On April 12-13, Small Hands members visited a community of empowered Aetas in Botolan, Zambales to learn how they achieved their empowered status as a community and to explore the ways in which those steps could be shared with other indigenous communities.

Saturday afternoon, at almost around 2 in the afternoon, we arrived at the LAKAS – Aeta Community’s place in Botolan, Zambales. There we saw Tatay Ben chopping wood, but stopped to greet and accommodate us . We arrived earlier than expected so Tatay Ben started to share their stories while waiting for Ka Epang – the current chairman of LAKAS.

Dialog with the community leaders

We listened to Tatay Ben’s stories about their experiences since the time when Mt. Pinatubo erupted, how LAKAS stood strong during those times until now, how they value education, and how they effectively used Paulo Freire’s method of teaching. He handed us 2 photo albums showing pictures of their travel around the world, solidarity and fellowship with the indigenous people of other nations, stories about his own family, Tatay Ben’s stories are so overwhelming, I felt like being bombarded by information that my memory wouldn’t seem to contain and process at that moment.

When Ka Epang finally arrived, we transferred to the PALA PALA. There we were acquainted with the other officials of LAKAS, had a brief orientation about the LAKAS organization and the Laws they observe and SMALL HANDS also shared about its mission and objectives.

After that, we were dispersed to six different families, one each, where we would stay over the night. Our purpose was to learn from them, observe and live with them for a day. We knew that a day is not enough to know their real situations but still we learned a lot from them.

The family I was assigned with included Indo Juliet who is a house wife and sells honey for their living. Her husband works at the farm and also gets the honey they sell. Six children are also staying with them.

I had a very light and enjoyable moment with them as they told me their stories and taught me how to speak some Zambal words. Indo Juliet told me that’s how they typically spend their days – chatting and talking with one another after the day’s work. I was glad to know that their culture of hunting is still observed until now; I saw handmade tools for hunting made by Pablo. I asked him where he learned to do those and he said he just uses his mind and imagination on how he can make the thing work.

At 8 PM, a solidarity night was held were the little kids showcased their different cultural dances. We sang Dakilang Maylikha by Gary Granada as part of our solidarity with them. We were able to dance with them and also taught the kids the action song “May Isang Kalabaw.” It was a simple yet enriching night with them. It’s nice to see that even the little children know their culture.

Aeta solidarity night

In the morning of the next day, we were still able to spend a little time with them before we went back to the PALA PALA for the evaluation. Each of us shared our experiences and learning and a representative of our family also shared their experiences with us. Much was learned from my co-participants’ experiences until we moved on with a more serious discussion about the issues and questions that weren’t yet tackled.

Reflections/Realizations:

This is my first exposure to an organized indigenous community, to sleep in an indigenous family’s house, and to hear the sharing of the community’s leaders on how they manage the community. There was so much to learn. Really.

At the end of the exposure I realized that it was not about having a great experience or making ourselves feel good about what we did. We learn and we gain a lot, but what matters is at the end of it – what can we impart? What to do with all we’ve learned, seen, heard and thought. We must aim to have renewed and redefined perspectives of ourselves, our aspirations, of our fellow brothers and sisters, and of the larger world around. We must long to have perspectives that do not imbibe on selfish ends. It is a continuous process of learning, unlearning and relearning that requires a heart that is willing and open for change. (NO two alike) “Makibahagi, makipamuhay, makiisa” but learn how to detach yourself from what was there (the essence of debriefing, your experiences must be processed)

From all my past exposures with different communities, what has been so remarkable to me was the idea of Coexistence. One of their leaders said that we must be careful about what we show them. We must not make any influences that might ruin their culture and their values. We must learn how to respect the differences we encounter. Our goal is not to make them to be like us or us to be like them in the sense that we were all created the way we are. Our goal is to learn how we can harmoniously work together despite the diversity. It is not about teaching the indigenous people how to use computers and make them work in the cities or force them to adapt to technology just because that’s what we think they need. We think we’re helping but we‘re actually killing their sense of being. Not stealing their identity adds up to the cause of humanity. That’s a simple thing we can do by helping the indigenous people preserve their culture.

We are all humans and equal. As humans, we all struggle to survive; we have problems, dreams and desires, we have hopes, but they come in different forms. Bilang mga katutubo, ano kaya yung mga aspirations nila? Ano yung ultimate end na pinaglalaban at inaasam nila? Ano yung purpose na pinanghahawakan nila sa buhay?

DUTY. Speak for those who can’t.

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