Solar-powered bulbs brighten Agta village life
TECHNOLOGY harnessed from the power of the sun has brightened a community of the Agta-Dumagat in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges in General Nakar town in Quezon province.
For two days in February, a group of nongovernment workers and Army soldiers installed 25 solar-powered lights in households and several streetlights in the village of San Marcelino, one of several tribal communities in the area.
Considered the “backbone” of Luzon spanning the island’s northeastern coast from Cagayan province in the north to Quezon in the south, the Sierra Madre is home to the largest remaining tract of old-growth tropical rainforest in the Philippines and to communities of indigenous peoples, who support themselves by gathering rattan, honey and other forest products that they sell to lowland communities.
The solar project was undertaken by Soldiers’ Wives and Girlfriends (SWAG) Philippines, in cooperation with Liter of Light, Magkasamang Adhikain Solar Association (Masa), and the Army’s 1st Infantry Battalion Civil-Military Operation unit.
Anne Turla, 33, project coordinator and SWAG founder, said the partnership aimed to give poor communities in remote, off-grid areas around the country an alternative to electricity-powered light bulbs.
The group also distributed grocery items, clothes, and books and school materials and conducted a feeding program for community members.
Photographs posted on the SWAG Facebook page by Kit Reyes, who documented the mission, showed how members of the group and tribe members helped install the nature-powered lights inside huts and trails that serve as village roads in the upland community.
These also captured the amazement and glee of tribe members, especially children who had long been used to spending nights with only the flickering glow of gas lamps inside their shacks.
The villagers are also used to the occasional radiance provided by the full moon.
Easy to assemble
Turla said Liter of Light donated the bulbs and solar panels while the soldiers provided the logistics, manpower and security for the team during the installation. She said the team from Masa provided the technical expertise in the installation of the solar lights.
The easy-to-assemble solar-powered lighting system is made up of an empty plastic soda bottle, as a protective cover for the LED bulb, and a small solar panel. The system is designed to automatically switch on and off in the presence or absence of daylight.
With the addition of a PVC pipe, bamboo or wood pole, the device can be transformed into a streetlight that can illuminate mountain paths.
San Marcelino residents were also given a crash course on troubleshooting for easy repair of the solar lights.
“The solar light is a tremendous help to all of us, especially schoolchildren,” said Ramsey Astoveza, tribal chieftain, in a recent phone interview. He thanked members of the mission, particularly the military for installing sun-powered electric bulbs in their community.
Lessons from Basilan
He appealed to the government, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and private companies to continue helping the mountain people to improve their living conditions.
Turla said she found herself initiating humanitarian projects to cope with a painful death of a loved one after her fiancée, Army 1st Lt. Vladimir Maninang (Philippine Military Academy Class of 2007) was killed in an encounter with Moro rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan, in 2011.
The nine-hour clash left 19 soldiers dead.
Turla said she overcame grief by organizing SWAG Philippines on June 16, 2012. The group is composed of 1,200 wives, girlfriends and women dependents of members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“I have learned along the way about all the women who have endured similar struggles when their loved ones died in battlefield,” she said.
Since the founding of SWAG, Turla said she has been traveling to poor communities around the country to hold different community service projects like livelihood, feeding, gift-giving and medical missions in collaboration with NGOs and the military.
She said she made a vow on the day Maninang was buried to continue his “noble endeavor for the country, in my simple way.”
“In every community that we serve, I never fail to mention his name. I dedicated my precious time, tears of joy and inner peace to remember him,” Turla said.
SWAG has been working closely with the military in bringing projects and programs to remote areas, particularly villages were communist rebels once operated.
Turla said her group’s military partners would often chose areas where these outreach programs would be held.
“The successful installation of the solar-powered house and streetlights, and the conduct of humanitarian missions showed our support for NGOs who are our partners in winning the hearts and minds of indigenous peoples and community members. [We do this to promote] peace and development in [a particular] area,” Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus, commander of the 1st IB, said in a statement.
Pete Montallana, a Franciscan priest who has long been helping the tribe, also expressed gratitude for the project. The children of the Sierra Madre welcome the benefits of modern technology derived from nature, he said.
“Our natural environment has been endowed with rich natural sources to sustain man’s harmonious commune with Mother Earth. Let us continue to harness them,” Montallana said.
“The children are happy. Even our elders were ecstatic with the changes that it will bring to the community,” Astoveza said. “The life of the tribal community will never be the same again,” he added.
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