Posted on 14 April 2016.
For Victoria Rejano-Organo, 49, Aeta tribal chieftain in Barangay del Rosario, Buenavista, Quezon Province, gone are the days when members of her tribe felt left out in community affairs or community-building.
Nowadays, Victoria is proud to share that the Aeta tribe in Barangay del Rosario enjoys the admiration and respect of the local villagers.
Thanks to the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), a community-driven development (CDD) project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which gave them the chance to prove their worth.
Through CDD, Kalahi-CIDSS seeks to empower citizens by training them so they can develop, implement, and maintain projects that would address their most pressing needs.
In Buenavista town, there are 126 Aeta households, with half of them residing in Brgy. del Rosario.“Noong bata pa ako, tinatawag ako ng mga kaklase ko na bagnot na ang ibig-sabihin ay maitim at madumi (When I was a kid, my classmates called me “bagnot” which means dark and filthy),”shared Victoria.
As the tribal chieftain, Victoria wants what is best for her tribe. She wants to give them opportunities to improve their living condition. She realized that for this to happen, they need to cooperate with local officials and the other residents to lobby for their concerns and needs.
“Ang pag-unlad ng aming tribo ay nakasalalay din sa pag-unlad ng buong barangay. Kailangan namin matutong makisalamuha at makiisa sa ibang ka-barangay para maisakatuparan ito (Our tribe will succeed if our entire barangay is progressive. We need to learn to cooperate with our fellow residents to achieve progress),” said Victoria.
The introduction of Kalahi-CIDSS to their barangay in 2013 gave the Aetas the chance to work hand in hand with the locals.
As part of the empowerment component of Kalahi-CIDSS, Victoria and the rest of the Aetas worked with the locals in analyzing the pressing problems of their community and in coming up with possible projects that can address these.
Potable water for all
After a series of discussions within the barangay, the community decided that constructing a water system must be prioritized to bring potable water to Brgy. del Rosario.
According to Victoria, the Aetas got their main water supply for drinking and general use from the river, which gets muddy when it rains.
It was not just the Aetas who were affected by the problem. Even the locals also had problems accessing clean and potable water.
Sanilyn Balonso, one of the locals, shared that several children have suffered from diarrhea because of the lack of clean water.
“Marami na ang namatay dahil sa diarrhea. Kaya naman ginusto namin na magkaroon ng malinis na patubig para masiguro ang kaligtasan at kalusugan ng mga tao dito (Many have died due to diarrhea. This is why we want to have a potable water system to ensure a safe and clean source of water),” Sanilyn added.
Through Kalahi-CIDSS, residents served as community volunteers and were trained on proposal development, construction estimation, financial management and procurement.
With both the Aetas and the locals working together, the community of del Rosario was able to get a P700,000 grant from Kalahi-CIDSS to implement the water system project.
Sanilyn became the head of the community volunteers while Victoria led her fellow Aetas.
Victoria admitted that, at first, it was hard to bring the Aetas and the locals together. But she kept convincing her fellow Aetas that their participation will be of great help in the whole community.
“Sinasabi ko sa kanila na tulungan nila akong ipakita na kaming mga Aeta ay hindi dapat minamaliit dahil may magagawa din kami sa komunidad. Ako ang nangunguna sa pagtatrabaho para sila ay sumunod (I kept on telling my fellow Aetas to help me show the locals that we can do something for the community. I set an example for them to follow),” Victoria said.
During the construction of the water system, the Aetas worked for free. This was greatly appreciated by the locals, especially Sanilyn.
“Napadali ang trabaho dahil sa tulong ng mga Aetas dito sa amin. Lubos ang pasasalamat namin sa kanila (The work was made easier with the Aetas’ help. I am deeply grateful to them),” Sanilyn expressed.
As a result of their hard work, the residents of Brgy. del Rosario now enjoy a regular supply of potable water. Their water system includes a water reservoir, distribution lines, and 11 tap stands installed around the village.
The residents also formed the Del Rosario Water System Association (DELROWASA) to manage the operations and maintenance of the water system. Caretakers are assigned to each tap stand to oversee the water distribution and collect a maintenance fee of P50 per month.
The Aetas are in charge of cleaning the main reservoir since it is located near their area.
“Napakaganda ng proyekto dahil lahat ay nagtulungan at nakikinabang na. Nagkaisa ang mamamayan (The project is indeed beneficial to all. The villagers became united and worked for a common cause),” Sanilyn said with a smile.
Seeing the positive change brought by her tribe’s exposure to community and development work, Victoria became more inspired to push for their empowerment.
Victoria worked for her tribe to have access to education.
She said that most of the Aetas are insecure because they do not know how to read and write. Thus, she lobbied this concern to their local government and was able to bring the Alternative Learning System (ALS) to their community, which will start this June 2016.
Furthermore, the Aetas are now implementing their tribal hall sub-project which received a funding of P697,292 from Kalahi-CIDSS.
Some 30 Aetas are now managing the implementation of the community project, which will also serve as their classroom for their ALS.
Filled with pride and joy, Victoria is thankful for all the opportunities.
“Unti-unti, kinakaya na naming lumaban sa mga hamon ng buhay. Naipapakita na namin na kaming mga indigenous people ay may kakayahan ding umunlad. Salamat sa Kalahi-CIDSS (Slowly, we are able to face all the struggles in life. We were able to show that indigenous people have the capacity to achieve progress. We are grateful to Kalahi-CIDSS),” Victoria proudly said. ###