By: Mary Elizabeth Perez
It’s been a few weeks since I visited Panuran, and it still amazes me that I was able to be a part of such an incredible experience.
The morning of August 5, my family and I woke up early, ate our breakfasts, got dressed, and headed out on a two-hour drive to the village of Panuran. My aunt was packed in the back of the SUV with the nine boxes of lamps, my family of 4 squished next to each other in the middle row. Upon arriving in the municipality of Lambunao, we were required to check in at the police station because the people of Panuran are indigenous and we were about to enter on their land. The drive into Panuran consisted of bumpy, unpaved roads, crossing several rivers, and passing the houses of many of the people living there. Something I learned was that children often had to cross 3 rivers to get to school, and they would spend around 2 hours just going to school. If it rained, the teachers would have to let the children out early to ensure that they wouldn’t be caught if the rivers rose too high and disabled their ability to cross them.
When we first pulled up to the multipurpose hall , my family and I were greeted with warm smiles and handmade bamboo necklaces that the people draped around our necks. The people all looked so happy to see us, knowing that we were bringing along gifts that were going to change their lives. There was a stage with a table with seats for my family and I, along with a podium and a banner welcoming us to Panuran. I took my seat next to the mayor and looked out at the large gathering of people. It seemed like the entire village had come! We even had a police escort present at the ceremony. After we had been seated, we were served a feast of food that the people had specially made for us. After the first serving of food, we were treated to more food as the festivities began. The people had organized an entire program, filled with original songs and dances, speeches from dignitaries and recipients of the lights, and overall celebration. Although I did not understand the songs and speeches, as I do not speak or understand their language, I could understand one thing: the people were very grateful for the lights. Mayor Gonzales would often lean over and explain to me what was happening, such as how two of the children had specially written and sung a song about the lights being given to them. I was very honored to see how much time and effort had been put into this ceremony, from the food served to us to the speeches that were given.
Then came the actual distribution of the lights. I was given the opportunity to personally hand each recipient their lamp. The looks on their faces said it all: they were absolutely overjoyed to be receiving them. Such a little gift as a lamp could really make the difference in someone’s life, and up to that moment, I hadn’t fully understood how much this lamp meant to them. Being able to shake their hands and accept their ‘thank you’s’ was a gift in itself because I was able to finally understand how much their lives were about to be changed. Once I was done giving them the lamps, they were put into small groups to learn how to use their lamps. I joined one of these groups after I was done distributing the lamps, and my cousin translated what the instructor was saying about how to use them. It was quite simple, and I watched as each person mimicked the actions of the instructor and learned how to use their new lamps. Even then, the people in my group continued to thank me, and I was touched by how appreciative they were. After this, they were able to interact with each other and I took this time to interview two of the recipients. My cousin and brother joined me, and we held a mini-interview to learn more about their lifestyles. Both women had children and said the lamps would greatly help both them and their children. Per week, people spent around 40-55 pesos (~$0.78-1.00USD) using kerosene lamps, and the solar lamps would help them save that money to be used for other expenses, such as food.
I’d like to say thank you to the following people:
- my parents, especially my mother, for helping me fundraise for the lamps
- my little brother, Matthew, for coming along with us on the trip and even pitching in some questions during our interview with the recipients
- my aunt, Miriam Lima, for helping coordinate the details of my family’s visit to Panuran because without her help, we would not have had the opportunity to go there and distribute the lamps
- my cousin, Edsel Lima, for joining us for the distribution
- Chieftain Romeo Lorana, for coordinating the festivities
- Mayor Jason Gonzales, for being a gracious host
- One Million Lights Philippines representatives, Raffy and Sean, for providing assistance in the delivery of the solar lamps
- Department of Education, Region VI, for their support with local education leaders
I would especially like to say thank you to those who donated money to buy the lamps — your donations have helped change the lives of the people of Panuran. It is such a life-changing experience to have given these people the gift of light, and by knowing that the small things in life may be things I have been taking for granted, I have also learned how to appreciate what I have and the importance of giving to others. Thank you.
Madamo gid nga salamat! (Thank you very much!)