"Every time you leave home, another road takes you into a world you were never in. New strangers on other paths await. New places that have never seen you will startle a little at your entry. Old places that know you well will pretend nothing changed since your last visit." — John O’Donohue, "For the Traveler"

Before I visited Canada, I thought about many things. I thought about my two children and my work. I thought about how I could make a good contribution to my organization, iEmergence, during the trip. I thought maybe the trip would be a waste if I didn't learn anything or if I didn't bring back anything good for our work in the Philippines.

In my meditations, I read the poem "For the Traveler" by John O'Donohue. I thought about how leaving old places was a way to know who I am, what I believe and how relevant my actions are. It was an opportunity to reflect deeply on why I do what I do and how it all fits together.

All of these things were not easy for me to think about. I was fixated on the idea that I wasn't growing in my work, that I was stuck in something that I couldn't see the tangible outcome of, that everything for me was too delayed.

But I left for Canada anyway. Even with all the doubts and fears, I told myself the world wouldn't miss me for a while. And the day before my flight, God reminded me not to fear. I was led to read Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you, and I will hold you with my righteous, strong hand.”

Indeed, the Lord is my Shepherd... He restores my soul and guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. I had a wonderful time in Canada, though I cried at some points because I missed my family, my kids and the people I am familiar with working with. I was out of my comfort zone and trying to grapple with some things I couldn’t control, like time zone, weather, pedagogy and culture.  

For the first week, I attended face-to-face classes with NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community for the first time since the pandemic. I was emotionally navigating how to respond to seeing familiar faces in physical form. But NAIITS provides a safe space, especially for us Indigenous learners to be ourselves, and nothing is forced. The community will wait for you to grow.

NAIITS is a space that recognizes your weakness as your greatest strength and is ready to accompany and guide you. This Learning Community helped me navigate my own learning methodology and capacities. Even though I am studying remotely, I don't feel like I am learning alone; I feel ultimately guided professionally and academically. NAIITS allows me to integrate what I have learned from my work here in the Philippines into my coursework or assignments. I am highly appreciative of my professors, and I greatly appreciate their work and how they even extend their time to help me with my readings and course assignments.

When I presented my paper at the 2023 NAIITS symposium the next week at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, I thought that the audience or my co-learners may not be very receptive, but I was very happy because they received the presentation well. They had good reflections on our engagement with the Indigenous communities here in the Philippines. I am very happy because I put everything I have learned in the decade that I have been working at iEmergence into that presentation.

I learned a lot from the trip and from the people I worked with there. I commend iEmergence's work in Canada with Indigenous children dealing with historical trauma, providing them safe spaces to learn to be themselves, to be a child again, to remember how to have fun and to know their culture is not a threat to others. Being an Indigenous child, Indigenous family and Indigenous community is a gift. The work of iEmergence is building that pathway of knowing, of learning and of redeeming one's culture and God-given identity.

Truly, as John O’Donahue writes, this trip was “another road (that) takes you into a world you were never in.” But this journey opens a lot of doors — doors of learning, emotional whiplash and strengthening relationships — and this is all that matters.

— Kharla Acosta, executive director of iEmergence Philippines