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11 February 2009

Korean student-volunteers bring hope to former mining village in Zambales

SAN MARCELINO, Zambales – After two devastating events that destroyed their properties, hopes and dreams, the former mining community of Pili in the remote village of Buhawen here is now eyeing a better future.

Recently, student volunteers from the Soongsil University in Seoul, South Korea returned to the village to continue their annual outreach program that has thus far brought villagers their first computers, a new day care center, and their first lessons in information technology.

This year, the Soongsil volunteers helped the community in building a better road to Pili.

“This is the fourth time since 2006 that the Korean volunteers have come to help us,” said Buhawen barangay chairman Edgardo Dueñas, as villagers honored this year’s batch of 33 volunteers in a simple program here late last month.

“Every time they arrive in Buhawen, we give them a warm welcome,” Dueñas said. “We’d like to show them how much we appreciate their assistance and their concern for us.”

Out of the Ashes

Any form of assistance is a cherished commodity nowadays for the people of Pili, who suffered a shattering reversal of fortune when the nearby Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1992.

Pili used to be the golden village of Zambales after Benguet Corp., one of the country’s biggest mining firms, opened the Dizon Copper-Gold Operation (DCO) in this town in the 70s.

According to Benguet Corp., DCO was one of the most successfully mined ore bodies in the Philippines. In the 17 years that the firm operated DCO, some 750 million pounds of copper, 3 million ounces of silver and almost 2 million ounces of gold were produced in the area.

At its heyday, DCO boasted of one of the biggest mill tailings dam in the Far East, as well as a 900-unit township for its employees. Most of the folks of Pili, virtually awash with cash, had the latest in home appliances — televisions, stereo sets, and refrigerators.

However, the prosperous days for both the mining firm and the residents-miners abruptly ended in June 1991 when Mt. Pinatubo spewed great volumes of lahar and sulfuric ash into Pili and other areas around the volcano.
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Then two years later, Benguet implemented a phase-out program for the Dizon operation. In late 1997, the company turned over the property to Dizon Copper-Silver Mines Inc. (DCSMI), the owner of the claim.
Hope from Afar

The closure further devastated the mining folks of Pili, who had lost most of what they owned to the fury of Pinatubo.

“We did everything just to make ends meet,” Dueñas now recalled.

He said formers DCO workers ventured into gold panning, while Ayta villagers went back to upland farming. Others tried their luck on little businesses in the town market. And because of their remote location, reconstruction efforts by the government were slow in coming.

Then one day in 2006, Dueñas said, another ray of hope visited their village when a dusty jeepney brought in Rev. Pastor David Bang and his first batch of student-volunteers from Soongsil.

The first time they arrived in Pili, the volunteers obviously had no idea how they could help the community, considering the lamentable condition of the village from the ravages of the eruption and the subsequent lahar flows.

Yet villagers said the visitors showed a strong determination to help out and rebuild Pili in whatever way they can.

The first two years saw the Korean volunteers repairing classrooms and other community facilities like the day care center. Then last year, they constructed the computer room that they equipped this year with 10 computer sets. Then volunteers began conducting classes on computer operation and basic information technology.

“Now we have our own IT center that we call the Soongsil University Computer Room,” said Evangelina Yap, the principal of Buhawen High School.

“We have also included the Korean martial arts taekwondo in our curriculum to teach our students not only to defend them selves, but to instill among them the kind of discipline that we see among our Korean visitors here,” Yap added.

Two-Way Learning Rev. Pastor David Bang, who coordinates the Soongsil volunteer program, explained that the student-volunteers aim to assist communities and help promote understanding between cultures.

He added that the assistance is freely given “just as we have it free from the Lord.”

SUIV program coordinator Jimmy King, meanwhile, noted three reasons why the Soongsil volunteers kept going back to the remote village of Pili.

“When I came here the very first time, I noticed that the people around are very happy. And despite that their village is far away from the town, they looked so satisfied” he said.

King said the determination of the residents to adapt to their condition and situation made the Korean students decide to help.

Koreans could learn a lot from the Pili villagers, too, King added.

“I would tell my students how these people here stay happy in spite of their situation,” King said. “I would like to bring to Soongsil University this extraordinary happiness that I have seen among the people of Pili.” (SBMA Corporate Communications)

PHOTO: Korean Volunteers bond with local schoolchildren at the Pili community in Buhawen, San Marcelino, Zambales.

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