April 11, 2011 gave me a high that I have never felt in my life. It was the day wherein the benefits of months and months of work were to materialize in a 5 hour, 250 solar lamp distribution project in Barangay Dugui Too. This community is one of the poorest on the Catanduanes Island. Families of nine would earn a mere P4,000 a month and would spend P1,200 of that on their lighting needs. Children would often only reach grade 6 and have little food on their table. Respiratory ailments and burns are a common sight among the young. This was the day that we would rid a community of its kerosene dependency and all the health and economic problems that come with it.
I did not know what to expect. Just arriving in Barangay Dugui Too on the back of a garbage truck got my heart pumping. Smiles and curious faces greeted us as we arrived at the distribution zone, a rundown basketball court. The children, as in most areas, were the most curious and watched us prepare for the day closely. I asked my self, “What would become of this day?” This was the day that would determine the success or failure in lighting up the lives of Filipinos quite literally.
To ensure an organized and efficient distribution, the Rotary and Interact clubs of Virac and the local government joined us in manning different distribution stations and in explaining how to operate and maintain the lights. I was requested to brief the Interactors in the Filipino language on how we were going to go through with the distribution and how the lights were to be used. This experience is still vivid in my head, as I can’t speak the language very well. Sweat fell from my face and nothing but mispronounced Tagalog and Bicolano words escaped my tongue. The Rotary club president was even there to wipe the sweat of my face as I held the megaphone. There was no time to laugh it off, as the distribution program began right after.
The villagers would be called to a stage one by one. As they approached, priceless expressions would dominate their faces. Curiosity, happiness, gratefulness, and eagerness would all be displayed. The Interactors including the One Million Lights team would man stations wherein hands-on tutorials on the most basic operations of the light would be conducted. As each light was put together and turned on for the first time, the eyes of the locals would shine bright. It was clear at this point that it would make a difference in their lives. Handing over these lights to the locals has been one of the most fulfilling moments in my life. You don’t just feel like you have helped them get by for another day, you know that it will change their lives for the better.
As the distribution drew to a close, the feeling of contentment filled my body as we sat on the stage eating carabao burgers. The adrenaline was still pumping as we witnessed the villagers slowly leaving the basketball court. It isn’t everyday that one gets to experience such a thing. Believing that everything had just happened was just as hard as believing that it just ended. It was a moment worth the sleepless nights, the problem solving and planning sessions. Knowing that someone is living a better life because of your help is the best feeling I have experienced.
As we made our way back to Virac on our garbage truck, I had a few minutes to my self. As everyone got occupied in their own thing, my thoughts were filled with flashbacks from every aspect of the project. It was at this point in early April that my dream of making this difference fully materialized. The amount of work that each and every one of us had to do was almost insurmountable. The hurdles we had to jump were often a bit higher than what we were used to. We spent so many nights just working to make sure things would happen. The question “is it worth it” would hound my consciousness day after day. The thought of just giving up popped up a few times, only to be shunned to the back of my head. Looking back at everything, I’m glad we all continued to move forward. I’m glad we never gave up.
As we prepared to leave Catanduanes for our lives in Manila, we received a message from one of the Interactors. He thanked us for our work and talked about how it has shown his club the spirit of giving and inspired them to take on their own projects. It was only after this point that I had an important realization. The work we do here is not just a benefactor-to-beneficiary event, but also a catalyst for others who want to help society in their own way. With One Million Lights, I hope to create social change. I see a bright future with empowered youth and more projects similar to what we do. The power to create change lies in us all; we just need to discover it.