Through dirt roads and fords, Tzu Chi volunteers on March 7 brought light to a remote community of Remontado tribespeople in the mountains of Tanay, Rizal. The solar panels donated by a Tzu Chi volunteer from Taiwan would ensure continued learning in reading and writing into the night.
The roar of four-by-four vehicles breaks the morning silence of the mountains of Tanay, Rizal. A rugged path, bisected by rivers and streams in some places, lay ahead of the convoy. Albeit a turbulent ride, the vehicles take the road less traveled to their destination.
The passengers are a small team of Tzu Chi volunteers, seemingly on another run-of-the-mill relief mission. But their cargo neither has rice nor relief goods. Instead, they bring three 40-watt solar panels donated by a Tzu Chi volunteer based in Taiwan. The volunteers’ mission on March 7 is unlike any mission they’ve been to. They were to—literally—bring light to a remote community.
An hour of turbulence later, the volunteers reached their destination: a quaint hall of wood and straw deep in the forest. Some 75 families were gathered inside, anticipating their arrival. The volunteers got to work immediately, as the trip home in the dark was ill-advised. Two panels installed on the hall power two LED lamps. A third panel is installed on the daycare center nearby, still under construction.
Far from the comforts of modern life, the indigenous Remontado tribe of Tanay sees their world light up a notch. Before, campfires and gas lamps provided little illumination at night.
“Gas is even rare here because it seldom reaches the few stores we have here. Some even thought about going solar, but such hardware is expensive,” shares Lope Dela Cruz, the community leader of this group of Remontado.
Also called Dumagat, the Remontado are native to the mountains of Rizal and northern Quezon. According to the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts, the tribe got its name from “remontar,” Spanish for “to flee/go back to the hills/mountains.” During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the people chose to lead a semi-nomadic life in the mountains to avoid being subjected to colonial rule. Although they still do to this day, the people have been going to the lowlands to seek opportunities.
Preparing them for such exposure is a lone Remontado teacher, 26-year-old Lodema Doroteo. She has been teaching children and adults reading and writing, basic skills required to interact with the modern world. Without the solar lamps, however, she could only do so for as long as the day lasts—assuming the weather even cooperates.
“This led to some parents’ vision deteriorating. Even the elders struggle, but you can see their willingness to learn,” Doroteo narrates.
Wishing for her people to prosper, Doroteo makes the most out of her limited time as a teacher. After 3:00 p.m., the day grows too dim to be able to read and write properly. The erratic sun-rain cycle even messes with the schedule. With the solar lamps, she can also plan her lessons for the next day past 7:00 p.m.
“Thank you for helping our community. We hope that blessings will come not only to ourselves but those helping us,” she adds.
Perhaps more admirable to the Remontado is the fact that the volunteers came all the way from Quezon City just to install the solar panels. They even taught the local males to install one themselves, imparting skills useful in the modern world.
“I appreciate [Tzu Chi volunteers] coming here in our humble community,” says 45-year-old Elsie Doroteo, niece to Lodema and whose children also study under the latter.
The humid climate in the mountains took its toll on Tzu Chi volunteer Scott Ong. Upon returning to Quezon City, he felt dizzy. Nevertheless, he was glad to see the people have their own off-grid power source.
“We’re happy to see that the people here are happy now that they have lights. We’re happy for them, but also for Tzu Chi since these solar panels are from Taiwan and have been a big help to these people,” Ong remarks.
This won’t mark the last time Tzu Chi will ever travel into such remoteness. With at least forty more solar panels to distribute, the volunteers are already planning their next step. Be it another school or a humble abode, the Remontado will see their community light up one lamp at a time.
#HelpTzuChiHelpOthers. Such charity activities won’t be possible without the support of compassionate hearts. If you want to help, visit tzuchi.org.ph/#donate-modal.