The alms that matter

The alms that matter

Christmas has always been synonymous with the season of giving. It's the time of year when people are extra generous, whether it's because they have the extra money to give away or simply because being kind is the real essence of the season. During these times, people seem to not mind shelling out a few bucks to make others happy. It's a time of year when the spirit of giving is in the air, and it's a beautiful thing to witness.

During the holidays, people from all walks of life are inspired to give back to their communities and help those in need. Whether it's donating to charity, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or simply buying a coffee for a homeless person, the act of giving becomes a priority for many during the Christmas season. It's a time when people are reminded of the importance of compassion and empathy, and they are more willing to extend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate.

However, the spirit of giving during Christmas goes beyond just helping those in our immediate communities. It extends to people from all corners of the world, including indigenous communities who may not have the same opportunities and resources as others. One such example is the Aeta people, who traditionally visit lowland communities during the Christmas season to partake in the celebrations and, oftentimes, solicit money or food from those in the city.

In the olden times, there were several reasons behind the increased frequency of Aetas visiting lowland communities during the Christmas season. The Christmas season is a time for family and community gatherings, and Aetas may visit lowland communities to reconnect with relatives and friends, participate in festive activities, and celebrate the holiday season together.

Some Aetas may visit lowland communities during the Christmas season to take advantage of the increased economic activity, such as tourism and holiday shopping. They may sell handicrafts, traditional products, or provide services to earn extra income during this time.

Aetas may visit lowland communities to access healthcare, education, and other essential services that may not be readily available in their remote indigenous villages.

Many Aetas are Christian and may visit lowland communities during the Christmas season to participate in religious ceremonies, attend church services, and engage in spiritual practices.

Aetas may visit lowland communities to exchange goods, share traditional knowledge, and engage in cultural exchanges with other communities during the festive season.

However, times have changed. While it's heartwarming to see the Aetas enjoying the festivities and being a part of the larger community, the increasing frequency of their visits to the lowlands has raised concerns about their dependency on alms and their safety while begging on the streets. What used to be an occasional visit has become a permanent fixture, with Aeta families, including young children, roaming the streets asking for money or food from passersby.

This has sparked a debate about the best way to help the Aeta community during the Christmas season and beyond. While many people are quick to give alms to the Aetas on the streets, others believe that this perpetuates a cycle of dependency and does not provide a long-term solution to their situation. Instead, it may be more effective to support initiatives that promote sustainable development within the Aeta communities, such as education, job opportunities, and access to basic resources.

Rather than giving alms to the Aetas on the streets, there is a growing consensus that it is more beneficial to coordinate with government or private organizations that conduct socio-civic programs in Aeta communities. This can help address the root causes of their reliance on alms and provides a more sustainable solution to their situation.

By developing the communities and providing them with equal opportunities in education and work, we can help the Aeta people to thrive in their own environments and reduce the need for them to migrate to the lowlands for financial support.

In light of this, we applaud the corporate inclusion program of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and Decathlon Philippines, which seeks to foster a culture of social responsibility by enhancing livelihood opportunities for vulnerable households in the surrounding communities of Pampanga and Tarlac.

As a result of this program, three Aeta women from Barangay Sapang Bato in Pampanga and Sitio Kalangitan in Tarlac were recently employed as sales representatives at Decathlon's concept store in SM Clark, Pampanga.

The partnership between BCDA and Decathlon Philippines is worth emulating by other government and private entities. By prioritizing the employment of vulnerable households in the communities they operate in, they are not only fulfilling their corporate social responsibility, but also making a real impact on the lives of the people in those areas.

It's inspiring to see how BCDA and Decathlon are working together to provide opportunities for the Aeta communities in Tarlac and Pampanga. The fact that 3 out of the 15 Aeta youths were able to secure employment contracts with Decathlon Philippines shows that this initiative is making a difference.

In this case, we cannot overemphasize the applicability of an old Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

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