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Dodong Guk: Travails of a tribal leader #28StoriesofGiving

Michael Rebuyas - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Dodong Guk can be many things: tribesman, pastor or guide, a husband and father. Any other man tasked with the responsibilities he has would have already buckled under pressure. But Dodong is no ordinary man.

In his mid-40s and in his prime, Dodong was born into the B’laan, an indigenous tribe in southern Mindanao. The B’laan know only simplicity that espouses altruism.

He was born a datu, a leader, and now works as a guide for medical teams and organizations on expeditions to remote tribal villages in the hinterlands of Mindanao, a vocation that he took up a few years ago, he says in halting, Tagalog-infused Bisaya.

He says he started doing this in 2011 – or was it 2012? He excuses himself for not recalling when exactly, as he only remembers being with a group of volunteers of a non-government organization that extended help to tribal minorities such as one he was born to.

Roel Cagape, one of the doctors in the team and a hero in his own right, corroborates his story. It was actually through the collective efforts of Dominican priest Jomar Sibug and Dr. Cagape that The STAR came across Dodong’s plea for help.

Tribal leader and pastor Dodong Guk, the good doctor says, was their go-to volunteer guide during their feeding activities in the many tribal communities in Sarangani province. These communities are so secluded and far-flung that many volunteers never thought they existed.

Owing to their scarcity, Dodong rues, the B’laan and countless other tribes in the hinterlands are treated as almost mythical, which passing mention relegates them to footnotes in a history book.

The B’laan, as well as scores of other tribes in the mountains, lack most of what lowlanders often take for granted: potable water, roads, medical help and schools.

Dodong knows what living in a disenfranchised community means. He classifies their community as struggling, and while he admits that they are being given help by some organizations, the support is not enough just yet.

As a tribal leader, he dreams of development; he longs for the emergence of sustainable projects designed to show the tribe’s craftsmanship to the world. After all, he says, his fellow tribesmen are highly skilled in the art of embroidery, beadwork and brass work.

For all the help he has given and received, Dodong has had his share of grief.

Last month, Dodong lost his daughter to liver cirrhosis. “To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself,” he lamented.

His pain does not end there. After giving up whatever meager resources the family had – land, horses, carabaos – to cover his child’s hospitalization and burial expenses, Dodong had barely recovered from the trauma when learned that his wife also has cirrhosis.

The spate of misfortunes left him empty-handed and unable to finance the family’s medical needs.

Broken yet unbowed, Dodong remains thankful for the generous support and efforts of several doctors and volunteers he used to assist during expeditions that helped bail his wife out of Socsargen County Hospital in General Santos City. He hopes that good Samaritans will continue to spare financial assistance to help him and his ailing wife through their latest ordeal.

For all his personal tribulation, Dodong says what he really wants the most is to see his tribesmen’s lives improve. The only way he thinks that could happen is when health and education become priorities in his community.

According to statistics, there are an estimated 5,563 B’laan in Sarangani alone, their population scattered in the dense forests and mountains of the province. Like the rest of the country, the youth comprise a large chunk of their population.

Dodong hopes that this young generation of B’laan – bright, young people straddling the fine line between tradition and modernity – will lead their tribe into a future where no one has to die of malnutrition or be ridiculed for lack of education. He says he might not live to see this, but he remains confident that with proper government support and attention, what once was a dream will soon become reality.

For those who would like to help, donations may be made through Western Union or Lhuillier to Dodong Guk with address at Kinam, Malapatan, Sarangani province. He may be reached via mobile number 0905-6491368.

For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email contactus@philstar.com.ph. follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine Star’s page on Facebook.

BUT DODONG DODONG DODONG GUK DR. CAGAPE GENERAL SANTOS CITY HELP MINDANAO PHILIPPINE STAR ROEL CAGAPE SARANGANI
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