After the Pinatubo Volcano eruption in the Philippines ravaged half of Zambales province in 1991, decades later, the area has yet to recover.
The eruption left the land of the Aeta people dry, treeless, and unproductive. Until today, the nomadic Aetas – among the most marginalised indigenous people in the Philippines – are still unable to have a sustainable life for themselves and their families. They live on 3,000 hectares of sacred ancestral but denuded land, constantly vulnerable to the whims of mother nature.
Majority of the land is still covered in lahar making it difficult for trees to grow naturally but a group of artists from the Philippines is trying to help them through crowdfunding.
Enter the non-profit organization For The Forest. Headed by artist Issa Barte, the NGO created fundtheforest.com, a shopping site where you can buy bundles for the reforestation in Yangil, Zambales. It was created with close friends and fellow artists Maita Jalandoni and Clara Pettersen, to build awareness on the issue through their mixed digital art that’s often shared on Instagram.
The goal is "to combat the climate crisis as well as empower the Aeta Tribe we work with one tree at a time," the site reads. "The ancestral lands we're restoring, once ravaged by the infamous eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, is set to be the new home of our growing forest."
Barte is a well-established artist in the creative industry, with 40,000 followers on her Instagram, but she believes there’s more she can do with her craft.
“I saw people my age working for the forest and I realized, why am I not doing something as well? If every one of [local celebrity] Nadine Lustre’s followers would help we could have a million trees planted. The idea of reaching people online can make a difference in reforestation,” Barte told VICE.
Due to the area being prone to floods, it’s harder for the Aetas to get food from the city which is an hour and a half away from their home. Planting trees would not only help the flooding problem but also make the tribe more self-sufficient.
"They depend greatly on the land and the environment, so rebuilding an agro-rainforest will make sure they will have sources of food, herbal medicine, and income by selling the fruits, vegetables, and lumber," AM Valdez of MAD Travel, a tour facilitator which brings visitors to the site, told VICE.
“We hope that we can help them be self-sustaining,” she added. “And when they don’t need to worry about their everyday needs, we also hope that they will have time and resources for their culture to flourish again.”
Bundles for sale on the site include water pumps for irrigation, carabaos for their mode of transportation, proper planting kits to replace the broken bottles they currently use as shovels, and seed starters that are all Filipino endemics to better survive the tropical climate. A package for all this would cost around just PHP 1,800 or $36.
These tools are then used by Fund The Forest together with the Aetas to plant trees, irrigate the land – essentially to rebuild the forest.
Those looking to make smaller donations can also purchase items individually.
The artists aim to raise PHP 1 million ($19,426) for the total reforestation. Since launching on October 12, the group has already received a number of donations but are still far from their end goal.
Barte said she hopes people realise that “it’s about time that those who have the means should give more people the opportunity for others to join in and take action."
“People don’t take action regarding bigger issues because they don’t know what or how to do it," Iya Aguilar, a donor to the cause, said. "For The Forest has made it easier for us to help in our own little way by giving us a trustworthy and convenient platform for donating funds. Although I hope that there are ways people can volunteer to help out in the actual area itself someday."
Conversion rate PHP 1 = $ 0.019.