Through muddy roads and light rain, Tzu Chi volunteers delivered rice to 70 Aeta families in the mountain of Bamban, Tarlac. The rice is a boon for most families, as they can hardly rely on farming to make ends meet.
19 aborigine students from Tzu Chi University Science and Technology (TCUST) and their 3 teachers visited the Aeta community as their outreach program.
The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 brought untold devastation across large swathes of Central Luzon. Among those affected were the Aeta people, who have resided around the volcano for centuries. After the disaster, some were able to return to their traditional way of life; but others had to resettle elsewhere.
Within the town of Bamban, Tarlac is the Dapdap Resettlement Area, home to some 3,000 families displaced by the eruption. Brecy Sibal, an Aeta tribal leader in Sitio Mabilog within Dapdap, explained that their old village is 15 km. away and much closer to Mt. Pinatubo. Nearly 30 years after the eruption, he and his people still struggle to live off the land they were given.
“Our primary livelihoods are growing banana hearts and making charcoal. But the government has forbid us from cutting down trees,” said Sibal.
On August 29, Tzu Chi volunteers brought rice to 70 Aeta families of Sitio Mabilog, each family was given 25 kilos of rice to tide them through the rainy season.
Getting to their village wasn’t easy, with roads stuck with mud after days of continuous rain. The bus carrying Tzu Chi volunteers and students from the Tzu Chi University of Science and Technology (TCUST) was barely able to get through roads narrowed by overgrown hedges. Yet, they were able to reach the Aeta community.
“[The rice] is a big help to us, especially in the rainy days. We’re grateful to Tzu Chi,” said 36-year-old Jolly Sanchez, a rice recipient.
“Even if the roads are muddy, [Tzu Chi] is here. Even in a monsoon, [Tzu Chi] is here just for us to be able to eat,” said 45-year-old Dalia Pineda, another rice recipient.
The TCUST students are in the Philippines for their annual overseas outreach program. For four days, they witnessed the suffering of the less privileged who has no access to basic necessities like personal hygiene or a place to stay. They met the cheerful Aeta children a day before, not realizing the difficult daily life they lead when they go home.
For student Wang Yu Chuan, she realized something else after looking at the postcards she got from the children.
“The children were really good at drawing. It got me wondering why children with such talent don’t have access to formal education,” she said, also reminded of her own hardships back home since she is also from an aborigine tribe in Taiwan.
The cataclysm of 1991 has forever changed the lives of one of the country’s most prominent indigenous people. Their struggle after the disaster remains largely unnoticed. The outreach by the TCUST students, however, will make sure their story will be heard in another country. And with the constant support of institutions like Tzu Chi, the Aetas will continue with their heritage in the years to come.