Bakwit Diaries: an exposurist living with Lumad evacuees

by Theresa Endoso, Anakbayan NY

In Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, Caraga, Mindanao, Philippines, I lived in an evacuation camp or “bakwit” for three months with Lumad (indigenous) evacuees forcibly displaced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s 75th infantry battalion and its paramilitary, the Magahat Bagani.

International and Philippine mining companies with international investors and shareholders are behind these militarized and extrajudicial killings and evacuations of Lumad peoples.

It was 3 months in bakwit but a lifetime of lessons where I developed lifelong relationships and a lifelong commitment to serving the Lumad struggle for self-determination. 


Overlooking bakwit. Not pictured are the bleachers that circle the sports complex, also overcrowded with makeshift tents.

From the Lumad elders, leaders, youth, students, activists, children and the staff of both the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), I learned firsthand the principles and practices necessary to be an effective member in revolutionary organizing.

Students of ALCADEV practice traditional ceremony and dance for their Values Education curriculum.
Students of ALCADEV perform traditional Lumad dance at a solidarity night in bakwit.
ALCADEV students in bakwit have very limited access to school supplies, but take diligent notes and try to keep notebooks clean in their wet and muddy “dorm” tents which function also as makeshift classrooms.


The incredible will power, the perseverance of the Lumad people is rooted in love: love for the natural environment, the rich ancestral domain and one’s community. Family, land, culture, and history are all bound by this deep love.


ALCADEV students take a study break in their “dormitory” tent, exhausted from the brutal heat and noise of bakwit. But how they love one another! The sweetest of teens.


Love in Lumad communities is active, collective, and militant. It is revolutionary. Love is what unifies different villages and even tribes. Love is what gives the people undying strength to face such dismal challenges from militarization to massacre to displacement and surviving the conditions of bakwit.

Education in Lumad communities is one of the deepest expressions of this love. Community schools of TRIFPSS and ALCADEV are the heart, the pride, the promise of the Lumad struggle.


ALCADEV students perform modern choreography to express the plight of their people and the unity of comrades. (This was at a special solidarity night put together for me on my last night in bakwit. Most memorable evening of my life.)


Children find new ways to make beds for the night. Here they are sleepping on a wood plank used as a makeshift chalkboard for TRIFPSS classes. The already limited resources like plastic potato sacks for cots, tarps, and bamboo become so worn and torn from the climate and unsanitary conditions, that bedding becomes limited.
Students perform their 5 AM daily chores, including cleaning up the trash around bakwit.


The Lumad children are consciously and actively concerned about the next generation. We often hold this expectation to elders, but for children to be so invested in the well-being of the land and future generation is incredible. In drastic contrast to Western values and socialized ideas of success, the children’s aspirations center on community empowerment, as opposed to individual gain. These principles are inherently embedded in the cultural fabric, but are especially encouraged in the community schools.

ALCADEV students working on miniature houses or “mga balay” for their Technology and Home Economics class.
ALCADEV students and their teacher varnish baskets woven out of wild rattan, income generating products (IGPs) created by practiced Lumad artisans in evacuation.
ALCADEV students working on miniature houses or “mga balay” for their Technology and Home Economics class.


The Lumad youth are incredibly empowered by the culturally relevant education they receive in their own schools. For these schools to be shut down by militarization and government oppression would mean ethnocide, an entire livelihood of indigeneity threatened.


ALCADEV students participating in a workshop and lesson I created for them. These opportunities allowed the students to continue to teach me Bisaya and Manobo languages and for me to continue to tutor English language.
ALCADEV students focusing on a lesson plan despite the harsh and distracting environment. Uncomfortable, but motivated!


The living conditions of bakwit are simply not fit for living. There is neither sufficient food nor water and illnesses are rampant from UTI’s, ulcers, asthma, fever, flu, cold, allergic reactions to bakwit diet, and much more serious illnesses as well. 

Most days, the public water supply (needed especially for cleaning the public bathroom and washing away waste) runs out first thing in the morning after being rationed amongst families. So, there is not enough to meet all the needs of bathing, drinking, washing clothes, washing dishes, cooking, and bathroom use. The bakwit is overcrowded which makes cooking, sleeping, studying, and teaching very difficult.

A baby plays in an empty water basin. We called her “kulot” or “curly.” Her mama always invited me to sit in their tent and rest from the hot sun.
Children playing next to an empty Red Cross water dispenser.
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An ALCADEV student prepares a dinner of fish for her classmates. Most meals in bakwit consist only of rice, instant noodles, cans of sardines. Fish is a special occasion, a donation from an organization, church, or other visitors to bakwit.

Lumad community schools not only pass on the rich culture of their respective tribes, but provide the tools necessary in asserting self-efficiency and self-determination.

Literacy alone helps to ensure that Lumads will not be insidiously misled into signing away their entitled ancestral land rights. But these schools offer so much more than any Department of Education school could. Each subject is tailored to relate to the everyday lives (farming) and political climates of the Lumads.

Drumming on a donated agong while children dance together.
ALCADEV students rehearse Lumad dance
“Boys dorm.” Making traditional beaded bracelets
ALCADEV students getting ready to dance at a solidarity night hosted by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), a progressive church dedicated to serving the political struggle of the Lumads.

The Lumads have friends in local government, churches of many faiths, political organizations, environmentalists, academics, activists and many other communities and individuals who recognize the severity of the situation and the intrinsic value of the Lumad livelihood and its legacy. However, it is not enough.

MORE and STRONGER international support is VITAL in securing the safety and respect of rights of the Lumads across Mindanao.


A drawing by teachers of TRIFPSS of their homes and schools that they long for every day while in evacuation.