vegetation of lands logged long ago. These are the pioneers of regeneration. Then there are leaves from about 20 pillar species that give the structure to the mature forest. And in between these are the leaves from the filler species that do not form the crown of the forest but form levels within the forest.
The trunks represent our collaboration, solidarity, the work with Laudato Si’, our sharing with other youth in activities, our growing sense of responsibility, our gratitude and simplicity, and our prayer. These are what unite and strengthen us.
We are regenerating part of the degraded forests through a Youth Work Experience program. Over the last year, 600 seedlings were nurtured of the pillar and filler species in an area that already had pioneer species. And we will continue to maintain these trees during the summer.
Our experiences in guarding the forest, the land, the water, the trees, the mountains, the birds – all in the Pantaron Range – are empowered by the roots that support us. These roots are our culture, our community, and the resources we draw on for our existence, our food, and our life, along with the gratitude we feel, our dreams, and how we go forward.
Today, some of us are finishing our high school education through modular learning. Others are online students of the Jesuit Worldwide Learning program, studying Learning Facilitation and Peace Leadership.
We want to add our voice, along with other youth across the world, in seeking genuine and substantial achievements in the COP26 climate negotiations that were sidelined in the last five years. We are looking for change and are trying to raise our voice to support genuine change.
We continue to live in solidarity with this community of trees, this forest, this ecosystem, and this biome of the region of Asia-Oceania, of which we are part. As we regenerate the forest, we also envision a regenerative hope amongst all the youth that gives a future to the generations ahead.
We thank you for being with us in our celebration of Sacred People, Sacred Earth.
This story was first published in Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center.