PAQUIBATO, Davao City -- Jeanly, a Matigsalog lass sweetly smiled into the camera without any qualms, walking with ease and grace while carrying a bagful of things on top of her head, unmindful of the mud sticking between her toes as she maneuvers through the slippery trail towards Kibalatong.

Jeanly says she treks the hills for about an hour everyday from her home place in sitio Konol, which is a few kilometers away from her school in Kibalatong where she is a fourth grader at the Lumad School of the Assumption College of Davao located right in the heart of the sitio. The lumad school was established by the Sisters of the Missionaries of the Assumption in 2002.

Seemingly sitting on a bowl of hills surrounding it some 965 kilometers south of Manila, sitio Kibalatong of Barangay Malabog, Paquibato District, Davao City's Third Congressional District, basks on a gloriously bright but cool morning while the Matigsalog Indigenous community prepares for an event called Sahakoon.

School children in their bright colorful dresses were already bustling in the playground, playing siatong, a game every Filipino child knows so well. Their game became irresistible even for the young high school teachers of ACD who visited during that day. Gleefully, they joined the Matigsalog children, unable to contain the joy they felt in for having the chance to go and witness an IP ritual, something that is so rare in our time and cyber age. It was a chance in a lifetime to feel like small children again, unmindful of the heat of the sun.

Celebrating Sahakoon is a way of life for Matigsalogs says Boyson Anib, an IP teacher in his early 30s who was once an academic scholar of the Missionaries of the Assumption while he was a very young child in the early 80s. Anib has since been teaching the children of his community at the Lumad school in another sitio, in nearby Toruyan, Marilog District, right after he finished his four-year education course as a scholar at ACD.

In preparation for the planting season. The ritual involved in Sahakoon shows the laying down of planting tools, like the bolo, used to prepare the soil for the planting season. Cooked food such as a plateful of rice and viand are placed near the tools. After some incantation by Datu Quirino, a handful of food is placed on each tool. The Datu explains the process, saying it is not the material things like the bolo that are offered the food. Rather, this is but a symbolic offering to the spirits who are moving with the farming tools. Once this is done, the Datu says it is already an assurance that these bladed tools will help the tribe plant and harvest abundantly. A sense of security among the owners of the tools is likewise felt, believing that the spirits will see to it that the tools will not be used against them.

As the Datu started his incantation, silence fell upon the community who were witnessing the process. Some other sisters of the Missionaries of the Assumption were also there as they always are every Sahakoon.

Sr. Aurea Quiñones was moved as some of the small pupils performed a dance that tells a story about how Kibalatong came to be. Having been able to work with the Matigsalog sometime during the congregation's development work with them for over 20 years since they started in 1989, Sr. Aurea said it is inspiring to see the IP children who can now dance and appreciate the tribe's culture, unlike before when the sisters started their Apostolate with the IPs.

It was not an easy journey, related Sr. Aurea.

"We had to traverse difficult terrain, and walk through muddy slopes, there having no trail to follow on to go from one hill to another," she recalls. Not to mention the difficulty of starting work with IPs in this part of Southern Mindanano.

Sr. Aurea adds that the sisters commitment and determination to "bring hope to our brothers and sisters in the hinterlands", was the driving force that urged the missionaries to undertake the journey with them.

Looking over the newly-built museum, which the Matigsalog community helped put up in Kibalatong, Sr. Aurea could not help but smile with satisfaction. She said the Missionaries of the Assumption have planted well the seeds of mutual respect for cultures including those that does not necessarily practice Christianity. As the Panubadtubad (tribal worship) was being performed by Datu Quirino, one of the leaders among the elders who have been journeying with the sisters for the past several years, she adds that the sisters have held in high esteem the Matigsalog's way of worship as no different from theirs.

Seeing all their efforts that helped the community for the better makes Sr. Aurea so grateful that she really did not mind having to walk a few kilometers each year to get to where Kibalatong is, just to celebrate with the IPs their way of life.