Hiking uphill through the hot, tropical afternoon to the Aeta village of Baliwet, San Marcelino carrying our loaded backpacks was a challenge in itself. The happy thought of bringing some Christmas cheer into the lives of the very poor indigenous people kept us going. Our mission was to bring Christmas lights into their lives. It was inspiring and encouraging.
The only reward for our days hiking would be the healthy exercise, fresh mountain air, the aroma of flowers and fauna wafting from the forest vegetation and at the end of our journey would be the simple mountain food of the native people. There we looked forward to the Christmas joy and smiles that would light up the people’s faces when we opened our gifts. That would make it all worthwhile. Sharing with others is the joy of living.
These were the feelings and thoughts of Donard, Roger and Shawn- the dedicated community workers of the Preda organization who like the “Three Kings” were bringing gifts of Christmas lights to the remote mountain village. It was a mission to light up their lives and enlighten them about the rights and dignity of women and children.
In years past before electricity, candles and oil lamps helped dispel the dark and lessen the fears and imagined threats that it can bring. Children are most vulnerable to fear of the dark. They imagine menacing monsters and witches in the dancing shadows on the walls of their rooms or little house as they lay down to sleep. Life without a night light can be scary, dangerous and non-productive.
We take light and electricity for granted in our lives and most people in the modern world have never lived without it. With a majority of people in the world living in cities for the first time in human history, they hardly know what the sky looks like at night.
They cannot see the stars or the moon as they are too busy watching the screens of their television or smart phones or tablets. Many would be seriously disoriented and perhaps even traumatized if deprived of the electricity to run them.
Many people are alienated from the world around them and think nothing of the environmental destructive forces that are at work burning the fossil fuels that provide electricity. Power generation by burning coal and oil darkens the skies, damages our lungs, pumps carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that heats the planet and is changing the world’s climate for the worst.
Modern humans have lost much contact to the natural world. They rarely experience the dusk and the creeping darkness as the end of a working day. Few wake up with the rising sun.
A Christmas star these days is a comet that does not herald the coming of a saviour and captivates awe struck ancient people as it had at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays modern people land scientific instruments on its surface to determine its composition and ask how comets might have contributed to human life on Earth.
But we ought be asking how all the magnificent scientific theories, learning and discoveries are benefiting mankind to end poverty, human hardship and social injustice. They are not. The meaning of the Christmas story has been lost to the modern craze of self-indulgence, greed and an unreflective life overwhelmed by commercialization, triviality and nonsense.
Self-giving to help others is alien and incomprehensible to many these days. Gratifying personal urges, desires and wants is the paramount purpose of living and it is self destructive. The massage of Jesus of Nazareth can change all that if believed and followed.
The poor wallowing in poverty and hunger are left to wallow. But the greatest values and unselfish human behavior so necessary to human kind are in the Christmas story and gospel message. They are the key of the survival of the species and the planet.
As the “Three Kings” arrived in the remote Aeta village, they were greeted with delight and smiles and a great welcome by these people of simple rural living. They have no electricity and have lived according to the natural cycle where the rotation of the earth and its journey around the sun determines their life and that of all living things. That was about to change.
After the welcome and a humble healthy meal, it was time for gift giving. They opened the backpacks and laid out the forty lights that are part of a bigger donation of solar lamps from the parishioners of churches in Melbourne in Australia. The people understood immediately what they were and clapped with glee and beaming smiles.
Each lamp is made as a hard plastic disk in the shape of a thick pancake with a dozen tiny LED bulbs on top. They are powered by rechargeable batteries. The bottom of the “Pancake Lamp” needs to be exposed to the sun to recharge the batteries. In the Philippines there is lots of sunshine. The lamps last up to 9 hours a charge. Technology had provided a way to save the sun into the night.
Now the children can do their home work, the adults can carve, do woodwork and basketry. Some adults who can read will enlighten themselves with the educational comics brought by the “Three Kings.” In other less safe villages where women and children have to go out at night to the communal toilet, they will be safer with the bright lamps. The fear of the dark has been banished.
This simple but effective and efficient lamp is bringing light to hundreds of people in remote places. But it reminds us that solar and wind power and geothermal electricity generation is the way of the future if we are to save our planet and ourselves. Christmas is about salvation, in this world and the next.