Dionisia Sira-Chiu: A beautiful life rich with 90-year journey of faith and courage

Dionisia Sira-Chiu’s life story is the story of every woman. Rising, falling and rising again. She has the courage to challenge the status quo of her time and led the way how things can be done by women if they have persistence. Now she tells us her story heading Maya Angelou’s call, ““There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“Even before you were born, the community is already waiting for you to do something” – Chiu Bun Gim

A woman inspiring fellow women

In her time, women’s struggle to be empowered took roots rising from motherhood to inspiring the family’s thriving business to flourish. Her candle shines forever for women to follow.

What makes a woman’s life different? In particular, what made this one story special?

I have interviewed and written about many women from all over the world and there are few who stood out among those I met. One is Dionisia Sira Chiu, the woman behind the well-respected Chiu families whose businesses are based in Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato Province, but spans the whole Mindanao island.

Dionisia’s journey is a wealth of wisdom about family, relationships, faith, courage, trust and yes, compassion towards others. What struck me most was her tenacity as she went through life’s bumps and hurdles. Did she cry and spent sleepless nights over them? I am sure she did and imagine what lessons I found. Did she, at a point, waver through the challenges? I am sure she did, just like you and me. This one many women would share in common.

Indeed, what makes a woman rise above the rest is that effort to do something for her own community; to spread kindness and to do things that matter to other human beings, especially those in need. Often, our life’s inspiration is driven by the passion of people around us. In her case, it was her late husband Chiu Bun Gim, a migrant from mainland China whose business foresight led him to venture in the Philippines. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Childhood at the time of war and peace

She was born from parents who valued education at a time when going to school was a tough challenge. “My father used his rusty bicycle to take us to school which was 7 kilometers away from our barrio (village) named Balabag to the town of Santa Barbara”, she recalls. She became among the first batch of students who graduated from grade VI together with those from grade VII.

Born on May 8, 1929, Dionisia Sira grew up in a deeply religious family who never missed praying the Angelus every 6pm every day followed by the Holy Rosary. “I was always sleepy during the prayers but I managed to complete them”, she says. Somehow, these seemingly tedious traditions helped build her patience and inner strength. She eventually became the prayer lead during important religious celebrations.

Santa Barbara, a town in Iloilo Province is located 16 kilometers from Iloilo City. Though few people may know at present time, it is part of the country’s important independence history. The Revolutionary Government was inaugurated in its town plaza in October 1898 led by Roque Lopez as president. The revolutionary forces successfully launched the campaign to liberate the province from the Spaniards. Then the Japanese came and occupied many municipalities in Iloilo province.

Driven and determined. She witnessed the violence of war but it did not diminish her desire to reach her goals.

Dionisia, fondly nicknamed Nising to family, friends and acquaintances, was old enough to witness the atrocities. She says, “Many people fled outside Balabag for fear of violence. We have heard of rumours of people being beheaded. It was terrifying that I saw myself how a beheaded guerrilla being kicked by a Japanese soldier.”

“There were times when we have to put off the fire in the kitchen hastily, carrying the uncooked rice in the pot straight from the wood stove and run for safety in our air-raid shelter”, she adds. Every grain of rice is considered sacred in the Philippines and should never be wasted even at war time.

From Visayas to Mindanao

After her first two years studying a degree in Pharmacy from Colegio de San Agustin in Iloilo City in 1951, Nising moved to complete the remaining two years of the degree in the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, graduating on 1953. By then, the family moved to Mindanao taking advantage of the government’s program, the National Land Settlement Association (NLSA). Majority of those who made the move came from the Visayas region.

Immediately after graduation, she took the boat from Cebu City to General Santos City in Mindanao. In that journey, Nising met a Chinese guy named Chiu Bun Gim, who was quiet but was fond of going around in the boat. He brought us and some boat officers together to play games. That fateful meeting, almost uneventful, actually became the start of their long journey together in 1957.

Persistence personified. Her parents instilled in them the value of education and this challenge was not easy in the 50s. But she prevailed pursuing what she wanted.

She spent her early days in Koronadal City taking care of her siblings who were still studying. “I was cooking and keeping the house for them”, she shares. She established her small pharmacy in nearby Kipalbig, Tampakan that she named Sira’s Medicinas Caceres in 1955 specializing in household remedies. With the health clinics and hospitals inaccessible in the 50s and transportation difficult, her pharmacy became the refuge of people in need of immediate treatment.

“I have sewn the wounds of a farmer with abaca fiber who got into an accident. I assisted several child births. One night, I was summoned to help a man who was knifed and was profusely bleeding. Faced with these challenges that could mean life-and-death, I have no choice but to use what I have learned and help save lives. Fortunately, most of these patients survived and I was happy I was able to do my share”, Nising added.

Finding love and the future

They next time she met when Chiu Bun Gim was when she remembered offering her services as an interpreter. She ended up working as secretary doing their admin work ensuring that their communications with clients were done promptly. On the side, she taught them proper verbal and written English.

Their relationship gradually blossomed and they faced together the changes in the business industry as they started a family that grew into six children now leaders in the real estate and trading industry with growing families. Valentin now owns Chiu Kim Enterprises. Joseph owns Viajero and other businesses. The four women Maria Victoria and Maria Veronica, Maria Rosario and Maria Henrietta are main incorporators of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc.

“What I really admired in him was his being soft-spoken and thrifty. Imagine that with his P120 monthly salary from La Perla Cigar & Cigarette Company owned by Lucio Tan, he sent P100 to support his family in Xiamen, mainland China and saved the remaining P20 which later were invested into his business ventures assisted by close friends”, she adds.

During Chiu Bun Gim’s death in 1996, whose tombstone was engraved with his favorite saying, “Be like a candle which burns itself to give light to others”, it devastated her but she said she was prepared. Way back in 1980, he was already having a prostate problem and high blood pressure. This led a surgery administered in Chinese General Hospital in Manila and was followed by a diagnosis of colon cancer in 1992.

He went home to Koronadal City after his surgery where he was cared for by his family. Unable to travel anymore, his family from Xiamen came to visit him and the two families met. This part of her life will need a longer sharing time.

Raising a family of business leaders, Dionisia and Chiu Bun Gim with children. From left: Henriette, Rose, Val, Joseph and twins Vicky and Vernie.

Together with Chiu Bun Gim, they worked hard building a business. Every cent and effort counted. This trait they were able to inculcate in their children’s lives.

A campaign to give back to the elderly

At 90, Nising found her calling to take care of people her age. “One instance that really struck me was when a frail, old woman, probably my age, was begging and went to our store. I asked her why she was alone and nobody accompanied her. She shared with me that her children have no time for her and she had to find food for her needs. It broke my heart. The elderly took care of their children while growing up and now that they are old, nobody can return that love to them”, she laments.

That encounter gave birth to her dream of establishing a home for the aged in Koronadal City. There were a lot of hurdles but with the support of her family and various support groups, the dream is gradually unfolding. The groundbreaking event of the one-hectare site donated by the family was a triumph of compassion over the odds. After a careful selection, the Board of Trustees of Anawim Koronadal Home for the Elderly was set-up composed of respected members of the community.

Dionisia Sira Chiu’s 90-year journey is not over yet. It is just taking a good turn to the more fulfilling phase of giving back.

I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.” – Maya Angelou

Age is just a number. At 90, Dionisia still travels the world, now exploring it with her grandchildren. A life well lived and full of adventure.

An early celebration of her birthday in Hong Kong witnessed by families from the Philippines and China. Everyday is a celebration.

Before his death, Chiu Bun Gim had reunified his family in Xiamen, China and Koronadal City, Philippines. The tradition of annual family reunion started alternating locations in both countries.

Dionisia’s life is inspired by many beautiful quotes and poems among them Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. Note: Copy of the prose poem photo grabbed from www.sacredart-murals.co.uk.

#MoroccoisAmazing: Goats on trees, how argan oil is made, the beautiful culture and camel ride to the Sahara

The Sahara Desert experience was one of my best unforgettable adventures. The sunrise was amazing! There is indeed no limit to God’s fantastic creation. Below is our desert camp accommodation.

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.” – Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams

I learned something new on this trip: When it is your birthday treat to yourself, it better be different. My 16 years on the road made that a tough challenge. What will I do? Where will I go? What kind of adventure can I still do without me buckling on my knees? In the end, I called the travel agent and booked Morocco. Deciding too long has cost me an additional US$400 more for my ticket, so I closed my eyes and confirmed. I told myself this better be worth it. It was, and more!

Check-outBohol, Philippines

The palm tree is an icon in Morocco! Do you know that there is an estimated 5 million palm trees in the country, many of them are 150 years old. Their role in everyday life cannot be understated – they provide shades and prevent soil erosion, among many other uses. This view was from the verandah of my room in Hotel Racine.

I did four stages for my 8-day trip: 1) Walking tour in Marrakech – ½ day, 2) Ourika Valley – 1 day, 3) Essaouira – 1 day and 4) Sahara Desert – 2 days/1 night.

I intentionally reserved 2 days for myself exploring the city and going to Jardin de Majorelle, where Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were enshrined. The famous garden had been said to be his refuge after leaving the fashion world before his death. Wow, imagine walking in the same steps where the fashion icon had frequented.

European Holidays: Berlin, Germany

The villa inside Jardin de Majorelle designed by French architect Paul Sinor inside the garden created by French artist Jacques Majorelle. It is also where the ashes of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent was enshrined.

Surprisingly, hotels and riads (or townhouse with courtyard) are aplenty and amazingly designed. They are also affordable! My first 5 days were spent in Hotel Racine in Gueliz, the location is a 10-minute walk to the city center. It is clean, rooms are spacious and staff were very friendly.

My last 2 days I have to move to a riad right in the center because the hotel was fully booked. They were friendly enough to keep my luggage while I went to the Sahara. In every city I visit, I always book for a walking tour to get familiar with the landmarks. After that I prefer to be on my own. I prefer my holidays at my own pace, no rushing and early morning trips except for special ones I wanted to do.

Marrakech’s big square is a mish-mash of colors, bright and muted, but all a feast in the eyes. It was a pain not to buy anything. So tempting! But this time, I am determined to just enjoy the experience.

Tip #1: When you are taking a walking tour, make sure you agree with your guide where to go, what you want to see. If not, you can end up being taken around shops and being cajoled to buy things from carpets, argan and olive oils and all sorts of silver jewelries.

The Ourika Valley tour gave us a glimpsed of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the valley’s famous landmarks, the waterfalls and couscous lunch by the river. The view along the way are these open-air ceramics and trinkets shops.

Tip #2: Marrakech is easy to explore and generally safe. Just be careful with your things as you do in many other countries you visit. The Moroccans are very friendly and will always go out of their way to help you, even the taxi drivers and hotel staff.

Needing a mind-boost? On your way to Essaouira, the van will stop at these hilarious trees filled with argan-eating goats. I have never laughed to loud with my fellow tourists. These goats are in the serious business of balancing and eating on top of the tree, unmindful of the gawking tourists!

Tip #3: Do your research what you want to see before you leave home. I sat with 2 girls on holiday who have no idea where to go and what are Morocco’s important sites and landmarks. It is such a waste visiting the country and will never know what are the beautiful stories behind them.

The streets of Essaouira is a labyrinth of these amazing doorways, old colorful walls. This harbor city faces the Mediterranean Sea, a long coastline and beautiful port.

Tip #4: The best thing of traveling alone is you get to appreciate solitude more, and have more time to enjoy the sights. Even in a group try to find time for peace and quiet. That’s what holidays are supposed to be for.

Inside the luxe desert camp in the Sahara. The tour is an amazing experience!

Watch up next: The fun Marrakech maze!

This hot momma kick-boxed her way to weight loss and fitness; from size XXL to S!

Guest blogger: Katharina Siburian-Hardono

Katharina tried everything to no avail, until she found her way to kick-boxing.

I love to introduce myself as a 48-year old hot momma.

Not only that my fitness journey made me stronger, healthier and happier, it game me the metabolism of a 30-year old. My bragging rights include looking really good with or without my clothes on. Not many middle-aged women can pull-off a hot bikini. I can proudly say I belong to these few.

I was once a size XXL and now I am an S with some muscles. I can say I am proud of who I’ve become! Add to that is being lucky to be a wife of a wonderful husband and a mom of an 18-year old son. I currently work as a miner based in Indonesia.

When I got married in 1997, I was this skinny young girl who had no issues with my weight and health. In 1999, I got pregnant with my only child and for the next nine months, I gained some 55kgs. I ate almost everything and cannot stop, especially durian! I could finish 2-3 durians at one sitting during my last few months of my pregnancy.

I delivered my 5.3kg baby boy to the world carrying 102kg in my body thru caesarean surgery since he was too big to come out on a normal delivery. For the next eight years I struggled losing all the weight I gained.

Stronger and better at 48!

My suspicions started to grow that I had problems with my health, especially my heart and my blood pressure. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I want and I actually didn’t like how I looked like in any clothes I tried! I was so big and I guess not many clothing lines are interested to make cute ones in bigger sizes.

I tried to get rid my body fat through a lot of ways including a very strict diet and joining some sports. Nothing worked. At first I would lose a few kilos and then would gain them back with a vengeance. For a time, I accepted the sad reality that my weight was stuck at 80kgs.

I started thinking of many excuses like many other women — maybe because being big runs in the family, I will stay big and even bigger as I grow older. I was almost hopeless.

In early 2008, I started working with World Vision, a humanitarian agency. The job and culture were something really new that I struggled fitting in. During this time, I lost some 10 kg but I had several disturbing symptoms that made me feel a little uncomfortable. I really enjoyed my work so ignored them.

Looking good is not just vanity; it is good for one’s self-esteem. It makes you feel happier.

Late 2010, I moved to a mining company that required me to travel and work outdoors a lot. It was a stressful environment because of the resistance of surrounding communities. After two years, I developed gallbladder problem and caused me a lot of trouble.

The extensive travel and all the challenges I faced during my early years with the mining company made my health even worse. I went to the doctors and the hospitals too frequently that I started realising I needed something that would help me live longer and healthier.

In 2013, I heard about the increasing interest of women in kick-boxing. Not just the fact that it can help reduce weight but is also great for self-protection. I excitedly started my journey with fight-camps and spent a couple of hours with the trainer twice a week.

My son joined me in the training but my husband then was not interested. Not yet. I started to see significant progress and results. I had become addicted and added some more sessions to the routine. In 2014, a big fitness center opened close to my home.

Pursuing fitness as a family, they also found like-minded friends who make working-out fun.

This time, my husband got encouraged and joined us. The three of us registered and started training in the center. We mixed everything, from cardio to functional training to weight lifting to yoga and Pilates and then kickboxing. We spend at least 2-3 hours every day either at the gym or at the fight camp

The result was amazing!

It is not easy. It takes time. It needs real, honest-to-goodness commitment. When I am traveling and there is no fitness center around, I have to push myself to do my own exercise.

I downloaded several apps to help me get on with it. It was hard at first but when you see the results, I guarantee you, it is addictive, in a good way, of course.

Since we train together, we enjoy the time and share the chance of making new friends that made working-out more appealing. We support and motivate each other. We say good things to each other when we see progress we make, even very small ones.

There are periods when we hit the ‘bored’ zone every now and then, we try hard to drag our asses back to the gym. But we also keep reminding each other that we can now become this small healthy happy family because we are all committed to it and that we want to continue living in good health.

I even constantly say to my husband that I want both of us to be able to see and help take care of our grandchildren in the years to come.

At my age, it is an incredible feeling to look and feel good.

The family that exercises together, stays healthy together.

Katarina Siburian-Hardono has been working for almost 28 years with various companies such as Trakindo-Caterpillar, Phillips Indonesia, AIA Financial, The World Bank, World Vision and currently Agincourt Resources (Martabe Gold Mine) for the past 8 years.

Not a usual Christmas story: The Iron Man from China finally says “Yes”

My dad was born during the most difficult years in China including the Second World War.

Guest Blogger: Echo Chow

I was the only one in the family who dared to pose dad “silly” questions. And he was delighted to get an audience who’s willing to listen to his repeated accounts.

Like many people in his generation, my dad Chow Loi Yum was born on 1924 in Jie Yang City of Guangdong Province in China. It was at a time where everyone had to struggle for survival.  Whenever I showed him stories about famine and civil wars in Africa, he didn’t express much shock and sympathy like my friends normally did. 

Instead, he cited me loads of examples in his old days, such as “You couldn’t even find tree bark to fill your stomach”, or how they lived in deep fear because of the brutal killings and bombings by the Japanese army during the Second World War, etc.

He managed the delivery of most of his children. Where did he learn the skill? He used to work in the piggery of a wealthy family where he helped deliver piglets.

Isn’t wisdom found among the aged?

Although dad attended school for only nine months, his knowledge was far beyond my understanding.  All of my siblings, except my oldest sister and I, were delivered by dad with his own hands.  “I used to work for a wealthy family. I fed pigs and delivered piglets. Piglets and human babies are similar. The skill is just the same,” dad said.

“Your brother didn’t cry when he was born. So I spanked him,” dad said explaining it’s kind of life-saving techniques he learnt from the village elders before he got married.

The traditional wisdom is that if the newborn doesn’t cry, it’s probable his or her throat is stuck with something else. If it’s not handled properly and immediately, the baby will suffocate and die shortly. 

This sounds scientific. But traditional belief sometimes also has its superstitious side. It was said that in order to bring blessings to offsprings, parents have to bury the placenta of the newborn under a tree. 

Dad was unfortunately detained by a policeman who mistook him a murderer for he was holding a bag tainted with blood. Dad was released only after the police confirmed mom just gave birth to a baby delivered at home.

We couldn’t help laughing when hearing such memoirs.  But these happy moments were rare.  Dad’s life was full of bitterness.  He lost his parents at the age of 15, and was then adopted by a widow.  He married my mom Lee Sin Ching through an arranged marriage.  As life was too difficult, he came to Hong Kong alone to earn a living to feed the family. 

Several years later, mom also came and 8 of their 9 children, including me the youngest, were born and settled here.

For when he is weak, then…

As father, dad was the very strict and stubborn type who got irritated easily.  Working restlessly as a coolie to make ends meet, dad was too tired to talk to his children, not to mention arranging family outings.  “Freedom” was almost non-exist as dad had a very strong sense to protect (or over-protect) his children, especially daughters. 

Though a traditional Chiuchow family values boys more than girls, on the matter of religion, dad was equal. I recalled how he scolded my brother who went to church, “Ask your Heavenly Father to give you food and pay you school fees! Don’t ask me for money!”

It was understandable because the people of dad’s generation had been told (or probably brainwashed) that all missionaries came with a political purpose to colonize China. He was such a hardline opponent of Christianity that I never imagined this iron man will eventually confess to Jesus Christ.

I think dad’s heart was softened when he realized that his physical and mental conditions deteriorated drastically as he aged.  His stance on Christianity was not as hard as before.  Evidence was his responses toward the same question he asked me in three occasions.

Echo with her Dad. The youngest of 9 siblings, she learned a lot from her father’s conventional wisdom.

Like Peter, I was questioned three times

On the Christmas Eve of 2008, I didn’t know why I felt uncomfortable when dad worshipped our ancestors with idol rituals. “Dad, don’t burn incense stick anymore.  It’s harmful to your eyes,” I used such an excuse hoping not to offend him. “Are you believing in Jesus Christ?” Dad suddenly asked.  “No, not yet,” I stuttered but felt uneasy at heart.  And this was the night I made my confession to Jesus (see A journey of faith: the day I met my best guide in Jerusalem).

The dilemma is that, Christians also respect our ancestors, but we’d remember them with prayers but not the idol rituals that local customs perform.  But it’s not easy to persuade the elderly at this point.

A few months later, dad raised the same question again when I was watching a Christian TV program.  I admitted. He didn’t say a word.

The third time occurred when I was hiding in my room fearing that dad would ask me to worship mom on her death anniversary day.  Again, dad kept silent for a while when I said yes. “Jesus doesn’t like his followers to worship ancestors. Let me do this on behalf of you.” 

What?! I couldn’t believe my ears but it did come from dad’s mouth. It’s certainly a miracle!  I did nothing and the most difficult part was fixed!  Total relief.

I was luckier than the Apostle Peter who denied Jesus three times in an era of religious persecutions. I was given 3 chances to confirm my belief in a comparatively freer environment.  Witnessing dad’s attitude change but not knowing what to do then, however, I truly believe there’s an invisible hand guiding me and others to open dad’s heart steps by steps.

Actually I couldn’t recall starting from when, I felt like I should hug and chat with dad more. “You seem to love and care for your parent more after becoming a Christian,” dad told me one day.  I was not aware of this at that time, but when looking back from now, I think it’s God who taught me how to love, and passed His love to dad through me. 

She never imagined that one day her father would embrace Christianity.

Coincidence or plan?

One day, I asked dad if he wanted to go to church presuming that he would reject. “Yes, but I want a church who preaches in Chiuchow dialect.”  To my surprise, dad gave me a specific answer.  But I had no idea where to find such a church.

Some weeks later, I accidentally discovered an invitation poster on the notice board of the building I lived in. I didn’t even know the church which fulfilled dad’s requirement had been set up for over 20 years, and it located just in the opposite road of my home! But then the challenge came – dad always fell asleep during the Sunday service.  Did he hear anything? What could I do?

Strangers or angels?

Fortunately a stranger I met on the street by chance had offered great help.  He was the pastor of the church mentioned.  He spoke dad’s dialect, and served the elderly.  He told me he would visit dad soon. I only realized later that he not only visited dad but also gave dad one-to-one teachings every week.  In one afternoon of 2013, he sent me a whatsapp message saying that dad had accepted Jesus Christ as savior. 

Dad was baptized at the age of 89. He died one year later.

I am sure the last few years were dad’s happiest time in life.  Apart from using me as a passage to convey love to dad,  God also used dad to help me understand the heart of a father.  I used to think that God is too great and too abstract. I couldn’t use human language to praise a perfect God.  But when one day I thanked dad for what he has done for the family, his sparkling eyes and sweet smiles reminded me this would be the exact response from our Heavenly Father when we praise Him with our genuine heart.

God is eternal but our earthly father isn’t.  So I lived every moment like the last moment with dad.  I intentionally conducted video interviews and took farewell photos for him, for I wanted to capture the very happy moments in my very last memory about him. I had offered dad the best of my everything when he was alive. I have no regrets in the rest of my life. Still, I miss him a lot but I am sure he’s in good hands. 

We will meet again when the time comes.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

A celebration with family and friends after his baptism. At 89, he embraced Christianity.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

Bohol Adventure: Lamanok’s Mystical Island Tour & Tips

The small banca glides effortlessly in the island’s dockyard. It’s a marvelous feeling to have the island by yourself. No jostling crowd and noise.

Going to Lamanok? Prepare yourself for a trip back on ancient history. The mystical island is said to be Bohol’s “cradle of civilisation”.

It is located in Badiang, one of the 16 barangays (or villages) of Anda municipality in Bohol province. One can take a 30-minute pedicab ride from Anda town to Badiang. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the lush green environment and cool breeze from the ocean.

After the registration, we went few steps down and crossed a bamboo bridge to get to the hut where our small banca was waiting. We have heard of the mysterious stories in the island so we decided to be obedient and avoid getting into trouble.

A Filipino balikbayan was said to have visited and took a small twig from a tree without the guide knowing. He went back to the US and felt pain in his stomach. After several trips to the doctor, it was never diagnosed. They were told that nothing was wrong with him.

Helpless, he went back to Badiang and consulted a babaylan (traditional healer) who told him the twig he took could be a body part and he got cursed taking it away. We were warned: “Whatever you see in this island isn’t what you think. So be careful”.

Would you dare?

When visiting a local spot, it is best to respect local traditions and follow the rules. Better safe than sorry.

The walk in this bamboo bridge is a nice, refreshing experience.

The island’s mysterious stories makes it all the more inviting. It is an adventure to the unknown.

As Fortunato “Forting” Simbajon, 61 years old, steered the boat towards the island, he started telling us about his life and what his dreams are for the island. He had been the island’s caretaker for 14 years along with the members of Badiang Fishermen’s Association that also manages the tour activities.

Several organisations supported them in conservation work, including tour management. He said, “I did not finish high school. When they asked me to join the training for tour guides, I told them they better get those who have gone to school and can speak English. How can I explain all these spots in the island properly for tourists to understand me?”

But having seen his skills, the group insisted and eventually got recognised as one of the best tour guides in Bohol. He also learned English in the process. “When I went through the test, the trainer said I was ‘amazing’. I have to run to a teacher and ask in local dialect what that means”, he shared laughing.

You can never be too old to learn anything and be good at it. If you badly want something to happen in your life, you can do it.

61-year old Fortunato Simbahon has been taking care of the island and sharing its stories for 14 years.

He knows his craft by heart. Manong Forting proudly shares the island’s treasures.

Expertly, Manong Forting guides you through the island, identifying all the important sites, from the red limestones to centuries-old scripts written by ancestors and the different caves with strange rock formations.

He tried to convince us to get inside the cave where the babaylans burn their offerings but we were not too brave to step in. It looked dark and musty. Outside of the cave, one can still see traces of the burnt animal bones.

One cave was said to have housed a woman unfortunately accused as an aswang (witch) by villagers years back. She died in the cave where her bones were recovered by relatives after several years of search.

Her story has become a scary legend in the area but Manong Forting believes she was unjustly labeled as a witch and she hid away from the world’s cruelty.

Those who possess a “third-eye” should be careful. A woman who was said to have one allegedly saw a hand waving for her to come inside the cave. Troubled, she told the guide who advised her to politely ignore what she saw.

Have you been unfairly accused? Sometimes stories we do not verify as true spreads and destroys lives. Be careful sharing what you heard from others.

These pre-historic limestones offer us a glimpse of our ancestors lives and traditions.

The cave where the babaylans and shammans do their offerings.

What I love the most are dangling limestones and pre-historic graffiti. It reminds us how far we have gone and the lives of our ancestors of long ago. They are living proof that centuries ago, people lived way ahead of us.

The secluded white-sand beaches were very inviting. If you have time, you can take the swim and enjoy the cool waters and the view. A cool thatched-roof hut was also constructed in the island and visitors can request for food and spend time. But leftovers and trash are strictly prohibited.

Manong Forting’s hope is that the island will be preserved as it is for future generations to enjoy and learn from. For years, he was aware of many bounty hunters who tried prying into fortunes said to be buried in the island, even the famed ‘Yamashita treasures’.

Lamanok was historically said to have witnessed early ancestors battle against the entry of foreign invaders (probably the Spaniards) converting people to Christianity led by local warrior Kabel. Kabel was able to forestall the invasion for years until a much stronger force with ‘mysterious fighting gift’ defeated him.

Manong Forting believes Kabel and Dagohoy are one and the same person. Dagohoy led the longest rebellion against the Spanish colonial government from Bohol island.

Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (If you do not look back from where you came from, you can never reach wherever you want to go to).

The Badiang Fishermen’s Association takes care of the island and has also battled undue interests that endanger ecology and natural treasures.

The bamboo bridge and the hut where guests are picked up going to the island. A beautiful show of the Boholanos’ ingenuity.

Looking back at our past teaches us to be grateful what our ancestors (our grandparents or parents) did so we can enjoy what we have now. Our history draws us back where we came from. Often, we learn to understand ourselves and our family by our past.

When you visit Lamanok, enjoy the sights but most of all, learn from what the island stood for.

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The island is best visited with friends. We enjoyed the trek as well as burning calories for at least 2 hours.

A friendly reminder from the association. Most of these you can observe when visiting tour spots.

Siquijor Diaries: Lilibeth’s pan bisaya and why her bakeshop is a hit

By the time I met her in Siquijor, Lilibeth is already famous.

She was featured in GMA’s Byahe ni Drew, a travel show, in an Asian magazine, countless travel blogs and soon according to her on Kris Aquino’s social media channel. The last time Kris was supposed to come, a brewing storm prevented the trip to the frustration of her fans who crowded at Lilibeth’s bakeshop excited to see her.

My guide and pedicab driver Warren Omalza asked if I want to try a pan bisaya that’s been frequented by many tourists. Quite belatedly. By the time he mentioned, we were already past the bread shop. Good move we were already hungry so we decided to go back.

Every day is a busy day but its touching Lilibeth is generous with her time to curious customers like me.

The bakeshop in Barangay Binoongan (or widely known as Talingting), a part of Enrique Villanueva municipality is modest, nothing unusual from the small shops that dot the roadsides of Siquijor, even the whole country. But it changes when you meet the woman who made it possible.

It is made of bamboo and wood with some wooden tables and chairs thrown in for those who want to sit down and eat snacks or lunch.

The presidential son Baste Duterte sat on same tables with his friends. He promised to go back.

Lilibeth Viernes Alce, 49, has been baking for four years after a local micro-finance Paglaum trained her and provided support for her to start her own small business.

A mother of three (one died a baby), she established the business to send her youngest child to school. Her eldest stopped studying because she is sickly and is happier helping her in the shop.

Today, Lilibeth’s bakeshop consumes two sacks of flour for the rising demand which is even higher on holidays, during town fiestas and at summertime. Customers would often buy in dozens for pasalubong to families and friends.

I ate her freshly baked salvaro, cheese bread and bucayo torta and was blown away. Soft, delicious and tasted just like how your grandma can do it at home. There are more mouth-watering choices: ensaymada, tinalay, pan de leche and mongo bread.

As we talked, Lilibeth was preparing mounds of newly-prepared doughs ready to be baked inside her makeshift oven made of stone. It looked like a busy day as more bread are taken out and put in the display shelves.

“It is best eaten hot coming straight from the oven”, Lilibeth quips with a smile.

Baking is a passion. Lilibeth’s joy can be tasted in the bread she bakes with her family.

It was not very hard to figure out why her bakeshop is a hit. Lilibeth’s passion and love for what she does can be tasted in every bread she bakes. Her eyes light up as she talks about baking, the appreciation of her customers and the attention her bakeshop was getting.

She dreams of making the business bigger and build a house for her family. Lilibeth says, “Our house had been there even before I was born so it must be over 50 years old. My mother is also sick and I want to make sure she is provided with the medicines she need.

Tourists and local visitors are fast helping her make this happen, even her own fellow islanders who advise tourists not to miss the bake shop. Everyone loves someone who wins over poverty. One social media post got shared and the rest is history.

Simple and unpretentious, this bakeshop symbolized the hardworking spirit of the islanders like Lilibeth.

I am proud to have met and talked to Lilibeth. She is a shining example to all women that hardwork pays and nothing is impossible if you aim high for it.