9012 - 160th Street
Surrey, BC Canada

Phone 604-532-3750
Missions Ministry - Oyango Tribe

Our Oyango Tribe & Sta. Teresita Ministry

   By Goychi Mulleda, member, GCI Canada

When I retired in early 2001, I didn't quite know what to do with myself and the free time I had on hand whenever my husband and I were in the Philippines. I then looked up the local congregation of Grace Communion International (GCI, formerly known as Worldwide Church of God or WCG). I have been a baptized member since 1966 and was glad to be able to attend worship services with our local group in Pili, Camarines Sur my home province.

We have a small GCI group there. Contact with the indigenous people (IP, also known as Aeta, or Agta in the dialect) in Camarines Sur has been initially established through the efforts of Bonifacio Gonzales. We visited and held weekly worship services and bible studies with three different tribes of indigenous peoples in various areas of Buhi and Iriga City. Mrs. Puring Balisnomo held demonstrations on how to select and prepare local produce and cook simple but nutritious meals.

Bible studies for incarcerated peoples inside the prison walls of Tinangis Farm were also held. Several of those in prison eventually accepted Jesus as their Saviour and were baptized.

Future chieftain Pedro Sentillas at his baptism, Pastor Babol officiated,  assisted by Pedro Aguilar and Chieftain Cecilio Lumabe

Later, our group concentrated on working with the Oyango Tribe who were relocated in a settlement beside the Waras River in Sta. Teresita, Iriga City. Twenty-seven Aetas have been baptized in the span of 2 years. Allelujah! November 17, 2002 was a joyous occasion in Sta. Teresita. Pastor Arlan Aquino came from Manila and officiated that day in the declaration/worship service of the Oyango Tribe Christ the King of Glory Church – GCI Philippines.
(Future chieftain Pedro Sentillas at his baptism, Pastor Babol officiated,  assisted by Pedro Aguilar and Chieftain Cecilio Lumabe).

L to R in the background:  Caridad & Bonifacio Gonzales,

November 17, 2002 was a joyous occasion in Sta. Teresita. Pastor Arlan Aquino came from Manila and officiated that day in the declaration/worship service of the Oyango Tribe Christ the King of Glory Church – GCI Philippines.

(L to R in the background: Caridad & Bonifacio Gonzales, Pastor Abelardo Balisnomo & Pastor Arlan Aquino)

 

These indigenous people (IP) used to live almost nomadic lives in the forested slopes of Mt. Iriga where they eke a living. Later, after the government of the Philippines created the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 1997, they were persuaded to come down from the mountain and got resettled in the lowlands.

The Oyangos are so impoverished that some of their small children still walked around naked in those days. Uneducated and unskilled, the IPs are almost always at the mercy of the educated and better off lowlanders.

The rock-strewn area of roughly 1.4 hectares, however, barely provides enough space for the 16 registered families to have tiny dwellings and hardly a space to cultivate even a small garden for each of the families. There's a scant source of livelihood there. Some are lucky to have one good meal a day. Many resort to going back to the mountain to find some vegetables and fruits they could use or sell, or barter for rice or salt and other necessities in life.

Cåríng Gonzales minding the cooking of a meal beside the small hut being used  as the venue for the   weekly worship services

Our GCI group, through the initiative of Cåríng Gonzales, also started sharing a simple meal with the entire village people on Sundays after the worship service.

(Cåríng Gonzales minding the cooking of a meal beside the small hut being used as the venue for the weekly worship services)

 

We were told that for some of them, that meal was the only food they'll have in their stomach that day. Over time we came to know them well and learned more of the adverse condition they are in.

two women

Most of them are illiterate. Dominga 'Inggay' Lumabe (see below, left, with her daughter Soledad our first Gr. 6 graduate in March 2007) confided to us that she was given the position of Chieftain of their tribe in 2000 simply because she at least could read and write.

One of the typical houses at the settlement in January 2006

Their tiny one-room dwellings at the time were mostly A-frame structures with dirt floors. The roof and walls were usually made of bamboo slats, hardy grasses and coconut or palm leaves, a very poor match to the typhoons that ravage the area from time to time.

(One of the typical houses at the settlement in January 2006)

 

"Manay Cåríng (a term of endearment for Caridad Gonzales, one of our very active GCI members/co-workers), one of your students in the elementary school got sent home for failure to pay the required fifteen pesos (about $ 0.15CDN) for a school project and was told not to come back without that amount."

It was this plaintive report which I overheard while Cåríng and I were fellowshipping with some adult Oyangos that God used to powerfully move me to do something more for these indigenous people.

Back home in Naga City from Sta. Teresita, I told my husband about the incident and suggested perhaps we can pay for the schooling of the Oyango schoolchildren. To my delight, he just graciously said, "I suppose we can manage it." Note: Although a baptized member, he's not with GCI since 1981 and simply 'tolerated' the activities I engaged in with my GCI friends. And when I mentioned our plan by email to my daughter (Emily) who lived and worked in Burnaby, BC at the time, she replied, "Mom, I would like to support your educational program and will send you $1,000." I hurriedly told her by email to hold it off till I had done more research by going to the school myself and finding out exactly what we were up to and until after I conferred with the Oyangos.

Since June 2006, with Cåríng's consent for us to take over the payment for the school fees of the nine children she had enrolled at the nearby Sta. Teresita Elementary School, we pay for the school fees and school supplies, needed by all the Oyango schoolchildren enrolled at the said school. Since 2007 we have been supporting several high school students as well.

We also provide the children with school uniforms and other necessities like footwear, clothing, backpacks and raingears. Annually, other family members and friends in BC and in Ontario send boxes of new and used clothing, school supplies, shoes and other pertinent items for the Oyangos.

My husband and I have looked into getting a multi-purpose building constructed for the Oyangos after we learned that all the dwellings (except one) of the Oyangos, the communal meeting hall and the open-sided structure beside it where we serve food to the people, got demolished by the typhoons that hit the area that year (2006). However, due to the topography of the settlement and concern about possible flash floods that can run through the area, we decided to wait till we're able to buy and obtain title to an adjoining property, one which is on higher grounds than the one where the Oyangos had been relocated.

We also continue to work toward establishing sustainable sources of livelihood for the Oyangos right in the area where they live, and elsewhere. We offered a personal property of ours located about 50 kms. from their settlement and helped relocate a Oyango family with 3 young children. A young couple also followed them there. And, as with the first family, the latter were given free building materials for a simple dwelling and free supply of rice and other sustenance for several months while they waited to harvest and sell the produce of the cash crops we encouraged them to plant there. They were also allowed to have free use of the produce from the coconuts and other fruit-bearing trees and plants already growing in the property.

We regret, however, that after only 2 months of their stay, the 2nd family left and the first one also left after 8 months and moved back to their own village in Iriga City.

When a few of my GCI friends in Prince George and Surrey and, later, those who attended the Thanksgiving Celebrations of Christ in Penticton in 2006 came to know about what my family was doing, they somehow were 'moved' to pitch in and helped by giving love gifts to the ministry themselves. For these we are deeply grateful. When this small ministry was started, we didn't even have a plan as to how to continue it into its 2nd year!!

At one of the lunches prepared for the schoolchildren.

From June 2007 to March 2008, during the 2nd year of this Sta. Teresita Ministry, we were able to have a feeding program for all the enrolled Oyango schoolchildren. Free meals for breakfast and lunch were prepared, cooked and served by designated Oyango parents (the latter also shared in the free meals) on school days. It was made possible by donations given by Grace Communion International Canada members from British Columbia.
(At one of the lunches prepared for the schoolchildren.)

Cåríng Gonzales saying grace over the meal.

Without the unselfish and dedicated everyday efforts, supervision and management of Cåríng Gonzales, however, I don't think the feeding program could have been so successfully ran.

(Cåríng Gonzales saying grace over the meal.)

 

Until May 2008, the educational program and its other ramifications were very capably administered by Cåríng Gonzales. She, together with her husband and 2 sons, now lives in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

At that time, while I was happy over the prospect of their moving to Canada, I also got very concerned about the future of our ministry without a trustworthy and truly dedicated person like Cåríng who so unselfishly made time to manage the whole operation whenever my husband and I are back in Canada.

Alas! I needn't have worried myself to ill health. God supplied the much needed help in due time in the person of my brother-in-law, Ricardo 'Ric' Perez (husband of my younger sister Goyhan). Ric works full time as the Director of the Instructional Media Center (IMC) at the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) in Naga City, one of the leading educational centers for higher education in the Philippines. He also gets a lot of out-of-school assignments that involves photography and speaking engagements. Yet, Ric finds and makes a lot of time for the ministry.

In the short span of time he's been involved in the ministry, Ric has accomplished so much in bringing the plight of the Aetas to the attention of many people, practically, worldwide. Between November 2008 and August 2009, he has written 33 full length articles about the IPs that were published in the BICOL MAIL, the only regional newspaper in Bicolandia. He has been able to bring in other sectors of the media to the Oyango settlement who themselves have helped publicize the pitiful condition of these people.

A web site which Ric envisioned as a window to see how the Philippines' indigenous peoples live, as typified by the Oyango Tribe in Sta. Teresita, Iriga City, was successfully launched in January 2010. This also serves as the venue for looking in on the projects we do there to help alleviate the plight of these people. Updates are posted on it regularly. The web site - www.agtabicol.org - is currently under reconstruction and will be made available again to the public soon)

When the Prince George and Surrey congregations of GCI Canada decided to bless us with their annual Incarnation Celebration offering in Dec. 2009, Ric implemented a `food for work` program in the construction of a fishpond on an island adjacent to Waras River which runs alongside the settlement.

To address the ever present problem of lack of food, an offshoot of not having a stable source of livelihood, it was decided that at least having a sustainable source of fish for their use would help stave off hunger from the people of this community.

making a poolNow there are 2 fishponds there for the benefit of the Oyangos and a third one in the making. It was so moving to watch the efforts of these people as they worked on the fishponds, often in the heat of the blazing sun.

At Ric's initiative and able handling of bureaucratic red tapes and the necessary logistics, electricity is now available in the village. Because of this, educational videos and movies can now be easily shown to the Oyangos and to others in the neighboring areas .

Hand tools like shovels, hoes, spades, hammers, rakes, screw drivers and others have also been purchased and made available for usage to the Oyangos.

Mrs. De Lima, volunteer teacher, and some of

A literacy program for adults is being conducted in the village. This is helping some Oyangos learn for the first time to read and write.

(Mrs. De Lima, volunteer teacher, and some of the Oyangos during one of the classes held in the current communal meeting hall built in early 2007)

There is an experimental "Tindahan sa Tribo" (meaning, a store in the village) managed by one of the Oyangos to enable the village people to procure some of their basic household needs like rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, garlic, onion, and others at cheaper costs than if they have to obtain those elsewhere.

By bringing attention to the Oyango Tribe through the media, various beneficial activities have been held in the Oyango tribal settlement. Several school groups have come and conducted their own outreach programs in the village. Medical missions like the ones conducted by the Perez- Agsalud-Coner families on December 27, 2010 have helped the people.

First aid medicine are now available in a communal medicine cabinet which is regularly restocked for the use of the village people.

Ric has written additional (and continues to write) articles about the IPs. He solicits support both from government as well as non-government organizations. He and his wife tirelessly help the Oyangos in getting more vegetables and fruit-bearing trees planted in the area.

In the background, left side of the photo, is the current

And now, a multi-purpose building solicited by Ric from the chairman of the Ako Bicol Partylist (AKB) organization, Mr. Elizalde Co, is being constructed at the Oyango tribal settlement and the small road leading to the settlement has been widened.

(In the background, left side of the photo, is the current communal meeting hall)

There is no foundation involved. It is just a small private family ministry, helped along in the ministration and supported by GCI members. In December 2010, members of GCI Canada again sent their annual gift of love in support of the ministry.

We're deeply grateful that God has brought in recently another pastor, Domingo 'Doming' Trilles, to minister to the spiritual growth and development of our Oyango brethren.

With help from others in the future, we hope to be able to continue this ministry in spreading God's love to these people. To help them learn to, eventually, be truly responsive to God's love, mercy and grace and to be productive citizens who are able to experience the joy and blessings of being a giver themselves.

back