Last Sunday, I was informed that October is the Indigenous People Month in the Philippines. This annual celebration aims to provide venue for indigenous peoples to celebrate the richness of their cultures; allow cultural exchanges that will foster deeper cultural understanding to sustain a culture of peace; provide opportunity to discuss IP rights; give students and other people a chance to deepen their awareness and appreciation of indigenous cultures; recognize the expertise and contributions of indigenous communities; and advocate for the preservation as well as integration of traditional culture into the national cultural mainstream (NCCA, 2012). When I heard that, a memory resurfaced. Faces appeared.
I remember when I was still in university and an officer of a UNICEF chapter. I was really an active student advocating children’s literacy as well as their health and rights. Together with Gawad Kalinga, a Filipino community of volunteers which builds a better nation for all, our university-wide organization held various activities in line with the UN agency convention.
The December of my senior year, we officers reached a consensus to have an outreach program up north. Outside Metro Manila, in Dinggalan, Aurora.
In preparation for the outreach, we had a donation drive which ran for around three weeks. Boxes were put before each college, and even the school cafeteria and library weren’t missed. We encouraged students to share their blessings by giving either new or used books, school materials, clothes, bags, shoes, and toys. To raise funds, the group also solicited money from our professors (they are retired ambassadors, generals, and lawyers who are always generous to help) and friends. Some donated money while others answered in kind. Boxes and boxes of canned goods, toiletries, and new fashionable clothes were given by blessed few.
Days before our departure, we started checking the gifts of those kind-hearted individuals and segregated the items according to its kind: clothes, books, toys, school supplies, food, etc. After that task, we grouped the clothes per family: for parents, daughter and son. We knew that it may be possible for a family to be consisted of more than four people, but we had to budget our resources.
Those days passed in a blur. It was exams week and we all had to juggle our time between studying and preparing for the upcoming program. After classes, we’d gather, give reports, segregate, buy more gifts from our club’s funds and make necessary documents.
Then the night before the trip arrived. It happened to be a Friday so the classes and exams were over. We had our final packing. Before midnight we set off using our univ van.
Our destination was Dumagat, in Dinggalan, Aurora. There were, and still are, an indigenous group living there who was believed to be the original Filipinos. Agta Dumagats, they were called. A few years ago, the local government had been made aware of the current dilemma of these people. Apparently, private groups coveted the land the Dumagats were occupying. I should note that the place is strategically located in the Pacific Ocean and could be a possible beach resort for the business minded. Unaware of what lays ahead of them should their land be taken, NGOs started to actively play a part in protecting the interests of the Dumagats. And my club continues to play an active role in this.
The main reasons we had our outreach here were 1. To assess the situation and think of better ideas of improving the lives of the Dumagats; and 2. To share our love and blessings to them in the spirit of Christmas. So what did we do?
We arrived there early and were offered to have breakfast by the ocean and watch the sun to rise. We chatted with their leaders and asked about their day-to-day lives. Soon they excused themselves to prepare their children for the mini-party. Having less than an hour to kill, we rolled our jeans up to our knees and frolicked in the waves.
After an hour, some of us arranged lines for older family members to claim their supplies and Christmas gifts (the clothes, food, and medicine).
Others were busy heralding children for party games that would begin the program. When all were ready, officers, volunteers, and children had fun playing Filipino party games.
We laughed and enjoyed the event given to us. We made friends. Some of us even had favorites.
After playing (and occasional crying from the younger ones), under the sun, we were tired. We ended the party by awarding them with a healthy meal and bags of school supplies!
Much too soon, we had to head back to Manila. Did I mention that it took almost six hours to travel there? We bid our goodbyes to those simple yet contented people who humbled us in every way.
As we travelled back to the university, the van was quiet. I guess everyone was thinking of that experience that we had. I learned and proved that:
1. Giving is also receiving. When you give something, you receive ten times greater than what you heartedly offered.
2. Share your blessings. Even if you have few possessions, you will feel more blessed once you
Share what little you have.
3. Money is not everything. It can be something to buy material things, but important things in life cannot be bought.
4. Happiness can be found in unexpected places. Not only in five-star hotels or casinos will one can find happiness. Sometimes, it can be found in a used rag doll. Or a small box of crayons.
5. Love is easier to give. Some of us may not know this at a time, but we will soon realize that we have more than enough rooms in our hearts to love.
It is approximately 70 days before Christmas. Let’s share our love and blessings especially to those who need them the most. What are your plans to spread the Christmas spirit for this coming Yuletide season?