Zamboanga out-of-school youth tell compelling stories of their communities through film and photography

Joshua Labra was only 16 years old when he quit school to give way for his four other younger siblings’ opportunity to an education.

Living off only with the meager income from his mother who worked part-time as a laundry woman and his father who worked as a jeepney driver, Joshua knew, being the eldest, that there was only so much to go around. 

But being out of school did not become a hindrance to Joshua’s constant pursuit of learning and desire to become a productive member of his community.

A year later, his first ever short film “Pamilya Dimagiba,” would set on to win Best Short Film in the SUGPAT heART Intensives Film Festival last September 29 at the Ateneo de Zamboanga Gallery of the Peninsula and the Archipelago.

Joshua is one of almost 30 out-of-school youth who took part in the SUGPAT heART Intensives, a two-part creativity workshop training select out-of-school youth with different ethnicities and religious backgrounds from Zamboanga City the basic principles of storytelling through film and photography.

“Art has always been a powerful medium for self-expression and changing mindsets. So we really see the value in providing platforms for the out-of-school youth to channel their thoughts, feelings, and identities through art, especially with the current situation of peace in Mindanao,” SUGPAT Program Director Kiko Miranda said.

Discovering their “K” through photography

The two-part capacity-building training kicked off with the 5-day photography workshop with community-based artist Ralph Eya who served as their workshop master.

The modules involved grounding the fellows with values by discovering and recognizing their “K’s” which include their Kalooban (internal strength), Katauhan (identity), Kapwa Kapatiran (brotherhood), Kapaligiran (environment), and Kabayanihan (heroism). After which, the fellows were taught how to handle a camera coupled with the basic principles of photography.

“The reason why we have a camera is to show things that we think we see everyday. But you will be surprised that there are other ways of viewing these things, especially with the photos that you will take,” Eya said.

During one of their sessions, out-of-school youth participant Victor Manalo expressed: “Alam ko na kahit hindi tayo nakapag-aral sa regular na paaralan, pwede pa rin nating abutin ang ating mga pangarap (We may not be in formal school, but I know that we can still reach our dreams).”

As part of the workshop, the fellows were divided into groups and brought into three barangay communities where they would take photos and tell the stories of these communities throught he lens of their cameras.

They were welcomed by the Sangguniang Kabataan officials led by their chairpersons, Hon. Kim Villafores of Brgy. Sta. Catalina, Hon. Rhemjohn Ian Miranda of Brgy. Divisoria, and Hon. Al-Naser Latip of Brgy. Sinunuc.

After being oriented and toured around the barangay offices to do a courtesy call with barangay captains, the fellows then immersed in the community and took photos that best manifested “Kabayanihan” or modern-day heroism.

The photography workshop culminated with a Photo Exhibition at the Gallery of the Peninsula and the Archipelago with members of the Ateneo community and the general public, as well as parents of the workshop participants.

“These are not just stories of the youth by the youth, but these are also our contributions for a more progressiven society,” Eya said in his message before officially cutting the ribbon to open the exhibit of 30 photos.

Photography workshop participant Julhan Muhali’s “Pagsubok,” which showed four children from Barangay Sinunuc smiling blissfully to the camera against a background of rubble from the fire that razed the area to the ground a day prior, was a crowd favorite.

Ang nasa larawan ko ay mga batang nawalan ng tahanan pero naka smile pa rin. Ito ay sumisimbolo ng kasiyahan at pag-asa. Kahit ano pang dumating na pgsubok sa buhay ay dapat lumaban lang at wag magpapatinag,” the 23-year-old fellow described in his photo caption.

(“Seen in the photo are kids who lost their homes to the fire yesterday. These symbolize happiness and hope, that no matter the challenges of life that they face, they will continue to press on and never back down”)

“The exhibit was very inspiring because the photographers were all able to express and tell stories of marginalized people and relate it to their own experiences. And what’s even more heartwarming is that these were all taken by out-of-school youth,”  AdZU BA Comm Mickaella Dumayag remarked.

She added: “Truly, not being able to go to school is not a factor for someone to stop believing in their dreams; to continue doing great things for the society and uplift the morals of people.”

Manifestations of ‘Kabayanihan’ through moving images

After knowing about their “K” and being introduced to the basics of photography, the fellows went through another round of creative workshops with multi-awarded Zamboangeno filmmaker Xeph Suarez from September 24-28, 2018.

The fellows participated in the 5-day creative workshop teaching them the principles of storytelling through film. They went through story development, basics of cinematography, and the roles in film production.

“It is through experiences such as this that they learn certain skills that they can use not only in filmmaking but also in their everyday life–the simple act of storytelling; of getting the message across; of how to convey their feelings through a story,” Suarez said.

The films produced by the fellows were grounded on the manifestations of heroism which were introduced in the workshop. The concepts of justice, hope, resilience, solidarity, and reconciliation became themes for each of the five films.

The workshop concluded with a screening featuring the five short films made by the fellows and an exclusive showing of Suarez’ “Si Astri Maka Si Tambullah” which won the Jury Prize and Best Director awards at the Cinemalaya 2018.

“Pamilya Dimagiba,” which follows the story of two children who go missing after running away from home due to quarrelling parents, won Best Film and the Audience Choice Award.

Other short films produced by the out-of-school youth groups were: “Ang Gintong Pangarap” (Special Jury Prize); “Best Friend” (Best Ensemble); “Bagong Pamilya” (Artistic Achievement); and “Pagbabago” (Best Screenplay).

“I never expected I would be able to make a short film on my own, but here I am. So I am very grateful for Sir Xeph and the entire SUGPAT team that I am here. It is only here that I realized that I had the potential to tell important stories of my community,” the film’s director, Labra, said.

The digital storytelling workshop is a one of the top 10 projects that won seed funding during the Angat Buhay Youth Summit Mindanao in Cagayan de Oro City organized by the Office of the Vice President Leni Robredo and the Oro Youth Development Council.

“All of us want to be heard in any kind of way, so telling stories is a way of showing that we have something to say and what we want to say is important,” Suarez said.

TEXT by Val Amiel Vestil

PHOTOS by Shekinah Benitez

Leave a Comment