Kaibigan to report on mission to Philippines

May 25 in SMSU Firsthand accounts from struggles after typhoon Yolanda

Three representatives from the Filipino American Student Association, Portland State Kaibigan, will share their experiences from a recent mission trip to the Philippines from 5–8 p.m. on May 25 in Smith Memorial Student Union 333. The Kapit Bisig Kabataan Network (KBKN) report back event will include Filipino food, cultural performances and presentations on recent conflicts and struggles of marginalized Filipino communities.

The mission was a four week long trip part of KBKN, a youth-led foundation founded in response to typhoon Yolanda, the biggest typhoon in history to hit the Philippines. The organization now hosts national mission trips to the Philippines for anyone who wants to become a part of aiding indigenous communities, farmers and fisherfolk.

Jhustin Custodio, president of Kaibigan, and PSU student Joseph Gonzalez are among two of the three PSU representatives who attended the mission trip.

“A group of youth from all around the nation was able to go to the Philippines and help bring these stories [back] here,” Custodio said. “This was a mission led by youth, and it’s really about the power that youth and students have and the positive change that we can make.”

Custodio and Gonzalez attended the mission trip to experience the hardships of marginalized Filipino communities in hopes of sharing their stories and raising awareness regarding current struggles in the Philippines.

“Every single community we integrated with had different issues—we integrated with farmers, we integrated with indigenous people, and some integrated with fisherfolk,” Gonzalez said. “We need to learn about and address these root issues so the Philippines can really grow and develop.”

Some of the root issues Custodio and Gonzalez expressed concern for include urban and rural poverty, displacement of indigenous people from their land, extraction of resources by foreign countries and civil war.

Gonzales recalled how the Philippines are made of extravagant cityscapes placed amid urban shanties, while rural and indigenous communities struggle to stay afloat. With displacement of those communities from their land, poverty in cities increased as indigenous folks were forced out of their home and into the cities.

In order to fully understand these issues, Custodio and Gonzalez kept to the same routine as the communities they integrated with.

“We did what they did—we woke up the same time they did and did the work they did,” Gonzalez said. “That looks like plowing; that looks like harvesting; that looks like weeding; that looks like trying to guide the water buffalo.”

In some communities, Custodio recalled having to hike 30 to 40 minutes for fresh water, the only source for drinking, showering and cooking.

Custodio and Gonzalez urge the Portland community to attend the event in order to become aware and informed regarding issues in the Philippines.

“Be aware of these stories, of these silenced and marginalized communities, these stories of struggle that the media does not emphasize,” Custodio said.

Putting a face to the communities not often discussed is an important part of humanizing a country and culture.

“We could read articles or go to an event and be told what communities in the Philippines could be experiencing, but it’s a completely different experience to go there and see it,  and be told first hand ‘look, this is happening,’” Custodio said. “Whenever I think about supporting communities in the Philippines, I don’t think of a blur of people, I think of specific faces of people that I now know.”

Gonzalez said international solidarity and organizations such as KBKN are important in addressing issues in the Philippines, such as reasons why indigenous people are being displaced in the community.

“Together we can accomplish a lot and have the power to make positive change when we stand united,” Custodio said.

Kaibigan’s student representatives will give a presentation on their trip during the KBKN report back event from 5–8 p.m. on May 25 in SMSU 333.  The event includes cultural performances and food will also be provided.