LIGHT FOR AETAS
Like many upland communities, they did not have access to electricity. But their lives changed after a group of young graduates visited them.
Text by Aika Rey
Photos by Martin San Diego
Video by Vee Salazar
Project Liwanag: Light for Aetas
TARLAC, Philippines – With natural light during daytime, everyone would go to work. But when darkness would fall in the evening, activities would come to a halt.
This used to be the day-to-day life of the Aeta Mag-Anci tribe in Sitio Caoayan. The tribe is one of the 12 Aeta communities in the mountains of Capas town in Tarlac province.
Like many upland communities, they did not have access to electricity. They would buy kerosene for cooking and lighting. When they would run out of kerosene, they would use bamboo as an energy source.
This changed when a group of young graduates visited them.
Access to energy has always been a challenge for the tribe. According to Lagundino Tarrosa, the community chief, many of their children were not able to finish school because of their situation.
They also feel that the government has neglected them.
"Hindi po namin inaasa 'yung [buhay] namin sa gobyerno. Dahil po 'yung gobyerno, nangangako po [pero] hindi binibigay sa mga katutubo. 'Yun po 'yung mahirap sa kalagayan namin dito sa kabundukan," Tarrosa told Rappler.
(We don't depend on government support. They keep on promising to help us, but we don't get any assistance. That's the reality in the mountains.)
The community chief explained that because of this, many indigenous peoples have lost faith in the government.
"Kaya maraming katutubo na minsan nahihina sa paniniwala nila sa gobyerno kasi hindi lahat nabibigyan. Lalo na kami dito, 'pag hindi po kami nagtrabaho, wala po kaming kakainin... Kapag tamad ka, hindi ka makakakain," he said.
(Many indigenous peoples find government support isn't enough because not everyone receives help. In our case, if you don't work, you won't have anything to eat. If you are lazy, you won't be able to eat.)
Despite the good news, Tarrosa said they don't feel it in the uplands.
"Dahil po sa layo ng lugar na ito, madalang po 'yung tulong sa amin. Hindi po katulad sa malapit sa baba na araw-araw po silang nabibigyan ng tulong. Dahil dito sa amin, 'pag wala talagang pusong katutubo, hindi sila makaabot dito," he added.
(Because our community is very far, we don't receive as much help unlike those who live near the town center where they can receive help almost everyday. Here, if you don't have the heart for indigenous peoples, you won't reach us.)
It brought the community great joy when they found out that a group called Project Liwanag would install solar panels in Sitio Caoayan for free.
The non-governmental organization, which is composed of young graduates, installs solar panels in indigenous communities without access to electricity.
This is their 3rd solar installation, according to Wellington Co Jr, a member of Project Liwanag.
The group was formed in 2015, following a 3-day immersion program for 4th year college students of Ateneo de Manila University in Sitio Yangka in Capas.
ENERGIZED. Project Liwanag installs solar panels in Aeta communities in Capas, Tarlac.
According to Project Liwanag executive director Marlon Pia, the students' formator then, the group was the response of his students after they experienced living with an Aeta community.
Two years in, they have installed solar panels in at least 6 Aeta Mag-Anci tribal communities in Capas — in Sitio Yangka, Sitio Caoayan, Sitio Balatong, Sitio Tarucan, Sitio Bulacan, and Sitio Bilad.
Pia said they hope to improve the lives of indigenous communities by partnering with them in implementing sustainable projects that address basic needs such as power, water, sanitation, and education, among others.
"Project Liwanag is about the encounter of the indigenous and young people, and how they work together and enrich one another to come up with sustainable livelihood projects – done through grassroots transformational partnership," he said.
Pia noted that their group will not be with the communities they help forever, so they make sure the communities are involved every step of the way and understand the importance of the project to the people.
"In every project that we do, community involvement is the hardest. From planning to execution to monitoring and evaluation, the community is really involved," he said.
"It's very important for them to take care of the project and come up [with] ways and means of how to preserve the project," he added.
Tarrosa said the Sitio Caoayan community appreciated that they were part of the entire process. Regular meetings were held with the Project Liwanag team.
"No'ng dinala 'yung panel dito, nag-usap-usap po kami ng mga tao ng sitio. Tapos pinag-usapan po namin pa'no magkaisa na magawa... 'yung ilaw sa bawat bahay," the village chief said.
(When they brought the panel here, we discussed within the community how we could work together to help set up lights in every household.)
PARTNERSHIP. The Aeta community is part of the entire solar panel installation process – from planning to evaluation.
Project Liwanag consulted engineers and discussed with the community how they could be of help during the installation.
"Sila na lang po 'yung nag-sketch na ganito 'yung gagawin, ganito 'yung gagawin. 'Yun na lang po 'yung sinusunod namin (They brought the sketch and told us what to do. We just followed their instructions)," Tarrosa said.
According to the village chief, it only took them a few days in April to finish the project.
"Ginawa po namin 'yan tatlong araw lang po at kalahati. Dito kasi sa amin, 'pag tulong ng ganyan, nagkakaisa po kami (We finished the project in just 3 and a half days. In our community, we unite to finish tasks like this)," he said.
Pay it forward
Tarrosa's son, Pablo, 7, shared that their community is grateful they finally have access to electricity.
A Grade 2 student, Pablo said that before, he found it difficult to study when night fell.
"Before we didn't have lights so we found it hard to read. Now that there's light, we are happy because we can finally read at night," Pablo said in Anci, a local language used by the Aeta community.
LIGHT. Some 16 million Filipinos live in darkness and use cheaper energy sources like kerosene to get through the night.
Pablo hopes that someday, he will be able to pay it forward. "When I finish studying, I hope to help other indigenous communities," he told Rappler.
Rural electrification has always been a challenge in the Philippines, especially in far-flung areas.
In 2015, about 5,000 villages across the country did not have access to electricity, affecting productivity. (READ: Green energy to help in 'last mile' of PH rural electrification)
The government seeks to light up 90% of homes in the country by the end of 2017, but that is still a far-fetched goal. – Rappler.com
For those interested to contribute to Project Liwanag's initiatives, you may send your contributions to:
Bank: Banco de Oro
Account Name: Project Liwanag PH, Inc
Account Number: 007640041055