Reaching New Heights: Discovering Passion and Advocacy with the Dumagat People

The beginning of a leadership journey.

Living in the bubble of her grandparents’ care and of being the first-born child, Wynona’s childhood revolved around school, church, and the books she read in her room. Throughout her childhood, she thought that every other kid’s life is the same as hers – with parents, grandparents for that matter, who provide everything she needs with just one ask away.

Wynona’s early exposure to development work started in the Catholic school she attended. However, it was only in college, entering a university located literally besides a community of informal settlers living by the railways, when she was ingrained to different social realities. This reality, a completely different lifestyle from what she grew up from and was used to, is a turning point in her life and moved her pursue development work.

Exploring her new-found freedom, one of her first experiences of development work involved volunteering for a home for the aged in Laguna. This is where Wynona realized how social, developmental, and charity work are not a one-time and self-serving endeavour, but one that must be sustained. This visit also made her realize that when engaged with vulnerable communities, one should first and foremost think about their situation before self-gratification.

Wynona’s experience did not stop here. Little by little, she took part in different volunteer works and later decided that this is exactly what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

During her last year in college, Wynona met Tatay Erning in one of their feeding programs for an indigenous community in Rodriguez, Rizal. Coincidentally, the community’s livelihood is tour-guiding in the mountains. With Wynona’s hobby of hiking, she had an instant connection with the community and their leader, Tatay Erning. After the feeding program, she promised that the next time she’s back in community, they will bond over hike.

Climbing three mountains in twelve hours, Tatay Erning shared with Wynona that many people in the area are hike organizers. This inspired Wynona to co-create a passion project with Tatay Erning called Akyat Para sa Dumagat, monthly organized hike which ends with a dialogue with the Dumagat community where they share their way of life.

Merits and challenges of being a leader.

One of her most notable experiences was when Tatay Erning asked for her help in securing his seat as an Indigenous People Mandatory Representative. This had been delayed for three years at that time, despite being the punong tribo of their community. To do this, they had to ask for signatures of support from Tatay Erning’s community, travelling about an hour to reach one household after another. Despite the physical exhaustion, Wynona shared that the journey enabled them to meet new people. Because of the distance between houses, they did not know about some of Tatay Erning’s immediate neighbors beforehand. It was a glorious day when they found out that Tatay Erning has secured his seat as IPMR.

Her most challenging times as a leader lie on a more personal level, faced with the crossroad after graduating Broadcast Communication. Between media work opportunities from her professors, family and friends’ expectations, and her love for development work, Wynona found herself struggling in choosing which life path to take. This struggle made her think about Heneral Luna’s statement, “Bayan o sarili?” but according to her, one does not necessarily have to choose between oneself or the country but rather you choose yourself for the country.

The choice of development work fits well with Wynona. She believes that this career path enable her to use of media studies in communicating her advocacy.

Dealing with burnout and taking care of oneself.

Wynona recognizes that dealing with burnout is hard in this field of work because social inequities do not rest. But what really fuels Wynona is the motivation that this is only the beginning and more work needs to be done. Another motivation of hers are her values and beliefs. In times of fatigue, she goes back to the reasons of her pursuit of development work. These include the Dumagat community which she considers to be her second family, and her young siblings, the next generation of this society. Wynona shared,

To me, the personal is political – ‘yung personal motivation ko with my family, with the stories from different communities, ayun ‘yung binabalik-balikan ko. And tingin ko ngayon, I have enough stories that can last me a lifetime and doon din ako mas motivated na mas malaman pa ‘yung iba.


On a more personal note, Wynona shared that she takes care of herself by simply socializing and playing Uno with her siblings. She also allots a quiet time for herself every day – a moment for her to lie down in her room and wait for her thoughts be freed from her mind. Her alone and quiet moments allow her to pause and re-energize.

Isa sa mga nag papabangon ulit sa akin pag napapagod ako is ‘yung idea na meron pa rin akong sense of control and peace within myself, kasi ang daming nangyayari sa mundo and madaldal din akong person – madami akong chika in life.


The journey in the LMNP Fellowship Program.

The Bridging Leadership course was an invitation for Wynona to reflect on a lot of things. “There are times na feel ko I am mentally drained. Minsan tingin ko sobrang challenged na ako and there’s no time to pause and reflect.” But the program of the Institute, according to her, made her go back to her core – why she chose development work and at the same time, it reassured Wynona that she is “walking the right path.” The LMNP course has become her safe space wherein she and her fellow participants have been able to practice their inner democracy at a granular level.

A call to her fellow young leaders.

“I think it’s important that we don’t count the cost nung ginagawa natin. I think we should always start small and start where we came from” is what Wynona have to say to her fellow young leaders who are just at the beginning of their leadership journeys. She also mentioned that one should focus on the quality and depth of the work and not merely the quantity. This is a recognition that as individuals, we struggle and tend to be caught with measuring and quantifying our progress.

I think dapat mas mapalalim tayo. We deepen our understanding of other people’s context, hindi lang base sa konsepto or by academic studies, pero dapat mapalalim tayo in such a way that our understanding connects us with the struggle, the joy, and the sentiments of the ordinary Filipino.


When asked what her guiding principle is in her leadership journey, Wynona shared Ravish Kumar’s quote from his Ramon Magsaysay acceptance speech: “Not all battles are fought for victory. Some are fought simply to tell the world that someone was there on the battlefield.” Wynona highlights that in development work, the fight is against structural inequities that have existed and will exist before us – and this quote is simply saying that there is no pressure on us, as individuals, if we are not able to combat all the societal problems in our lifetime. What is important is that we take the step and continue walking.

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