At 5:30 p.m. last evening, the power flicked on.
I watched in a light rain as the local electric company (AKELCO) energized the newly-completed line extending more than a mile up into the rugged hills where 18 indigenous tribal households are receiving their first electric power — ever.
It was a moment long in the making. A dream of years for some. And months of waiting and hoping and occasional cajoling for me personally. It is accomplished now. The power is on.
It could hardly have been a worse day for an accessibility-challenged electrification project. Periods of heavy rains mixed with lighter showers fell throughout the afternoon; the weather a remnant of tropical storm Ofel which moved through the Philippines this week.
It is here on the northern tip of the island of Panay, in the province of Aklan, the municipality of Malay, where the Earth Vagabonds – Ellen, Tedly, and (temporarily) mom Diane – have been waiting out the coronavirus crisis.
During our six-month travel pause, we have variously assisted the local Filipino community which has seen its tourism supported economy grind to a halt.
To aid our out-of-work friends, we’ve helped with food and medical treatments and building supplies – and with the help of generous overseas donors, provided some employment and business seed monies.
We’ve also come to know the disadvantaged indigenous Ati people who live close by and number in the hundreds. It is their hilltop community which tonight finally has functioning light bulbs and electric outlets inside their small native nipa huts.
In previous months, with the foreign donations, we were able to buy the heavy mainline wire and the necessary interior electrical components for each hut and pay the various ‘new customer fees’.
And now, on this day, our special thanks goes to the dedicated – and soaking wet – AKELCO crew of more than a dozen workers who got the final connections done and the power safely flowing to the newly satisfied Ati customers.
Today I made the familiar, 25-minute, slippery, uphill hike to check on the new power installations (18 nipa huts and the community hen house). I was greeted with many Ati smiles and thank yous — “salamat” in Tagalog.
It was gratifying to see the big electric cable, which had been laid out months ago by the Ati themselves, now professionally strung into place. Even better was the sight of the newly-installed household meters which are clustered on trees and power poles. Seeing a ‘feeder line’ going into each thatch roofed nipa hut also made me chuckle.
When I got to the very top of the village, with the beautiful view of touristy Boracay island just offshore, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. We have helped these folks achieve something they have wanted for years.
Still, truthfully, as I looked out at the incredible island scenery that the Ati have known for thousands of years, I wondered if the gain of electric service was also a loss of some kind.
Sure, life will be easier now and more modern. But now there are poles and wires defiling the views. Trees have been severely trimmed. I could hear pop music playing on a radio somewhere nearby. And of course, there will be electric bills to pay.
Nonetheless, we have helped the Ati complete a community goal which will undoubtedly benefit them going forward. Further, at the top of the hill, the Ati chieftain showed me a newly constructed ‘breaker box shelter’.
It’s the first sign of progress on the next Ati project we are sponsoring with overseas donors: drinking water system improvement.
Indeed, now that electric power is at hand, some of the Ati are already moving ahead with preparations for an electric pump system which will send drinking water from their freshwater spring (hundreds of feet away and below the settlement) up to an easily-accessed holding tank.
We’ve conferred with AKELCO about the plan and will now set about designing and procuring the materials needed for this next major Ati improvement project.
Our pandemic pause work continues. Details to follow in coming weeks.
As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!