Days before my birthday, feeling stressed and tired because of too much load at work, I decided to get away–in complete solitude.
So I planned a trip to Liw-liwa, San Felipe, Zambales for one day. All things were set, sure and ready (and my mind was already wandering, thinking of that serene moment by the beach, taking photos, watching the sun and the clouds and the peaceful sea in front of me) and I’m just waiting for October 20 to arrive.
But I didn’t make it there.
Due to personal matters, I decided to forego my trip and changed my route.
But Plan A has led me Plan B (okay, I don’t really have a Plan B. haha). But yes, it led me to a more important mission (and a discovery of a blessing, I must say.)
I asked myself: What were the things I’ve been dying to do, explore, and fulfill, but don’t have the time to do it? The things that can make me fulfilled and thankful?
And the Aeta community occurred in my mind immediately. That certain Aha! moment took me down memory lane in 2012, when Gale and I went to an Aeta outreach program in the mountains of Mabalacat, Pampanga where I saw the sincere smiles and infectious laughter of the kids approaching us with their hand made flower crowns and garlands. Where we played by the mountain side, gathered wild flowers, ate under the trees, and sang Christian songs at the top of our lungs.
Since then, I’ve always wanted to go back.
I lost contact of the person who took me there. And so I Googled articles about conducting outreach for an Aeta community in Pampanga and I happened to stumble upon a blog post of a lady who went to an Aeta community in Sapang Bato, Angeles City, Pampanga.
After I texted my contact person, planned my itinerary, and packed my trusty backpack bag for a day trip, I went there in solitude, with all the excitement and learning awaiting for me.
I rode a Five Star bus going to Dau early morning. Upon arriving there, I took a jeepney ride going to Angeles City Terminal where I was drenched with the rain. From there, I took another ride going to Holy Family Academy where I was supposed to meet up with Miss Ria, the social worker for Sitio Target, and Ma’am Elvie, an Aeta leader. Sister Angela, my contact person, endorsed me to them as she can’t come with me due to a prior commitment.
Arriving there under the scorching heat of the sun, plus the rocky road, and the long travel time, were a huge challenge. But I am glad that Ma’am Elvie was there to share a brief background of the their community as I jot down my notes while we travel.
When I arrived at their learning center, I was introduced with their resident teacher who toured me around the sitio. They were also glad to share their thoughts about their origins, the problems they had, and the challenge they continue to conquer as a katutubo.
Touring the sitio took us about 30 minutes. There, I saw GK houses and classrooms that were left unfinished because of the lack of budget. I was also toured in their field, where they grow their crops and sell them in Sapang Bato every Sunday. Aside from farming, some of the Aetas are also working at a nearby Korean resort.
Apart from textbooks for their learning center, what they truly need is education on personal hygiene and a more hands-on campaign to promote health and wellness in their area.
Today, they have 30 overly malnourished kids that are under a feeding program (but due to lack of budget that it became irregular). One child is even bed-ridden. My heart sank upon seeing a barefooted frail Aeta kid, dressed only in shorts, who obviously lacks the health attention he badly needs.
Even girls, mostly in their 12-16 years old, already have their own babies. Girls get pregnant as early as 12, and give birth to 4-6 babies as the years go by.
Ma’am Elvie said that education is important. When one is educated, when one is introduced to the world outside where they were raised, opportunity knocks and they gain a deeper perspective in life–that there is more to life than having babies at the age where they were supposed to study, enjoy their youth and reach for their dreams.
She, together with her sister, were the ones who got the opportunity to study in the city and go back to their community as a sign of giving back.
Talking to Ma’am Elvie and the rest of the heads, opened my mind to what the local government has been missing (or has been neglecting) for decades.
I was deeply engrossed by the their stories and touched by their determination to change the community where they belong–for the better and for the future of their kids.
As I went back to the city, I reflected on the things that they lack of but some just take for granted.
On the other hand, I saw how blessed they are with what they have. They spend the day looking after their children, playing with them, working hard in the fields to provide meal at their make-shift bed turned into table come supper time. The children roam around the sitio without their parents being worried, contented on rocks and twigs and the soil as they play with while waiting for the sun to set. I see Miss Ria, enjoying her duty as a social worker, immersing herself to the community she has grown to love even when she could have go back to her own province and start her own family.
Some people are never contented. Never contented on the things they have, the food the maid prepared, the gadget they have in hand, the branded clothes they wear, the earthly things they wish they have. Some work hard, yes, that they forget they have a family to attend to, a child to play with. Some are caught in the busy life of the city, that they forget to breathe, and be thankful.
Wishing that someday, I’d see these Aeta kids donning their togas as they prove that even katutubos like them could do well like the unats, sans the discrimination and low self-esteem. Time will come and it will be.
Thankyou, Lord for another year of going places and meeting people.