Hiyasmin Saturay ’15—in blue, upper left—with children from Talaingod. "The most impor...Hiyasmin Saturay ’15—in blue, upper left—with children from Talaingod. "The most important thing is to stay close to the people. And learn from them." Credit: Photo courtesy of Hiyasmin Saturay ’15Islands mean a lot to me. I come from a country of 7,107 islands—and I grew up on an island, the island of Mindoro in the Philippines.

Both my parents were activists and were helping stop a mining company from coming into our area and displacing hundreds of indigenous people. We had to leave in 2006 because a lot of my parents’ colleagues were getting killed. I always remember the sacrifices they made, the work they started, how it’s grown. When I think about that, it’s like, How can you stop working when some people have offered their lives for it?

Coming to COA with that background helped me to understand human ecology, that it’s really important to see things in more than one perspective and address problems in more than one perspective.

My senior project was kind of a going-home project. It was also a part of my organizing work here in the US. I am currently in Long Beach, California, part of a progressive arts organization, Habi Arts. Habi means weave, weaving the different arts, looking at the connections among different struggles. We believe that people coming together is what’s going to create change and try to use our art in organizing workers, youth, women to connect  the struggles of migrants and women in the US to the problems in the Philippines. For example, we encounter  migrant caregivers here who are being exploited and abused on the job. Basically, the same kind of political- economic system that causes their displacement to the US is the same system that affects the indigenous people  that I made my documentary about.

Motivated students study even outside their classroom.Motivated students study even outside their classroom.I was in Talaingod, Davao del Norte to do my project for three months. The paramilitary was close by the communities I went to, so it was pretty scary to do that kind of work. But I just trusted the people. They knew how  to protect me and protect themselves. They have a community that functions, that aims to be sustainable; it’s very  democratic. I saw the seeds being planted there—what can happen when people come together. It’s so inspiring that people see their school as very important and try hard to keep it going.

I think that’s only really reaffirmed for me that I will be committed to this work wherever I am, and if something happens, I’m OK to give my life to it, just like so many others. I wouldn’t let fear stop me.