19 February 2019, Manila, Philippines
– In a small tribal community in Bamban, Tarlac, two groups of Aeta women have served as beacons of light. They are known as the Solar Lolas who have trained in Barefoot College, Rajasthan, India, to build solar-powered lamps.
The “Solar Lolas”, who are actually solar engineers, were trained to make, install, maintain and repair solar-powered lamps in their villages, literally bringing light and hope to what was previously a dark, impoverished community.
Bringing light to the lives of the Aeta community
Spearheaded in 2015 by the Diwata-Women in Resource Development, Inc. in partnership with the Land Rover Club of the Philippines, Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) and with the cooperation of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), the project, aptly named Tanging Tanglaw, has been embraced by majority of the Aeta women in the community. The Solar Lolas’ training at the Barefoot College was made possible by the Indian Government through its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program.
Tanging Tanglaw Steering Committee Chairman Annie Dee emphasized that the project doesn’t simply involve providing lights to homes, but also giving the Solar Lolas and their communities the means to improve their lives by also teaching them the basics of leading financially sustainable lives.
Contributing to community development
Solar Lola Rosita, 51, shared that upon their return from their training in India, they were full of hope that the solar lamps would significantly change the lives of their fellow tribesmen. But they were faced with the challenge of spending P200 monthly to cover the cost and labor to maintain the solar lamps.
For the cash-strapped Aetas with no stable source of income, the modest monthly payment is already too steep a price to pay.
“Our Financial Sustainability Program for our IP community in Bamban, Tarlac is aimed at preparing our Aeta brothers and sisters to manage their resources and guiding them through baby steps to achieve this dream,” Dee said. “By teaching them how to create solar lights, we changed their lives and expectations. We cannot possibly allow them to go back to the dark ages or rely on dole-outs.”
Planting the seeds of financial sustainability
FWD Life Insurance Philippines learned of this challenge and decided to help the Aeta communities by helping them with financial literacy and teaching them financial sustainability. Thus, FWD Life’s training project was born.
One of the country’s fastest-growing insurance companies, FWD Life has been supporting Tanging Tanglaw and the Solar Lolas since 2015.
Launched in collaboration with the Bayan Academy for Social Entrepreneurship and Human Resource Development, the FWD Life training program was crafted to help the Aeta community become integrated with financial systems and realize more economic opportunities. Through a framework which combines their tribal wisdom with knowledge on the value of financial systems, the modules aim to introduce Aetas to product marketing concepts for their solar-powered lamps.
Bayan Academy Executive Director Philip Felipe said, “This program is very effective in the grassroots, and our goal together with FWD Life and DIWATA is to help marginalized communities by democratizing entrepreneurship.”
Roche Vandenberghe, FWD Life Insurance Philippines Head of Marketing and Community Care Lead, shared, “The journey of the Solar Lolas inspires all of us at FWD Life to continue our mission of empowering people to live fulfilled lives, and we want to help them reach the next level by fostering the mindset for financial sustainability and even entrepreneurship in the Aeta community.”
“We have been championing the Solar Lolas since 2015, and seeing the women proudly leading their communities is truly wonderful,” added Vandenberghe.
Empowering the Aetas to live fulfilled lives
The initial session hosted by FWD Life and Bayan Academy last December at the Clark Polytechnic revealed insights into the hopes and dreams of the Solar Lolas for their children, grandchildren, and for their fellow Aetas. Breaking out into small groups, the women found creative expression in building dioramas of their model communities—with electricity, running water, and roads and infrastructure for access to livelihood and education.
The project will continue with two more activities lined up in the coming months. Two more financial sustainability workshops will be held in March to add on to what the group has already taught the Solar Lolas, their chieftains, and their community leaders last December. These workshops will be held in Tarlac where the Aeta community is located.
“We are happy to be able to help uplift the lives of the Solar Lolas by helping them practically integrate their newfound skills into their community,” Vandenberghe noted. “We hope that with the learning they’ve received in the workshops, the light will shine brighter in their community and in their own lives.”