Rowena grew up on the island of Basilan, off the southwestern tip of Mindanao near the city of Zamboanga. She worked as a nurse in PRPC and later in Niger for four years. She has returned to Zamboanga with her husband Dante, where she teaches nursing and he sustainable agriculture.

Rowena & Dante

Dante and Rowena

Rowena has deep roots in this region. Her great grandfather, Pedro Javier Cuevas, a resident of Cavite Province, was imprisoned in Zamboanga for killing a Spanish officer. He and six other inmates escaped from prison into the mountains and then across the sea to Basilan. They faced hostile tribal peoples as well as the Spaniards hunting for them. By force of character and skill with his sword he united 26 Yakan tribal villages over the years, resisting both the Spanish authorities and pirates and slave-traders from the Sulu Sea. The Spaniards pardoned him in 1882. Pedro Cuevas became Datu Kalun, the ruler of Basilan and neighboring islands. (“Datu” designates a chief or member of royalty in the central and southern Philippines.) Rowena is part Yakan as Datu Kalun had Yakan wives. She speaks the Yakan language and her heart is here.


Yakan weaving


Yakan textiles have distinctive patterns.

Zamboanga is a beautiful city. It has also seen recent conflict between the Philippine military and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front that seeks an independent Muslim republic. During several weeks in September, 2013, hostages were taken, urban warfare broke out, parts of the city came to a standstill, and many of the stilt houses that stood above the tidal flats burned. More than 100,000 people were displaced. Today the charred posts and the pockmarked walls are reminders of that conflict and the tension that still simmers.


Pockmarked wall …


… in a Muslim neighborhood

Burnt Stakes

The houses that these stakes once supported all burned down during the 2013 fighting.


Some new houses have been built, and new stakes will be driven into the mud.

Yet this is home for Rowena and Dante. They have a small training facility at their home, where worms make compost under the gazebo where farmers come to learn about sustainable agriculture.   They are where they want to be.