Tara Tulong Tayo: An Outreach Program For An Aeta Community

For the first time, I have met the Aetas in Dinalupihan, Bataan yesterday, March 29th through an outreach program organized by a Facebook group, T3 - Tara Travel Tayo (Let's Travel Together). Though I have been exposed to similar events, this activity in Bayan-bayanan Elementary School is the biggest and most fulfilling of them all. I was teary-eyed witnessing those genuine smiles from the Aeta children while receiving food and school supplies. Indeed, this is one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.

The Aeta is one of the many indigenous groups in the Philippines. Commonly, they are situated in the northeastern parts of the country. The Aetas are traditionally hunters which make them one of the most skilled in terms of jungle survival, not just in the Philippines.

The well-situated and more modernized Aetas have moved to villages and areas of cleared mountains. They live in houses made of bamboo and cogon grass. Most Aetas are found in Tarlac, Zambales, Pampanga, Panay, Bataan and Nueva Ecija. They were forced to move to resettlement areas in Pampanga and Tarlac following the devastating Mount Pinatubo eruption in June 1991.

The Aetas in Bataan remain one of the at least known and documented indigenous tribes in the Philippines. The Aeta especially the children continue to endure dispossession, poverty and political discrimination through decades of protracted land rights processes.

The Facebook group coined an event, T3 - Tara Tulong Tayo aiming to provide these poor, underprivileged, and malnourished children opportunities to reach out their potential and be the best that they can be.

At least 50 mountaineers volunteered for the feeding program, medical mission and distribution of school supplies to at least 160 recipients, which is very timely for the upcoming school opening in few days. Most of these mountaineers met for the first time. How cool is that, right?

Dr. Jayvee Guerrero from Dr. Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center spearheaded the medical mission. He was being assisted by at least five nurses. Aside from the Aeta children, most parents in the community took advantage of the medical mission since their health center rarely sees a doctor or a village health worker. Later that afternoon, they were informed that sore eyes is becoming epidemic in the area and the most affected are the Aeta children. Without flinching an eye, the team decided to climb up the mountains to meet these sore eyes patients.

I remember, out of curiosity, one volunteer asked some Aata children the English translation of mata (eyes) and unexpectedly, they answered sore eyes.

Discrimination against the Aetas in the area is rather blatant. I have heard several times that most residents call the Aetas kulot (curly, kinky hair). I find it discriminating as they call the Aetas based on their physical attributes. The Aetas has several distinct features: skin ranges from dark to very dark brown and possesses features such as a small stature and frame; curly to kinky hair texture, blondism; small nose; and dark brown eyes.

Few hours before the distribution of school supplies, some volunteers led sports activities including drawing contests. Surprisingly, these kids actively participated to all of the activities.

The distribution of school supplies was spearheaded by three school teachers of Bayan-bayanan Elementary School with some volunteers, making the event properly organized and systematic.

I will never forget a phrase from Jefferson Oliveros' prayer before heading to Bataan. Gusto naming maramdaman nila na may mga taong mahirap din tulad nila na handang tumulong sa kanila. (We want them to feel that there are poor people just like them, ready to help them out). Jefferson headed the event. 

For Php 650 as the event fee, volunteers were able to put smiles on every aeta children's faces. If we can't do great big things, we do great little things. A volunteer received a shirt and a certificate of appreciation for being selfless, promoting goodness and providing positive benefits to the Aeta community.

Photo credits: Adrian Faustino, Izan Blanco.