On May 17, 2014, some members of the Focolare Movement first met the Aetas (indigenous people) in Man-up, Altavas, Aklan for a gift-giving project. At that time, we got to know 13 families with a total number of 35 individuals.

Later, on December 29, 2014, we returned to present them some gifts for the “Noche Buena Project”, an initiative of the Focolare’s Youth for a United World Movement in Manila. On that occasion, we noticed that only a few families were present. We found out that five families had already transfer to another place to be able to survive. Another family had to leave as well because the “padre de familia”, or the father head of the clan had been hospitalized in Kalibo (the capital of Aklan, which is about 25 kms from their place).

A particular characteristic of the Aeta or “Ati” became evident: they were hesitant to communicate. Aside from being shy in nature, they were full of mistrust and doubt, and afraid to talk with other locals like us because they felt that they were only “atis.” Our conversations were reduced to “isang tanong, isang sagot” – one question, one answer.
While playing with the children, we found the opportunity to start a dialogue with them. An Ati said,“naghaealin ro ibang Ati iya dahil ginsoboe sanda it isaeang ka tenant, gin-einabo ro andang kabaeayan ag ginpangsamad ro andang mga tanom” (Some of the Aetas leave here because a tenant provoked them to move out and destroyed their houses as well as their vegetable garden with a bolo ( a long heavy knife used as a weapon or tool)
Listening to their cry of injustice and helplessness, we felt that their suffering had become our own. We could not but also love Christ present in them.

In January 2015, an idea came out to create a core group to help this Ati community in Man-up, Altavas, Aklan. This initiative was started after a meeting in Man-up Multi-purpose Center on January 9, 2015, with representatives from the Holy Child Parish, a parish belonging to the Diocese of Kalibo, and with other organizations like the Focolare Movement, Local Government Unit (LGU), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) which was based in Man-up, Altavas, and an Ati couple.

The Atis are nomadic in nature, they do not settle down in one place. Thus to an outsider, housing may not be a problem.

The Atis are nomadic in nature, they do not settle down in one place. Thus to an outsider, housing may not be a problem. This was also our perception until we asked an Ati couple, “Why do you roam around? Are you contented and happy?”
The couple answered, “nagalinibot kami kung siin kami makakaon o mabuhi ag owa man kami it lugar nga matawag namon nga amon gid. Kontento eang kami kung nano ro una dahil owa man kami it mahimo gihapon,” which means, “We roam around for a place where we can eat and survive, for we have no place that we can call our own. We are contented with what we find because we have nothing at all.” Then the wife, Vilma with tears in her eyes, pleaded with us “buligi man ninyo kami,” which means “help us”.

That sparked our “Yes” to help them find a place which they could call home.
The journey towards this goal drew us closer together as one big family inspired by Chiara Lubich’s idea that we are all members of God’s one family. So, we held constant meetings and sharing of ideas, all for the welfare of the Ati families, and we journeyed along with them believing that God is our Father who loves us immensely.

Six Ati families were able to receive a calamity fund amount from the Immediate Shelter Assistance (ISA) of the government and half of the amount has been set aside for access to the land. For this reason, the Habitat International, a Non-government Organization (NGO), approved the proposal for the housing project.

Recently, nine (9) houses have been completed for them. It’s a great joy for us to give ourselves to them continuously in love, by building a home and a community for them, and be a part of their journey and formation. Together with the benefactors who helped us during the fund-raising for the land purchase, and with the local community here in Aklan, we believe in God’s immense love especially for the least of our brothers, and we wish to contribute to make this world more united.

Annie Reyes

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