“AG-Yaman:” In Gratitude to the Founding Associate of GINHAWA Guru-Giya Leah Tolentino on Her 60th Birthday

by Genevieve Balance-Kupang


Celebrating a milestone of 60 years in the life of Ma’am Leah Tolentino through “AG-Yaman,” an Ilocano term which means “Thank You,” the gathering among intimate friends last April 1-2, 2023, and other succeeding sessions at the Ginhawa Eco-Renewal Center (GERC) was an embodiment of affirmations and gratitude for our true wealth as women, as associates in healing-coaching-business-development-work-peace-work and teaching ministries.

“Guru-giya with the Diwatas.” (Guru guide with the muses) The “diwatas” who came from Batangas, Catanduanes, Ilocos Sur, Manila, and Mt. Province to greet the celebrant and muse Ms. Leah Tolentino: Rosabelle ‘Baby’ Ramirez (not in the picture), Riz Dimapilis, Minifred Gavino, Rosalie Guerrero, Donna Marie Vergara, Jennifer Buenaflor-Osias, Genevieve Balance-Kupang and Jan Bautista.

Blessing Circle of a Woman Empowering Women

Circle of gratitude and affirmation. After offering the thanksgiving prayers, each ginhawa (well-being) friend expressed her heartfelt appreciation to the birthday celebrant. The blessing circle was also a culmination of National Women’s Month in the Philippines (March 1-31, 2023).

Experiencing well-being during the night at the Ginhawa open grounds

Photo Credits: L & R: Genevieve Balance Kupang; Center: Mini Gavino.

With mats on our backs, we spent the night embracing the darkness; we bathed under the moon and gazed at the stars. We relished a rare commune with the beautiful, vast night sky while listening to the symphony of juddering owls, crickets, and katydids. Ma’am Leah informed the group, that Tanay is one of the Philippine destinations for stargazing and milky way sightings.

Embracing the beauty of the night. The memorable moon bathing and stargazing in front of the Pahingalay Ginhawa Kubo, Tanay. Photo credit: Mini Gavino.

Gifts enchant the soul of the receiver and the giver

Donna Vergara and Ma’am Leah sharing gifts to the Diwatas Rosalie Guerrero and Riz Dimapilis.

Rosalie ‘Len’ Guerrero had this to say about Ms. Leah:

“This year marks the tenth year of my association with GINHAWA, making this gathering extra special. I attended my first-ever GINHAWA retreat in April 2013 where I initially encountered Ms. Leah. Over the years, I have been blessed for having experienced Ginhawa through the various well-being sessions I attended that she facilitated. Each encounter with her is a meaningful, creative, and spiritual experience.  She keeps me inspired to remain connected to my loob (inner self) and to aim for what matters most in life. I am grateful that I continue to be given the opportunity to learn from her and celebrate her milestones with her.  May the next 10 years of her lifework as a Diwata be as simple yet more impactful and far-reaching so more individuals and communities will benefit.”

Expressions of Gratitude from a Student to the Guru-Giya

In this life’s journey, God showers each person with a devoted “guru” who serves as an inspiration, a source of healing and accompaniment, an ally and friend who believes in the student’s capabilities to also manifest goodness in this world. Such was the case of my relationship with Ms. Leah Tolentino, my former professor at the Asian Social Institute when I was taking up Applied Cosmic Anthropology (a doctoral program in philosophy) more than a decade ago.

Sharing the breath of life between Ma’am Leah Tolentino and Genevieve B. Kupang. The teacher and the student sharing the breath of life, an exchange of well-being (ginhawa). Borrowing from the indigenous practice of the Maori people, our siblings in New Zealand, Genevieve (the student) invited Leah (the guru-giya) to do the “hongi,” the sharing of the breath of life, symbolic of the intimate respect of the student to a teacher, and the obvious student-teacher close relationship with the land at the Pahingalay Ginhawa Kubo.

Sunrise and midday worship at the Ginhawa Eco-Renewal Center, Tanay

Photo credit: Mini Gavino.

As the diwata or muse in our midst, Leah has always been a source of bodily artistic inspiration. She led the group into the morning prayer meditation in nature. Urged to express my thanksgiving to the Giver of life, here is my pose of Gratitude to God during sunrise and midday. Close to her birthday which was March 29, I can’t help but connect it with my birthday last April 9. 

Tender Felicitations from a Loyal Partner in Healing and Transformation

One of my dearly beloved “adings” (younger sister) is Mini Gavino, a long-time creativity partner and artist friend of Ma’am Leah. These are her good wishes to Ms. Leah:

Happy Diamond Ms. Leah.  Thank you for being faithful in walking the path of your life mission towards wholeness and well-being of oneself and kapwa. (others)

I am blessed to witness these in your sessions of Body Prayer, in our GINHAWA Well-being Retreat and a host of other sessions.  

 Many other congenial greetings were shared by other ginhawa friends which may be shared in other spaces and times.

Those who came to spend the AG-Yaman moment with Guru-giya Leah Tolentino went home blessed and jubilant. The thought that they were able to share her utmost thanksgiving to the Giver of Life, our Gracious God for the wonderful journey she had of 60 years was a blessing. During the Agape-meals, fruits, salads, cakes, Filipino kakanin (sweets), buko juice, and sumptuous food were shared in the Ginhawa way.

To know more about Ginhawa and its program, please see their website at https://ginhawa.net./

About the writer:

Genevieve Balance Kupang (Genie) is an anthropologist, consultant, researcher, and advisor to individuals and organizations engaged in working for good governance, genuine leadership, justice, integrity of creation, peace, the indigenous peoples, preservation of cultures, and societal transformation processes. She is a peace educator, author, interreligious dialogue practitioner, and resource person with a career in the academe and NGO.

Pressenza Philippines