Lake Sebu with John Robshaw

When my friend John Robshaw (, a successful textile designer from New York, said he was coming to Manila for the Fame show - the first thing that came to my mind was to take him to Lake Sebu and introduce him to the weavers he has been working with the past two years. Despite a rainy weather forecast, we arrived at General Santos City in Mindanao on a clear blue sunny day. As we walked through the tarmac, the sun made its presence felt with its piercing rays, and fresh air greeting us a cool welcome.

After introducing John to Ric, his bodyguard - (Even though Lake Sebu is a very safe place, I was not leaving anything to chance and gave specific instructions to the bodyguard not to let John out of his sight. John is a walking 6 foot dollar sign and his cult following in the US will come after me if anything happened to their favorite designer!) and Manong Edgar, our driver - we were off on our little adventure!

First stop was the hardware store where John bought cans of paint, brushes, rollers, spray and other supplies for the planned art activity that he volunteered to do with the Tboli SIKAT School. After haggling and being assured that we were going to get a discount, all that John got was a measly P20 discount - filipinos are smart business people down south!

The drive to Lake Sebu takes you through pineapple plantations - we made a brief stop at the fruit stand and got my favorite durian, pomelo, some juicy pineapple, a few pieces of very sweet chico, a bunch of the ever dependable source of potassium bananas and some yummy banana chips which we could not stop eating all throughout the trip.

The Tboli SIKAT School is a community school owned and managed by the T'bolis, and funded by different organizations and individuals. The small campus, which has two traditional T'boli houses made out of bamboo, is nestled on top of a small hill which overlooks Lake Sebu on one side, and the magnificent mountains Mindanao is known for on the other side.

John received a warm welcome and was soon surrounded by small kids barely half his height who had made traditional beaded necklaces for him - one girl's necklace proved to be too small for John's head and so I became the happy recipient of some of the necklaces.

After a short program, which had the students proudly showing off their traditional songs and dances, John talked about art; then quickly set up two tables, laid out all the materials and started teaching and showing the eager and attentive kids how to go about with the activity.

It was pure joy watching the kids and we found out later on that it was the first time they ever painted - the sense of wonder on their faces was priceless. Smiles and laughter abound - we found ourselves in awe of how well behaved everyone was.

I was content to sit and watch, one little girl did not want to let go of her brush and used the same brush on different colors, another girl squeezed through a crowd to get the color she wanted - while waiting for their turn, the other kids were playing the drums or the flute, some were coaching the other kids on what colors to put in their art work and the rest were happy to be chatting quietly with their friends.

Thanks to DMC/Focus Global Inc. I was able to distribute DMC embroidery starter kits to the older girls who found their own space by the window overlooking the lake.  The girls soon were engrossed in finishing their work.

John and the kids ended up with 6 big panels of canvases which each group, after finishing, dutifully and carefully carried out to the playground to dry.

The playground-turned-outdoor-art gallery was soon the center of activity as the kids walked around and pointed out portions of their work.

While everyone was busy, John and I took this chance to visit the classrooms and observed what the next project will be: black boards!

After a quick snack of cassava cake with the teachers, the afternoon ended with art not only on the canvases, but paint was also on the kids faces and clothes, and on the floor of their main hall which the kids saw as another medium for art! The kids were soon using their feet to spread the paint around. It's a good thing John bought water based paint!

What started off as a simple art class turned out to be an enriching experience with the kids who, even with the absence of technology and other modern comforts we all are used to, have what most of us seek and strive to have - contentment and joy. Their orchestra of good byes, with smiles plastered on their beautiful faces, was a fitting end to a most enjoyable afternoon.

A big thank you to John for taking time out to share his time with the kids!