Imagine! On 9th Dec 2012, 60 Singaporean missionary workers under the umbrella of Singapore ACTS, headed by the Family Life ministry of OLPS Church, celebrated the blessing of a multi-purpose hall and commissioned it with a plaque on which were written these words; “A contribution from friends from Singapore.”
The events highlighted a mass wedding of Aetas couples who had been baptized just the year before. The couples paraded into the hall set up as a Church to receive their Sacrament of Matrimony. A celebration followed into the late evening. When it was dark, the lights decorating the building painted in blue and red (the cultural colours of the Aetas) were lit up with a bright blue Cross standing at the peak of the roof. As we waved good-bye to the happy people, we could still the see the cross’ silhouette in blue from the foot of the hill.
The group of core members from the Family Life Ministry had earlier made a second recce trip to the Philippines; and they had spent two fruitful days of fact finding for lodging, logistics and transportation for 60 people. They also had a detailed discussion with the Don Bosco Sisters to make a dream come true.
This project was initiated by the co-coordinator Audrey Leong from ACTS of Singapore and headed by Dolly Chua from Family Life Ministry of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. The project was selected after the first recce trip. After visiting a few places which required assistance, the Aeta community’s needs were then identified. The Don Bosco Sisters kindly provided information we needed.
The Aetas are an indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of the Philippines. They are considered to be the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines. They are nomadic and build only temporary shelters made of sticks driven to the ground and covered with banana leaves. The well-situated and more modernized Aetas have since moved to villages and areas of cleared mountains. They live in houses made of bamboo and cogon grass. Due to the Mount Pinatubo eruption, some of them moved to resettlement areas in Pampanga. Pampanga lies in the northern shore of Manila Bay. Its capital is the City of San Fernando. The community of Aetas that received the multipurpose hall consisted of about 150 families. Some were not yet to be Christianized. They live in the Calumpang, Mabalacat, Pampanga, on the outside perimeters of the abandoned American Clark Air base.
To reach the settlement in Calumpang, we had to drive through the air base and over the Sacobia river bridge and another short drive of unpaved road. The site where the multipurpose hall (MPH) was to be erected was on a hill top about 50 meters above the road level. The site was a piece of 14 meters by 14 meters empty land offered by a family. It was also situated high above their primary School and kindergarten. The Don Bosco sisters had borrowed the school compound for their oratory which was open and unshaded. Therefore it was not suitable for them to hold their activities with the children. This was the reason why we agreed to build a community hall for them.
The core team spent one intensive day to revisit the Aetas village, finalized the activities with the nuns for the year end missionary events which was capped at 60 people, from 5th to 9th December 2012. The revisit to the Aetas village was a touch base. The children welcomed us again with dances and songs. They danced and sang to us ‘Go light your world’ by Chris Rice. The song was so inspiring that the team decided to have it as the mission song for December’s mission.
The next day, the team hammered out the construction costs with the engineer and the contractor for the project. Eventually, the proposal was for the contractor to engage the people from the community for the masonry works while the contractor’s skilled labourers would build the truss and the roof. To keep the cost low, we were advised to start the project before summer in order to beat the seasonal inflation cost of materials. Hence the funding was immediate and urgently needed before summer, beginning in the month of April.
The last part of the assignment was to seek accommodation for the participants. The latter would come to experience outreach works as families. The anticipation was that the adults would do the painting of the MPH, running of electrical wiring and the making of the steps from the road to the hilltop only if feasible and time permitting. The young ones would socialize with the Aetas children and youths in singing, the exchange of dances and handicrafts making. Others would have to pack Christmas goodies.
The energy level was high and excitement could hit the roof. The recce team could not stop bringing up new ideas and proposals. One member was inspired to build a grotto while another proposed a 30 meter high cross standing on the hill top. Sister Sarah, the Mother Provincial without hesitation jumped on the ideas. But prudently, we decided to do one thing at a time. The grotto would be for another year. What we wanted was to prepare, organize, and raise the funds to realize the hope and the dream of the Aetas community and to make the imagination real. And with the grace of God, everything turned out well!
7th March 2012