“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread”. This is one of the famous lines of Mother Teresa which is perhaps the inspiration of an Aeta woman who lived tragic, yet, meaningful life.
She belongs to the ‘Agtas’ tribe at Barangay Nangaramoan, Sta Ana, Cagayan. To one, she may just be an ordinary person. But in her community, she is an extraordinary, yet, a real woman with substance.
Her life is inspired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta who was recognized for her dedication in helping the poor, caring for the sick and loving the neglected.
When she was still a child, her father chose to give her to an evangelist believing that she will live a better life than be past exposed to a nomad in the forests. Luckily, she lived with God-fearing people and spent a worthwhile life in the mainstream society.
In 1982, a foreign missionary built an orphanage for abandoned and neglected Aeta children in Palaui Island in Sta Ana. Being raised in a family of evangelists, she volunteered to help the missionaries in caring for the orphans.
Like Mother Teresa, she spent her life feeding and guiding the children in their everyday life while they get their formal education and nurtured to be God-fearing. As she joined in the mission works, she also joined the learning sessions of the kids of her age until she eventually become literate.
Although she just had formal schooling, she took the courage to carefully study how to become an educator because she wanted to teach her co-Agtas.
“I want them to learn even just the basics. Writing their names, counting their money and knowing their rights so that they will not be fooled by anyone,” she said.
When she was able to gain confidence in teaching, she went on her way to teach values to the abandoned kids. She continued to be a servant until the missionaries had to leave the Philippines in 1997. Almost 50 children were left behind. Some went back to their families while seven were left in the orphanage under her care.
At first, she also wanted to give the children to willing foster parents as she does not have the means to raise them to become good children. It was during that time when she was reminded again of Mother Teresa’s words that “if you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one”. And so she fed not only one but seven.
To be able to raise the kids, she had to look for a livelihood. She gathered marine and forest resources such as seaweeds, shell food, honey bee and orchids and planted vegetables to earn for their day-to-day lives. She also enrolled the children in the schools in town despite challenges of having to sustain their daily needs and school requirements.
At age of 25, she got married. She thought God gave her a partner in life to raise the children and to build one happy family but she was wrong. She suffered maltreatment from her husband. She almost lost her life one day when her husband maltreated her for not submitting to her husband’s request… to abandon the seven children and leave her passion of teaching other Agtas.
“He asked me whom should I choose, he or the children. If I will abandon the children, where will I leave them and to whom will I entrust them. And so I chose the children because I am their mother. They need me more than my husband needs me,” She murmured with tears.
“Secondly, I cannot abandon the other Agtas who are willing to learn because I believe that I am an instrument of God in raising the children getting them education,” she added.
Because of that, her husband hit him until she suffered major injuries, the worst is that she almost lost her sense of sight. She ran, together with her adopted children, to her step father for rescue. Her husband was arrested by the police authorities and now serving the consequences of what he did in the jail.
Truly, she was right in following her heart’s desire. The eldest of the children, Zenny, is now married and serving as a volunteer non-formal educator in the Agta community, Rowel is also married and now a security guard, Mary Anne is now with a nun in Manila studying theology, Joan and Jennifer are enrolled in Grades 7 and 6 respectively, while she tutors Lawin and Daniel in preparation for a formal schooling.
“I will continue to serve them and give the best from me. I do not expect for anything in return but I will be happy and thankful if, later on, they will go back to me and show their love and care the way I cared and loved them when they were still young,” she answered when asked if until when will she perform her roles as mother to her adopted children.
Her duty in life does not end in her family alone. She passionately climbs up the mountain to reach out to Agta communities to teach them and to evangelize them with the word of God. Knowing her passion, she was tapped by other organizations and even government sectors to be a community volunteer organizer for Aeta programs.
“I used to go to different municipalities in the province to coordinate for Aeta programs. I also served as the link of the other Agta communities to civil society groups and government officials who want to meet them for some development programs,” she said.
Her dedication and sense of volunteerism is highly commendable. An Aeta woman like her whose passion is to help is something worthy of emulation. She really is inspired by Mother Teresa’s life. She is a catalyst for change in the modern-day tribal communities. She is a pillar of compassion and mercy. She is voice of the poor. She is Marissa Cortez. (PSL/OTB)