My journey: A tale of two countries

Shirley Kimmayong
Posted December 6, 2016 from Philippines
An Ifugao change maker

Costa Rica and Philippines.

Two countries located halfway around the world from each other. Yet these two nations have played a big role for my dream to become a reality.

Costa Rica is located in Central America, below United States. I went there for my Masteral Degree, thanks to The Nippon Foundation scholarship. I studied at the United Nations mandated University for Peace.

While there, there were three things that happened.

One, my cultural consciousness kicked in. Growing up in the Philippines, I know I am an indigenous person. I am an Ifugao particularly from the Ayangan tribe and my last name says so – Kimmayong.

But I realized it was superficial for me. I am not fluent in speaking my local dialect and I grew up not knowing much about my culture. Though I brought native attire, which I plan to use for our commencement exercise, that’s it.

Then one of my professors, Virginia Cawagas, discussed indigenous research. She pointed out that some cultures are not being documented. It’s as if I woke up from slumber for what she says is true. Some are no longer practiced, are not being documented, and so the younger generation do not know about them.

Two, I was exposed in the university of ideas like making the world a better place, change the world, do something. This got me thinking. What can I do?

For sometime, I have been saying to myself that I want to inspire people. I see some young people in our village who are wasting their lives and I want to tell them to wake up, there is hope, you can do something.

Let me share a short story. I am the first child of 10 children, 3 died. Life was challenging. My parents do not have stable and high paying jobs. My mother work in peoples’ rice fields and my father drive my uncle Nardo’s jeepney before. He does not drive it everyday because we only have one market day in town before. To augment their income, my mother would do laundry for other people, sacks of them from time to time. I experienced going to relative’s houses from time to time to ask for rice so we can have some food. There would also be an increasing list of debt at the sari-sari stores or from other people.

But despite all that, I was able to finish my college degree and my MA degrees; one was even abroad, thanks to scholarships and to people who have supported me. So while taking my undergraduate I had four scholarships – my parents, my aunt Imelda who is a domestic helper in Hong Kong, former Congressman Benjamin Cappleman (in partnership with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) and I was an academic scholar as a college and a dean’s lister depending on my grades.

I went on to work after college, become an empowered woman, travelled within the Philippines and to different countries and Asia in the performance of my job in an international humanitarian organization. Then I passed the scholarship and went to Costa Rica.

Now, I am back with the question, what can I do? So here’s the third thing. Three, I met schoolmates who have their own nonprofit in their own countries. One was even younger than me.

The dream to start a nonprofit began to take root in my heart and in my mind.

Then I was done with my MA in Costa Rica and went back to the Philippines for another MA degree at the Ateneo de Manila University, still part of the scholarship.

One of the requirements in the university was for us to do a field project. My group worked with mothers who were mostly scavengers previously from Payatas. One of the mother’s definition of peace stayed with me. She said, peace means having food on the table. Her definition bothered me.

I am back to the same question that has been bothering me in Costa Rica. What can I do?

I struggled with this question for sometime. When I graduated from Ateneo, I prayed, went up to Prayer Mountain and seek God’s will. I talked with a lot of people including someone from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. I researched online. I attended a national gathering of indigenous peoples and listened to their stories of discrimination.One thing stood out – indigenous peoples are poorer, less educated and much more marginalized not only in the Philippines but also worldwide.

So what did I do?

I went on to startup Hagiyo* – a nonprofit organization that aims to educate and empower indigenous peoples, ensure sustainable education through social enterprise and that these indigenous peoples will also champion culture preservation. It is our hope to raise world changers.

It has taken two countries, Costa Rica and Philippines. In the end, the dream became a reality. I would never have taken the first step if not for God who has been with me all the way and for that I am grateful.

However, it is just the beginning. The task is huge. I need other people who share the same vision and are willing to partner with me. Not for me per se, but for the indigenous peoples.

But while waiting for the funds to come in, I joined a regional movement working for indigenous peoples in Asia. This has opened my eyes to the bigger picture on what indigenous peoples are faced with.

Through this, I hope to be able to enlarge my network, learn more about indigenous peoples and be able to share what I know to the organization – in ensuring that the general public became aware of the plights of indigenous peoples and how they can be of help.

Hopefully in time, I would come to know more about managing a nonprofit for indigenous peoples, know more about possible donors for indigenous peoples and people who will support the cause.

This time, it would take more than two countries. Would you support with me?

Comments 4

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Hannah B
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Welcome to World Pulse!

I also went to the University for Peace and had class with Prof. Cawagas!  It sounds like you have had many amazing experiences that are informing your life and career.  Thank you for sharing so much of your story with us, and I hope you keep writing! 

Best wishes,


Shirley Kimmayong
Dec 07, 2016
Dec 07, 2016

Dear Hannah,

Thanks for welcoming me. It is a great news to hear you've been to UPEACE as well. 

Will try indeed to keep writing.



May 15, 2017
May 15, 2017

Your story is so inspiring!  I wish you all the best with Hagiyo.  I admire your will to give back. 

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Dec 12, 2019
Dec 12, 2019

Hello, Ate Shirley,

I feel so connected with you because of your story. I used to work in an organization that focuses on supporting the dreams of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Meeting IPs made me desire to belong to a tribe, too. Your story is so inspiring. I'm so proud of you for listening to your heart.

Starting an NGO in the Philippines is a Herculian task, right? I dream of putting up my own organization, too. I wonder what were the steps you did to fulfill those requirements. What preparations do I need to take? Thank you so much, Ate Shirley. I hope to meet you soon! Keep up the great work.

Thank you for inspiring us with your story.