Archive for October, 2009

Aeta Resilience

Friday, October 16th, 2009

When ELF decided on a strategic partnership with PBAZ, Paaralang Bayan ng mga Ayta sa Zambales, I proposed that we name our program “Developing Aeta LEADERS.”

I explained that LEADERS is an acronym for Leaders, Educators, Advocates, for Development, Empowerment, Resilience, and Sustainability.

All the key words are part of the standard development NGO vocabulary. The only word that is relatively different is “resilience.” And yet, it may be one of the most central concept for the Aetas.

I thought back to this when Carling Domulot, president of LAKAS and vice-chair of PBAZ asked to meet with me last night. He updated me about the floods that destroyed part of the highway leading to Botolan, and especially the waters that uprooted all their growing crops of sweet potatoes and vegetables.

The LAKAS community had offered their six-hectare field to their fellow Aetas who had been displaced by the floods. They all planted root crops and vegetables on small plots,. While waiting for them to grow for the harvest, he has asked ELF for any funds we could collect, to buy rice that they could eat in the meantime. Although the LAKAS community was not flooded (it was built on slightly higher ground), all its residents, like the displaced Aetas, were without their daily income, which they earned by working as day workers in nearby fields. But these had all been flooded.

Carling and his fellow Aetas were looking forward to the harvest to meet their food needs. But the recent flood washed away their crops.

He was disheartened, of course. But rather than dwelling on their latest tragedy, he went to the local government to ask for help. Some of the students who had visited them also brought relief. Carling was grateful for the help, but he also worried that the vulnerable state of his fellow Aetas would set back the years of “empowerment” that he and other Aeta leaders had helped bring about.

“I remember when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991,” he said. “There were so many relief agencies who came to help us. They were competing with one another. We even experienced more divisions among the Aeta communities because each agency wanted their own partners.”

More important, prolonged dependence on relief weakened their tradition of self-reliance. This sense of dependence, plus the added divisions among them, were the focus of their education work and leadership over the past decade. He expressed his concern that the current disaster will bring back those old problems.

One small measure he suggests to those who bring them help is to avoid using the term “relief.” Instead, he suggests that the help offered should be like “food for work.” In exchange for support, the Aeta communities should clean up their settlements, plant trees, and plant food crops in between the trees.

Above all, he asks that outside agencies should work with the existing Aeta organizations and leaders, instead of creating exclusive partnerships.

Carling remembers 1991 vividly, and the many trials and challenges they had to overcome in order to rebuild their dispersed communities. Given the degradation of the forested mountains, and the siltation of rivers, he expects more disasters to occur in the future. He also has heard of the discussions on “climate change” and how they aggravate vulnerabilities.

But so long as their communities remain intact, and their leaders remain faithful to their interests, he trusts that the Aetas will recover after every trial, and will continue to pursue their vision of sustainable development. he even hopes to eventually return to the places which have been covered by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. He had visited some of their original settlements and was happy to see that plants have started growing where there was only barren soil.

That is an apt image of Aeta resilience.