Importance of a community, interview with Tin Buenavista (Co-founder of Alima Community)
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
If there is one thing that we love about being on social media all the time, is the fact that we get inspiration from other people. Tin is one of the few people we've been following online since our blogging days through our blogspot site. We haven't met her in person but she has already inspired us through her posts and the community she built in her hometown.
When we were envisioning this digital community, Tin has always been the first person in mind to interview. We thought her story will shed some light on how important it is to have a community, whether online or offline. Thank you so much Tin for saying yes without any questions.
Tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into social community/building?
I was born and raised in Sitio Batuan here in Barotac Viejo, it used to be a farming village without electricity and during harvest time, the community gathered for linas – by foot, we would remove rice grains from the stalks. I also grew up enjoying going to the plaza when there were free film showing, fiesta events, and other activities. I guess all those moments of being part of a community at a very tender age never left me and I never left it.
I studied Political Science which also helped me learn more about society and culture through diverse lenses. Moreover, I led both the Political Science Club and Social Science Club of the University of San Agustin Iloilo for a year, so those were complementary experiences to my leadership roles in Barotac Viejo National High School – President of our student council which gave me the platform to design programs and make sound decisions for the student body, Corps Commander of our CAT-1 unit which exposed me to deeper community service and camaraderie, and Editor-in-Chief of our English school publication which gave me the chance to develop awareness of current events and social issues.
Through time, volunteering and the arts moved and led me closer to listening to the call of community building. My biggest inspiration are people from my own family who, in their diverse ways have made themselves open to help and serve others.
Artivism Team with "Si Magbanua kag ang Bakunawa"
How would you explain Alima Community and what you do there to someone who does not know much about grassroots collaborations?
Alima Community is an evolving creative project with a small ethical shop. Its heart is rooted in community collaborations, relationship with the land, and folk wisdom. We use art as a platform to connect with people mostly in rural areas and together, we create new products, paint public places, hold events highlighting the locals and their culture as well as socio-political inquiries, and learn from each other through the process. It involves months of curiosity and immersion and being with each other.
Jenjen of Kataw
In this digital age, why do you think a community is important?
Whether online or offline, it is important to have a community through which you can meet others and have exchanges, give and receive support, and transcend mere tolerance. Digital platforms and communities have helped me in so many ways in my journey, so I also encourage people who feel more comfortable in building online communities to give it a try. As for offline communities, there is the advantage of sensing and experiencing that spontaneous warm and elastic energy between people and with natural landscapes. Through these, one can discover the value of self beyond its aloneness. One church song I really liked from when I was a little girl says it all, “Isa ka komunidad, waay sang imol nga indi makahatag. Isa ka katilingban, waay manggaran nga wala naga kinahalanglan.”
As a 10 / 15 / 20 year old, what were you inspired by? What did you see your future life being then?
At 10, I watched MTV and PBA religiously, so I stood in front of the mirror pretending to be a VJ or a courtside reporter. Music and musicians moved me deeply. The first time I saw TLC’s video of “Unpretty”, I had something unnamed in my gut, but it felt deep and powerful. Basketball players were interesting then because of their passion and grit.
At 15, I started writing in my journals more regularly. Such strange and awkward and overwhelming age made me feel a little too emotional. I was also discovered by a teacher and encouraged to write for our school paper. Miss Leonila Talon wrote me a note saying, “Don’t stop writing. One day, you will be surprised.” She saw through me and I will never forget her. I never thought of the future though many people around me told me I should pursue Law. When I was writing, I was free and rooted at the same time.
At 20, I began working at my first job while holding the SK Chairman position in our barangay. Very big responsibilities. We were struggling financially as a family which made me work harder. The future was dull, but every time I designed a program for the youth and the whole community shared common spaces and unifying activities, it felt good. When I was able to share my earning to my family, I felt purposeful.
When you started Alima Community few years ago, what is it and how is it going now? What has changed over the years?
As we started Alima Community, I was excited and dreamy. My partner in life is my co-founder and we were backed by friends. Initially we wanted to create a project that uses art as a tool for social change through livelihood and capacity building. Over the years, we have had a series of highs and lows and we have learned a lot. We have had projects that were ground-breaking, but we also had a few that were meh. You become more intentional as you grow.
We follow where our ethos and values guide us. I feel this is the beauty of being small-scale and independent for we do not need to wait for big grants and the approval of a mother organization or brand. Most of the time though, we enjoy building relationships – with fellow artists, budding artists, and artists who had no opportunities (and are about to have it as we work together). We are also very grateful to have a constant pool of friends, friends of friends, and local brands who have been supporting us especially in Artivism 1.0-3.0.
Due to the pandemic, we are taking things slowly and we’re about to launch a digital storytelling lab called Voices from the Baryo – we have four storytellers from the barangays of my hometown and three mentors from our friends’ circle. It will focus on the narratives from the barrio during this challenging time and we will share these stories through their own voices.
Alima Community is a breathing project, so we are open to changes. We started off determined to be a steady social enterprise but now it is just a part of the big picture.
Artivism 3.0 Markada Merkado floor art by Jecko Magallon, Joven Batiller, BVNHS students, and merkado kids
It would be great to hear about some of the “failures” / challenges you have had on your journey?
Most of our failures happened because of our malpractice of passion and drive to make a difference. There have been a lot, but one failure was when, despite of the intention to help a community, our work led to jealousy among recipients. It was beyond our control, but I felt we could have done better.
The good thing about failure is, it can teach you to be humbler and more forgiving – of others and yourself.
Do you have any favourite personal milestones / breakthroughs that made it all the hard work worth it?
When Rofil, one of our collab artists who designs nito vine jewelry represented us as a resource speaker at Capiz State University for their Social Work Week, I was over the moon. She was proud of herself and the organizers treated her with utmost generosity and respect. In addition, the women of San Joaquin we have collaborated with also had their opportunities to host their own workshops on eco-crafting and echoed what they have learned from our gatherings, trainings, and listening circles.
Once, we were walking around a public market in the city, we saw nito vine earrings that were brandless and beautiful. We felt grateful that the knowledge and skills have spread. In 2015, we introduced the idea to some women of Nagpana. We are glad that they can make their own designs now and generate some income from these pieces.
I also had the opportunities to be found by like-minded people here in the Philippines and abroad. To an ever-curious child like me, such serendipitous moments mean a lot. As a natural Empath, one milestone I celebrate is being able to find peace in feeling a little bit more of others. I used to think it was pure weakness.
There are so many people nowadays who want to actively contribute to society but are paralysed by not knowing where to start and feeling like they might not be good enough. What would your advice be to someone who wants to become more active? What are the small important steps we all could start doing?
It is totally fine to start small. Start from what you know or what you are sincerely interested in and trust your good intention. Do not be afraid to reach out to people who are already doing things you would like to be part of, or people who share the same vision with you. These days, exploring groups and free webinars online may be a good way to explore some options.
Enjoy the journey and listen…not just with your ears.
Are you learning / pondering about anything right now that you would like to share?
1) The dream and clamor for better public services is not only for the poor and the marginalized, but it is also for all of us - so that we, no matter what outward achievements we earn in life, can feel safe in publicly shared spaces and be able to find comfort in learning from each other. To be open to moments of pakikipagkapwa and not remain an audience to the plight of those who do not have much (monetarily/spiritually/emotionally).
2) There's no PhD for ibos-making (rice cake-making) but I've always felt that if we, as a collective effort, give regard, respect, and protection to folk wisdom like how we value academic achievements, we can create a better society.
3) I am currently deepening my knowledge and skills on natural and botanical oils and local/native cooking. I am also working on another poetry collection.
And finally, whose story inspires you right now?
Two stories of amazing women in my life:
Tiyay Merlyn, my aunt who has been working in Singapore and has supported most of us: her nieces and nephews in our educational needs. When she helps, she does not have a lot of demands. She also reminds us to pay it forward instead. Her generosity and compassion have saved so many of us in the family.
Nene who has been working and helping in my parents’ karinderya who was able to buy a fishing boat for her family recently. Her honesty, dignity, and kindness are just a few of the values I admire. I would like to add that she is also proud of her mother, my favorite fashionista vendor in our entire public market.
Amidst the popular voice of girl boss culture in the modern world, these stories of Tiyay Merlyn and Nene gift me a more grounded and connective narrative- something not too far from where I am , so I can experience it in its purity.