By Johsa Manzanilla

February 2016

In the winter of 2016, I had the opportunity to do an immersion tour in Mindanao with Peoples’ Solidarity Education Tours.

As a member of Migrante, I wanted to do an exposure in the Philippines to understand the contextual push factors that influence why people leave the country and migrate.

As a Philippine-born Canadian, I wanted to see with my own eyes my country of citizenship’s complicity in human rights violations taking place in my country of birth. Moreover, as a young woman with a keen interest in human rights in business, politics and religion, I was and continue to be curious about how the intersectionality of gender, age, class and identity have an impact on lived rights realities.

Hosted by youth and student organizers on the Zamboanga Peninsula and in Misamis Occidental, I immersed in a number of communities affected by Canadian mining companies. I was able to learn about agricultural livelihoods as well as indigenous and Moro Muslim cultures, participating in everyday household chores, speaking with the locals about their experiences, and witnessing different forms of resistance to an institutionalized feudal and bureaucratic capitalist system.

I observed my new friends, young people tirelessly organizing in the face of imminent danger by the state, facilitating knowledge through educational workshops, coordinating the logistics of demonstrations with the masses, and building capacity and developing networks among farmers, small-scale miners, the youth and the urban poor.

It was hugely inspiring to be able to dialogue about human rights experiences and political issues in Philippine and Canadian (North American) contexts with such remarkable, intelligent, well-informed, insightful and courageous individuals, with whom I engaged in skill sharing and cultural solidarity through music and other forms of expression.

For those considering doing an immersion, here are some tips:

  1. Set clear objectives – there’s so much to see and do in only a set period of time. Determine subject areas you want to learn and things you want to see and do. Consider your interests and skills, which you may want to share to help build others’ capacity. As a writer and musician, I helped with transcriptions, drafting documents, composing music, jamming, entertaining, and singing/breathing exercises.
  1. Learn basic language – while there will be people who can speak English, others will only know their regional dialect and there might not always be someone to translate for you. Learn some Tagalog, as people will be more likely to speak and understand that rather than English.
  1. Document – While you might not want to always take notes, having a private journal is helpful to process your thoughts and experiences, especially if you’re unable to debrief/deescalate from unfamiliar situations with someone you can confide in, in a language you prefer. Consider using codes to protect your peers’ identities and stories. Have a camera but always ask permission before taking a snap of someone.
  1. Help with daily chores –community immersion is living as the locals do and thus contributing to a household. Though you’re a guest and may be treated like one (may not be permitted to help wash the dishes, cook meals or sweep the floors), do put aside your privilege and integrate.
  1. Communicate with your hosts – this is very important. If you have questions and clarifications, ask in a timely and respectful manner to avoid confusion/misunderstanding and lessen anxiety. Be upfront about your limitations to ensure your safety and maximize your comfort.#