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Thousands of Filipinos from across the kingdom celebrated their country’s 121st Independence Day in colourful, festive style at Adhari Park.
The community event featured a series of captivating performances, food stalls offering tasty traditional treats from back home and numerous activities for the entire family to enjoy.
The Kalayaan Festival, which means ‘freedom’ in Tagalog, was organised by the Philippine Embassy in Bahrain in collaboration with HB Events to help promote, celebrate and share the country’s rich culture.
Ambassador Alfonso A Ver said: “A big part of our national day commemorations is the participation, recognition and partnership with more than 10 million overseas Filipinos in their respective communities abroad.
“The Filipino diaspora in Bahrain has, over the years, consistently been the embassy’s partner in such community celebrations. The Kalyaan Festival brought together the talents, creativity and vibrancy of the Filipino community for this annual, traditional socio-civic expo.”
The celebrations kicked off with a boisterous motorcade parade with Vic Cabe, the embassy’s labour attaché leading the pack of bikers to the venue, followed by an electric, tribal Ati-Atihan opening dance number performed in the outdoor grounds by the Aim Global Group.
Afterwards the ambassador conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the festivities alongside his wife Lalaine, consul general Ma.Paz Cortes and Filipino Club president Ric Advincula.
The celebrations then continued inside Adhari Park’s Indoor Courtyard with a folkloric two-step Sinulog dance put together by the Singles for Christ Group.
“This festival was meaningful and entertaining not just for the Filipinos, but also to our gracious hosts, the warm people of Bahrain, and the other nationalities in this beautiful and welcoming kingdom,” added the ambassador. “There was fun, food, entertainment, games and raffle prizes for everyone.
“Maraming salamat at Mabuhay tayong lahat! (Thank you very much and long live everyone!)”
The two-storey hall hosted a Pinoy Food Festival on the ground floor featuring an assortment of authentic Filipino delights cooked up by five local restaurants.
Dental assistant Joerinna Sandigan, 24, who lives in Sanad, was enjoying some Filipino fare with her friends and thought the festival was great. “There was local food everywhere and it tasted just like home,” she said.
“You don’t usually find traditional food everywhere in Bahrain and if we want to get products from abroad it takes a while to get them here, so we were really overwhelmed by all these items and the quality of the food on sale.
“This festival as a whole was great because it gave us a chance to meet new people from our community. We were so impressed. The organisers have done a great job.”
The ground floor also featured fitness activities and ‘well-being’ stalls and provided a large stage to showcase all the acts.
The second floor included a mini-bazaar offering products from the Philippines, health checks, school options and government agencies offering onsite services.
“We offered Filipino residents a chance to come to the festival and process their employment contracts, for example,” said Vic, 63, living in Juffair. “We issue, what we call, overseas employment certificates or exit clearances which they will need to be able to return to the Philippines.
“These are some of the regular services that we do and we figured it would attract more people to come to the festival. Basically, instead of going to the embassy on a regular working day, people could come here, get their papers done and enjoy a fun day out with family.”
The Philippine Embassy also created a Freedom Wall for community members to share their thoughts on their Independence Day, on how they feel about living abroad, missing their families and working overseas.
“The Freedom Wall allows people to express themselves,” Vic added. “We wanted to hear what our overseas Filipinos are thinking, to help them speak their minds about living overseas and from the messages, we will select three to be awarded cash prizes. “It is all for fun but will also give us a chance to know what people are truly thinking.”
The first place prize was BD30, second took BD20 and the third prize was BD10. Everyone who entered received a certificate of appreciation.
While some completed paperwork, others snapped up bracelets, clothing and additional items from the various vendors.
Friends Aletha Al Bores, 48, a housewife, and teacher Eliza Taloza, 43, manned a silkscreen printing stall and were selling patriotic shirts for BD2.500 which were being snapped up like hot cakes.
Aletha, who lives in Tubli with her family, said: “This year’s shirt says ‘The Land of the Brave’ in Tagalog. Every year we design a different shirt. This festival is great for networking, sharing our culture and celebrating with family and friends.”
As visitors continued shopping, others enjoyed Mama Sita’s live cooking show featuring a special guest chef from Manila along with child chefs Rafa Ver and Salma Hammad dishing out their favourite Pinoy meals.
Salma, an eight-year-old AMA International School student, is a YouTube culinary sensation and her passion for food stems from her mum, Cristalyn Pastrana, the cluster director of marketing at the Sheraton Bahrain Hotel, The Westin City Centre Bahrain and Le Meridien City Centre Bahrain and her dad, Ayman, who owns a hospitality consulting agency headquartered in Bahrain called HSP Marketing.
Cristalyn said: “We are very proud of her and are thrilled to see how much confidence she has talking on stage. She cooked her favourite Pinoy dish - chicken tinola - and was delighted to be invited to showcase her skills.”
Throughout the event, two masters of ceremonies kept the energy and audience participation buzzing. They also handed out a variety of prizes from a raffle draw.
For the first time, the event included a Pinoy Youth Talk to help build the aspirations of younger members of the expat community living in Bahrain. The talk involved Philippine School of Bahrain student Rana Mae Malubay, who has received a world scholarship for Yale University in the US, as well as members of Youth for Christ Group, including Miguel Aspiras, Joma Crisologo Lawrence Mascareñas and Franco Tagayun.
According to the event’s organisers, these teenagers were given a platform to make their voices heard by sharing their views and opinions about important issues facing Filipinos growing up in a foreign land.
“The festival showcased the Filipino youth in Bahrain as well as second-generation migrants and newcomers who have been educated and steeped in the ways and cultures of Bahrain,” added Ambassador Alfonso.
“Through a forum and interaction, we saw how they can likewise contribute to the community at large. Traditionally, such celebrations also highlight the many Filipinos who have excelled in their respective fields in Bahrain.
“This year’s festival brought more significance as it highlighted not just what the Filipinos in Bahrain have achieved but more so how the Filipino community has given back to the place they call their second home.”
Other highlights included a special tribute to Overseas Filipino Workers Inspirational Heroes and A Baro’t Saya Recycled Design Competition in which designers and models showcased colourful up-cycled fashion created using spoons, hand fans and other items.
Louie Capistrano won first place and a $500 prize. His model Kristine Joy Patulayin wore a potato sack mermaid cut dress featuring a decorative back with Kalayaan painted on it.
Second place designer Aristotle Tejano received $300 and third place Denver Capistrano took home $200.
Visitors also enjoyed performances and dance numbers by Juliana Anathea Dekant and Sean Ezra Calazara as well as a Tinikling dance by the Philippine School of Bahrain.
Romeo Tagulao, 56, a retired US Navy member, who works on base as a federal employee civilian, and lives in Juffair, said: “This was a great place for people of all nationalities to celebrate together.”
The event was sponsored by Batelco, LBC, KHK Sports, Brave ,UAE Exchange, Verminex, and supported by DHL, Carrefour, Western Union, BFC, Mama Sita’s, Bonchon and Jollibee.