How Bryan Yap’s immersion in culture and heritage birthed #BiyaheNiB, an initiative that gives back to the Philippine Cordillera community.
This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s September 2023 Issue.
The Cordillera mountain ranges sit on the north central part of Luzon, the Philippine’s largest island, and comprises the six provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, and Ifugao. It is where the Igorots call home. The word Igorot means “people from the mountains” and is used collectively to represent the locals of the Cordillera.
When one imagines the Philippine Cordillera, it invokes visions of majestic mountains and sceneries such as the Banaue Rice Terraces of Ifugao, the sea of clouds of Mount Pulag in Benguet, and the subterranean Sumaguing Cave of Sagada Mountain Province. To me, it is so much more than that—it is the kindness and generosity of its people, the respect they have for tradition and heritage, and the abundance and richness of their culture.
TWO YEARS IN MANKAYAN, BENGUET
Situated halfway between Baguio and Sagada is the quaint municipality of Mankayan, Benguet. Mankayan is and has been a mining town for centuries, and is where Lepanto Mine has been operating responsibly for 87 years. It also happens to be a farming town with abundant varieties of fresh vegetables.
At the height of COVID in March 2021, Lepanto found itself without a resident manager—that is, the person who acts as the overall head of mining operations and is permanently stationed at a mining site. Because of the limited mobility due to lockdowns, the company had very little options. As the organization’s president, I had to take up that role.
It was not my intention to live long-term in the Cordillera, but it turned out to be among the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had. I had the privilege of living with the locals and have come to call it home for the past two years. Mining operations workloads took up most of my time during the weekdays, but I was able to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding countryside during the weekends.
THE UNEXPLORED WONDERS OF NATURE
Mankayan has 12 barangays (towns) and to travel from one to the other requires traversing mountain ranges and valleys either by vehicle or by foot. Within these barangays are some of the most beautiful untouched places in the Philippines. They have everything—unexplored rivers, lakes, and waterfalls which only the locals are privy to.
Some of these places require ardent hikers with enough stamina to go up and down mountains, traverse steep narrow walkways beside deep ravines, and cross long suspension bridges. I thought I was fit for my age, but I never knew how tough it was to climb some of these peaks; however, everything was forgotten once I arrived at my destination. I was rewarded with some of the most spectacular sights: lush greeneries, mountain peaks, ridges, and canyons.
These unexplored parts had no public tours; it was the locals who were my guides, sharing their stories and the ways in which they enjoy the simple gifts of nature. Seeing these scenes in their natural state, the way these people do, is something I would never have experienced anywhere in the world. It was at this time that I started the hashtag #BiyaheNiB to highlight my travels and to promote the beauty, culture, and people of the Cordillera.
THE FRESHEST VEGETABLES
Benguet is called the Salad Bowl of the Philippines because of its production of upland vegetables. This becomes apparent driving by car as one is greeted by sprawling vegetable terraces or cabbages, wombok, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, watercress, and pako. When visiting these farms, it was the farmers themselves who brought me to their gardens, engaging with them and hearing the stories of their struggles and triumphs.
#BIYAHENIB GIVES BACK
During the pandemic, the youth organized a community pantry to help the locals within Lepanto Mines. I donated to the cause and it sparked my desire to give back: thus #BiyaheNiB Gives Back was born. This was my way of helping the Cordillera community, which has given so much to me.
The #BiyaheNiB team is mainly composed of Igorots from different walks of life, who share my desire to give back to the community. We chose schools that were close to places we visited during our #BiyaheNiB travels, with a focus on those that need the most help. These included remote schools that were far-flung and rarely visited.
The main purpose of this project was to bring joy to the kids. Each student received a “love gift”: a bag containing basic necessities for their families like grocery items and hygiene kits, as well as items like school supplies, slippers, umbrellas, and toys. Giving back during the weekends had been our respite from the workload that occupied us during weekdays. Playing with the kids, seeing the joy in their faces, and receiving their hugs made our hearts full.
We have come a long way: so far we have helped 19 schools, more than a thousand students, and one orphanage. We have no intention of stopping, and I am so glad to have loved ones who saw the good things we do for these kids and continue to donate to our cause for the succeeding #BiyaheNiB Gives Back.
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