The Kati-kati Tribe of Guimaras Island

wpid-2015-05-17-19.03.22.jpg.jpeg

Land, water, food, medicine and hope.

These are things that most of us take for granted. These have always been around. They generally have never been a problem for those of us who have the time and resources to access this blog.

We have places we can call ours – whether they’re just rented, owned by our parents or purchased. We have good pieces of real estate that we can call home, a place we can improve on and serve as our base of operations.

Water had always flowed for us too. Whether it comes from the faucet or a well, free-flowing or rationed, purchased in a water station or 711 – water had always been in abundant supply.

Food is in abundance for us. In every corner of our cities are fast food chains. Eat-all-you-can buffets are in most restaurants. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruits are in abundance in our markets.

We also have a steady supply of antibiotics, flu medications, wound-dressing items, pain-medication and others. Doctors are also in abundance. The difficulty for most of us is only in the choice of doctors to patronize and not where to find a reputable doctor.

And for most of us, hope is in abundance. It’s so abundant that we forget what it’s like not to have it. We and our kids are educated in good schools or even universities. There are new, high-tech courses that didn’t even exist 20 years ago promising unique professions. We have access to abundant industries where we could work in, or at least, apply for a job. Perhaps some of us have enough money in the bank to outlast a major crisis. Since the stock market crash of 2008, the world economy has been stabilizing according the some experts. Some say that the future economy is bright. Whether that’s true or we’re just living in another bubble is another topic altogether.

And so we do what most humans in times of abundance do: we leave behind a great amount of waste. We waste land, water, food, medicines and even hope. We waste everything, even our lives. Since everyone we know is abundant, we only think of ourselves. And since everyone is OK, we want to increase more than anyone else. Life, for us, is an adventure. For some though, life is daily survival.

This is what this article is about. To remind us that not everyone is OK. The problem with the abundance of these resources is their distribution in the world. There is no balance in this fallen world. There are indeed places abundant with basic needs. But there are places and people who are simply not equipped to secure enough land, water, food and medicine for themselves and for their families. If we expand our horizons enough, we’ll find them. For them, there is no hope of a better future. Every day, they wake up thinking only of one thing: “How can we survive today?”

But we want to dismiss this by simply saying, “It’s not my fault they’re in that mess. Why bother me? What did I ever do to harm them?”

Nothing, of course.

My prayer as I write this blog is that we would instead think like this, “I am living in abundance. These people are barely getting by. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe what’s little for me is already lifesaving for them. Maybe I can help? Or is it I who needs their help?”

Is it not true that the rich, in the middle of their abundance, need help too that money could not buy? Is it not true that it is the poor who, in the middle of their lack, often have the most peaceful sleep and the heartiest laughter? Isn’t it curious that our Lord, when He visited us centuries ago, chose to be born among the poor? Isn’t it a wonder why He chose to entrust the most important story in the history of man to them and not to the rich and influential? I suspect that those who are poor have a lot to teach those who have more than enough.

The Aetas of the Kati-kati tribe of Guimaras Island, Philippines, is just one among many communities who need our help.

 

The Tribe

These thoughts were at the back of my mind when I went to visit the people of Kati-Kati a few weeks ago. I arrived there around 10am in the scorching heat. It was an almost cloudless day. The glare made me wish I brought my sun glasses along. The ground was so dry and hot I could feel my flip-flops soften. My shirt was already drenched with sweat. Thankfully, I brought a bottle of water with me.

The first thing I noticed were their smiles. They were the nicest people. They greeted me as I searched for a missionary friend of mine, Claire, who recently decided to devote her life living among the Aetas.

Claire with some of the people of Kati-kati.

Claire with some of the people of Kati-kati.

They were not wearing tribal loin cloths, strange tattoos, and piercings nor were they holding spears – as what we usually see in the movies. They dressed up like everybody else. There were a lot of little kids too. They cheerfully guided me to the tribe’s town hall where Claire was. She then introduced me to the tribe leader, Josephine, whom I found to be a very accommodating and cheerful woman.

Josephine is a teacher in a nearby Catholic school. She’s a mother of three and is the only person in the tribe who graduated from college and has a steady job. She’s been re-elected as tribe leader many times and wished others would take her place one day.

She gave me a brief background of her tribe. There were more than 80 families there. Many don’t have a steady income. Most of the men labored in the construction sites by day while the women took care of the households. To make ends meet, they seek out whatever odd job they could find. The women create native crafts to sell and, recently, they were taught by JCI (an NGO) to make liquid detergent soap to sell too. They don’t have any crops or any agricultural products that they can trade.

wpid-2015-05-17-19.05.27.jpg.jpeg

The land they’re living on is not theirs. The government has directed them to transfer to a relocation site a few kilometers away. The lots in the new site will be donated to them, which is good. But there’s a catch. They have to spend their own money for the transfer of their belongings and the rebuilding of their homes to the new site. Money that they barely have. This was the situation of most of the tribe at the time of my visit. They have to relocate, but finances are keeping them from doing so. Minimum wage here in the Philippines is less than Php 300 or 7 USD a day. That is, if the individual is employed. The unemployment here is quite difficult for those who have graduated from college. But it’s even more desperate for the laborer who barely finished high school.

And then, there’s the water problem. In their current site, water is scarce. Claire pointed me to three wells in the distance. Josephine told me that the heat was drying up the wells and that they’re scraping the bottom already for it.

wpid-2015-05-17-19.07.07.jpg.jpeg

wpid-2015-05-17-19.06.21.jpg.jpeg

I braved the angry sun and went to the wells. Truly, the water levels were very low. When I asked them how they get by if the wells dry up, Josephine said they would then have no choice but to buy from those who sell water by the gallon. One gallon jug of water is 5 pesos (less than 50 US cents), if I recall it correctly. For a family without a steady income, that’s another daily expense they have to take into account. I can only imagine how they would then have to save their water if they had four mouths to nourish in the punishing heat of every day. In the new site, to make things worse, there is no functioning water source yet and no news of a workable plan so far.

When Claire was done with her work with them, she took me for a brief tour of the place. She put on a sarong over her head to protect her from the heat. She offered me a hat. I declined. I would later on regret it. My nape was scorched by the time I got home.

We asked a girl, Wenwen, if we could tag along and see her part of the village. She reluctantly agreed. It was curious for me that a young girl, in a desperate situation, be reluctant to bring some people who might be able to help to her home. We followed her through the rocky path. I was amazed once again at how dry and hot the ground was. Claire showed me the “highlights” of the village as we went along. We passed by a mini-store. It was just a house made of wood and iron with its front converted into a store. It was one of the bigger homes in the area. And it was the only store in these parts offering cold soft drinks, water and ice.

As we got closer to Wenwen’s home, I saw the mini-houses. I call them mini because, well, that’s what they are. To us, they might look like miniature huts. I’ve seen mini huts like these in museums. But it was the first time I saw some with people actually living in them. I would wager that the comfort room of most of the readers of this blog are much bigger than these houses. I peered inside some of them, and I saw at least 2 adults and 3 little kids in one home. I can’t believe the heat that these people had to bear in their homes every day and the water they needed to consume to battle dehydration. I didn’t even start to think how they bathed or took care of nature’s call. There was just no room for toilets in those huts. And around the homes and along the paths, there was so much garbage littered.

wpid-2015-05-17-19.03.00.jpg.jpeg

After snapping some pictures, I caught up with Claire and Wenwen. I was beginning to think of all the things in my life that I’ve taken for granted. There were just so many. I began to realize how much of a grumbler I really am. I am no different from the stiff-necked Israelites that God and Moses had to deal with in the desert who were never content with their blessings. I’ve spent only a few hours in Kati-kati, and I already have received precious gifts from them. The gifts of an opened eye and a humbled soul. All of my worries and concerns in my sheltered life are dwarfed by what these people are going through every day.

And God’s message was hammered deeper into my soul when I saw Nanay (Filipino term for mother) Virgie. Nanay Virgie is Wenwen’s mother. She’s a dwarf who couldn’t walk. She’s paralyzed from the waist down and couldn’t take care of herself. Earlier, when Josephine narrated to me Wenwen’s unique love story, she mentioned that Nanay Virgie was once abused by an unknown man and left her to care for Wenwen. I wasn’t able to ask how Nanay Virgie became paralyzed. When I saw her elbow wounds, I forgot everything. Some graphic pictures of her elbow wound is shown below. I wouldn’t recommend scrolling down if you’re eating.

wpid-2015-05-17-19.04.03.jpg.jpeg

wpid-2015-05-17-19.01.48.jpg.jpeg

wpid-2015-05-17-19.00.08.jpg.jpeg

wpid-2015-05-17-19.00.30.jpg.jpeg

Being paralyzed, Nanay Virgie can only get around by crawling. She uses her elbows to do that. The ulcerations on her elbows come and go, they said. I’m not a doctor, so I’m not sure what I was looking at. But I was quite sure that it needed medical attention; a wound-dressing perhaps to cover it up. Some flies were already flying to it. And I was concerned that I was seeing the beginning parts of her elbow joint. I wished I brought some wound dressing materials along.

I understood, then, why Wenwen was reluctant to bring us there. She didn’t want to bother anyone with her difficult life. She used to be a college student. She was going to take up an IT course. But she had to quit for her mother. No one else could take care of her. She gives her baths, feeds her and transports her. She takes care of Nanay Virgie’s daily basic tasks. And they, along with their other relatives, depend only on Wenwen’s grandmother whose main livelihood was native crafts. This was probably why Wenwen and Nanay Virgie couldn’t get their hut fixed too. The floor, the walls and the ceiling had problems. When it rained, they get drenched. Due to the damages, Wenwen has to sleep with her uncle’s home nearby. Nanay Virgie has to call for her if she needs her.

After advising them to clean the wound and to look for a government health center, we said our goodbyes. My visit was done and I had to catch my boat at the port. As we walked through the hot fumes coming from the ground, Claire and I talked about how much work had to be done in the tribe; work that could not be done by only a handful of people. We had to look for more partners. Then, I saw a big home not so far away. From the looks of it, the people living in it must be rich. I asked Claire who owned it. She didn’t know. Then, questions, popped up in my thoughts, “Are they helping the tribe? Are they doing their part? They’re so near and so capable. How could the future change if they helped even just one family?”

Then something, or perhaps some One, in me turned the tables. As I traveled back home, the same questions faced me, “Am I helping the poor around me? Am I doing my part? I’m so near and so capable. How would the future change if I help just one family?”

And as I finish this article, these questions continue to move me. They say every Christian is touched by our Lord in a different way. Every Christian is moved by Christ in a different way. And, in my quiet times in the Lord and my reflections the past months, I think I have found what my soul has been struggling to hear from Him. My soul may have found the reason for its restlessness; what some authors would call, its holy discontent.

 

How To Get To Guimaras Island

Guimaras Island is part of the Philippines’ Western Visayas Islands. It’s nearest Panay Island. But it can also be accessed through Negros Island. But then you will have to cross to Iloilo City via a ferry.

Guimaras has two ports, Jordan and Buenavista, both of which are easily accessible from the ports of Iloilo City, Panay. I used the port to Jordan. It’s very cheap to get there if you use public transportation. The boat rides are about Php 30 or less than 1 USD, round trip. The vessel is a medium-sized boat made of wood (locally called a motor bangka) and the trip takes about 15 minutes. For those who have a fear of riding boats, it might help to know that these vessels have life jackets and the trips are quite uneventful.

To get from the Jordan port to the Kati-Kati village, you’ll need to go through the old market of the town of San Miguel. The jeepney fare going there is Php 8 or less than 50 US cents. From the San Miguel old market, you’ll need to charter a tricycle to Sitio Kati-kati. The fare is Php 30-50 or around 1 USD.

While I keep hearing rumors of improvements to the infrastructure and resorts of Guimaras, it has no big malls that I know of. But there are plenty of stores around selling the basics. I heard also that there are some small restaurants as well. I just thought to mention that in case there’s someone from the big cities reading this and planning to go. The motor bangka’s trips operate until 6 or 7PM only. You need to keep that in mind if you’re not planning to stay overnight in Guimaras. If you intend to stay in a hotel and take refuge in malls after visiting Kati-kati, it’s best to stay in Iloilo City.

 

How To Help The Tribe From A Distance

If you want to extend a helping hand but you can’t leave your job and family just now, you still can send help. The money we allot on a daily basis on non-essentials can mean life to the Kati-kati tribe.

The missionary friend I mentioned here, Claire, is connected with IRC-Guimaras. IRC stands for Ikthus Redeemed Community.

IRC Guimaras' Facebook Cover Photo

IRC Guimaras’ Facebook Cover Photo

They believe in helping depressed communities by helping them with their basic needs first before they share the gospel. They also do so by sending a missionary to live and interact with people they’re trying to reach. So they don’t just visit them, do a little project or worship service and then leave them to fend off for themselves. They don’t just provide a band-aid treatment to the poor. They aim to share in their difficulties, help them help themselves, and give the hope that only Christ brings. IRC is present in multiple communities in the country.

The government has leased IRC Guimaras a piece of land in Kati-kati’s new site for 15 years. And IRC will be building some structures there in the near future. I’m not an official part of IRC. So if you have more questions on their long-term plans, head over to their Facebook page.

If the Lord has touched your heart to give, here are the details as shared to me by Pastor Rey Del Rosario of IRC.

Account Name: Ikthus Redeemed Community – Philippines, Inc.

Account Number: 004528014841

Bank Name and Branch: Banco De Oro – Mandalagan, Bacolod City

Routing Number: 00002021000089 (for overseas remittances)

Special Instructions for donations:

For checks, please don’t abbreviate any detail. “IRC Phils.”, will not be honored for remittances.

There are 3 categories to write on the deposit slip of your donation for it to reach the Kati-kati tribe:

  1. “for Guimaras project designated funds” (email or PM IRC Guimaras on how to designate your donation. 100% of the net proceeds will be used entirely to the purpose for which it was given or designated.)
  2. “for Guimaras project general fund”
  3. “for Guimaras project worker (name of worker)”

In case you’re wondering why there are special instructions, IRC has been complying very strictly with BIR’s (Philippines’ Bureau of Internal Revenue) guidelines due to various corruption scandals associated with local NGOs.

 

Before You Go

If you’ve read this far, thank you. May the Lord Jesus pierce your soul and bless you with faith that bears everlasting fruits. I checked on Claire through SMS as of this writing. She reports that Nanay Virgie’s elbow wound is no longer open and “has gone black”. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing…

Before you leave, allow me to pass to you the same questions which, I believe, was the Lord’s message to me the day I visited the Kati-kati tribe:

“Are you helping the poor around you? Are you doing your part? You’re so near and so capable. How would the future change for them if you help just one family?”

God bless you.