Josephine “Arjho” Carino-Turner is an inspiration to all of us. Though she is now based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, she still managed to help our country through her promotional campaigns (arts, cultural and the like) using social media and through humanitarian services. She is very passionate in helping our fellow Indigenous People (IP) most especially the Blaan's in Sarangani Province. I really admire her because she is genuinely cool woman.
In an interview via Facebook, Arjho shares her experiences while she was in the Philippines. She also shares her advocacy in helping our fellow IPs.
YaduKaru: Since I did not have a chance to meet you personally, can you tell me something about yourself?
I graduated Class Valedictorian from Dole Cannery Central Elementary School in Polomolok, South Cotabato in 1992. I finished High School from Mindanao State University-Science Curriculum (CETD) in General Santos City and was then a recipient of Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani Foundation scholarship grant. In 1996, I was admitted to the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB) with two scholarship grants - the Iskolar ng Bayan and the Agricultural and Rural Development Scholarship (ARDS) Grant. I took up BS Agriculture major in Plant Pathology and graduated in April 15, 2000.
While in college, I worked as a Student Research Assistant for STRIVE Foundation and also served as a Student Assistant to the UPLB Dean of Student Affairs. During my semestral break, I was an active volunteer for the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod community development efforts for the Aetas in lahar affected areas of Zambales (in Luzon). I also took active leadership roles in different student organizations and a campus based ministry-LakasAngkan Ministry Inc. (LAMI)
After college I went back to my region (Region XII). I first joined as Research Assistant to the MINDSET Technical Consulting firm based in General Santos City under Dr. Nick Perez. I did technical assistance for Geographic Information System (ARC-GIS) software training among government employees.
While having a fulltime job in Sarangani, I also enrolled in a distance learning education at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) where I earned a post-graduate degree for Master in Environment and Natural Resource Management major in Upland Resource Management.
YaduKaru: Can you share about your experience as Former Indigenous Peoples Development Program (IPDP) Manager?
Arjho: With passion for community development work, I served the Provincial Government of Sarangani under the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist as Program Manager for the Luntiang Lumad Program (LLP) from December 2000 up to December 2003. With new provincial leadership in 2004, I was designated to conceptualize the LLP transformation into a more comprehensive Indigenous Peoples Development Program (IPDP). I served as the Program Manager for IPDP under the Office of Governor Miguel Rene A. Dominguez for 2 years before immigrating to the USA. I am an advocate for indigenous cultural development (e.g. literary arts, performing arts, school of living traditions projects, cultural and agricultural research), environmental management, and good governance.
YaduKaru: What motivates you to help our fellow IPs?
Arjho: Farming is our way of life. When I was in high school and is getting ready to take UPCAT exam, I chose UPLB campus (with the degree of BS Agriculture) with the prayer and ultimate goal of going back to my region and serve in the government specifically for the indigenous peoples (IPs) group. During semestral breaks, I spent volunteer work thru the UP Volunteer Corps and the Ugnayan ng Panhinungodserving Aeta communities in Zambales. Their plight is very similar to the IP situation back in my region: discrimination in all forms, unequal opportunity for jobs, and inaccessibilityof government services, and disparity of income. IPs just hastily used for “show off” on cultural presentations delegated as “program entertainments” or “intermission numbers”. The marginalization from their very own ancestral domains, always just the point of interest for “shadow” programs to politically appease the IP groups but NEVER truly empowering them to exercise their rights to govern themselves according to their customs and traditions. Those community service exposures strengthened me the more, to go back and hopefully serve my fellow IPs for a better difference.
YaduKaru: How's your experience working under former Gov. Miguel Rene A. Dominguez?
Arjho: Even though I just spent two years working under Gov. Migs administration, I can say that it was a very productive two years that shaped the cultural development of the province and impacting the respective IP groups in each of the Municipal Local Government Units (MLGUs).
It’s a dream work come true! I have a leader that fully supports cultural development initiatives and helped ushered in support from various partners (individuals, non-profit organizations and businesses). It was a very busy two years too. There were a lot of projects and major cultural works that successfully done, like - School of Living Tradition (SLT) Project implementation at Lamlifew; Sarangani’s participation for WOW Mindanao in Davao City; The cultural research in partnership with historian Dr. Heidi K. Gloria that was made into a first publication of the province (Sarangani: People, Places and Culture published in 2006); The first upland rice research in Sarangani in partnership with Mindanao State University-Science Department at Kihan, Malapatan; and I was part of the first Sarangani Bay Festival and it was my last work in the province.
YaduKaru: Even when you are in the US, you still promote Sarangani Province thru your blogs and other write-ups. What motivates you to do so?
Arjho: When I met Filipino-Americans in Atlanta and I told them I am from Mindanao, I can see the fear and the ridiculous reactions like “Really? Oh my God! That place is dangerous!”, “Di ba maraming Muslim doon?”, “Naku, nakakatakot naman ang mag-stay sa Mindanao.”(There are lots of Muslims there, right? Oh no! It’s really scary to stay in Mindanao)
And when I say that I am from General Santos City, some would say without hesitation,“Uy, you came from the Tuna Capital ng Pilipinas!” Or some would be so happy to say “Kababayan mo pala si Manny! You came from the home of Manny Pacquiao!”
I was really bothered because I realized how much people from Luzon especially those who have not been to Mindanao, have that kind of mindset. If not based on fear from news they have read or from their excitement of famous personalities like boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, Mayor Duterte, and Shamcey Supsup, they know nothing about the beautiful island of Mindanao, especially its people and the diversity of cultures. I cannot cover all of the provinces of Mindanao for promotion purposes so I chose to focus on Region 12 specifically Sarangani Province. Since I am getting e-mail from the Sarangani Provincial Information Office, I started re-posting them in my first blog that I made back in 2007.
YaduKaru: I noticed that you have a lot of blogs to maintain, how do you manage it?
Arjho: As my online volunteer activities, I do technical assistance here in the USA thru promotion in social networking sites, creating and maintaining blogs and free basic website development as well as project proposal preparation. It is more of a hobby and I only do updating when I have time especially now that I have an infant and a toddler. I love doing it as mental exercise too, aside from routine motherhood duties.
Each blog has specific tags/labels for easy reference when I share about topics related to Sarangani, General Santos City and the GFI Mindanao outreach documentations submitted by beneficiary schools. I get news articles from PIO Sarangani since I came here in the USA.
Website development for specific organizations, individuals with artistic creations, non-profit organizations with meaningful development and volunteer works or businesses are part of my online technical assistance for free. This is just drag and drop kind of basic website that is user friendly and less maintenance compared to regular blogs. I also do them whenever I have time. The respective recipients/owners of the websites are provided with all information to access it, edit or change as they wish.
I also started my first website (Blaan.net) but it was not updated for more than 2 years. But it needs an overall updating/aesthetic presentation or may be choosing a new theme. I find this difficult though compared to the free features of weebly.
YaduKaru: What can you say about the state of Indigenous People in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao?
Arjho:I think the IPs is more empowered now since the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was made into law. There are lots of IP leaders now that are serving in various capacities - politicians, traditional elders, academic think tanks, and cultural development workers - in their respective communities. We still have long way to go for equal access to basic services after decades of neglect and no representation on the local government units’ development programs. I hope that the respective IP Mandatory Representative (IPMR) will be fully implemented in provinces with high IP population (from the PLGU, MLGU and BLGU levels).
There are also rising younger IP professionals that are more vocal, more independent and progressive thinkers that gives back to their communities in big and small ways they can. There are lots of IP groups from Mindanao who has relatives living outside of the country and lots have inter-racial marriages like mine that also gives back to help our fellow IPs.
YaduKaru: What is Galing Foundation, Inc. Mindanao Outreach? What is your role in GFI?
Arjho: Since 2007, I served as the Secretary and the Mindanao Outreach Director for the Galing Foundation, Inc., - a non-profit organization here in Atlanta. Galing Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to provide educational and community service to local Filipino Americans as well as promoting the importance of functional and English literacy in rural areas of the Philippines as the foundation for future development, working towards awareness on global citizenry.
YaduKaru: Any plans to go back in the Philippines?
Arjho: We plan to visit when kids are old enough to appreciate international travel and also remember their experience. It will be quite a while though.
YaduKaru: What is you dream project(s) for our fellow IPs?
Arjho: I dream for the Blaan tribe to have a Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) Awardee soon. I want also to have the establishment of the Philippines Blaan Foundation, Inc. spearheaded by my former colleague in Sarangani and the former QUEST Program manager, Annalie Edday. And more support for Schools of Living Tradition (SLT) Projects and Research and Development (R&D) for the traditional upland rice.