Lasting Community Development in the Philippines By Linda Unger From the May/June 2012 issue of New World Outlook
The tiny hamlet of Nayon lies wedged, literally, between a rock and a hard place in the Sierra Madre Mountains of the Philippines. There, on a February afternoon, a small group of six Dumagat men take up their seats on rocks, roots, and a makeshift bench in the yard of a small, wood plank house. The dirt beneath their feet is dry for the moment, but the air has turned humid, reminding the men that, before long, the rainy season will come to cut off and isolate their community.
Nayon—located in the province of Rizal east of Manila, the Filipino capital, and about 24 kilometers from a paved road—is already a challenge to reach. The only way into the community is a dirt path full of protruding boulders and crisscrossing rivers. In the dry season, it takes hours to travel those 15 miles in a 4x4 vehicle. But for six months during the year, when the rains fall and typhoons threaten, the hamlet becomes inaccessible.
The men gathered this afternoon are the core group of Nayon residents whose task it is to help the community’s 76 Dumagat families develop agricultural production in sometimes harsh, often unpredictable conditions. They are joined under the trees by Tony Bueza and Ted Borebor of Harris Memorial College, a key partner in a Ministry with the Poor initiative in this area of the Philippines. The Dumagats voice their main concern: how to get their produce to market. Getting Produce to Market
That there is produce to get to market is a new thing for this ancient, indigenous people. “It is the first time the Dumagats are actually planting,” Bueza explains to a visitor. “They used to walk long distances and look for food. Now they farm nearer to their homes.”
Today, the Dumagat community in Nayon and two other Dumagat in Nayon and two other Dumagat communities in the hamlets of Kinabuan and Manggahan grow squash, eggplant, string beans, papaya, herbs, and ginger in backyard gardens and on communal farms. They have established seed banks and are also raising goats.
As the core group’s conversation develops, it is clear that there is no quick fix to the issue of transporting the produce. The Dumagats, who have only their feet to get them from place to place, currently rely on unscrupulous middlemen to get their goods to market. They shoulder loads of up to 100 pounds and carry them for an hour to reach the nearest public transportation. Then they’re charged heavy transport fees, leaving the farmers only pennies in profit for their hard work. Ministry with the Poor
Clearly, the men agree, a more complete agricultural plan is needed. Such a plan would include everything from diversifying crops and protecting them with natural pesticides, safeguarding farm tools, and determining the most profitable time to bring crops to market to researching the different markets that may be available and addressing the problem of the unpaved, flood-prone road and the lack of transportation. That broadening and deepening of the questions associated with lasting community development—while rejecting the quick but unsustainable temporary fix—is at the heart of Ministry with the Poor.
Since the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, Ministry with the Poor (www.ministrywith.org) has been one of the church’s four areas of focus. The initiative in the Philippines is financed and guided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and other program areas of the General Board of Global Ministries. It is being implemented by Harris Memorial College’s Center for Community Development.
“We will be happy to see the Dumagats stand on their own,” says Angie Broncano, the center’s outreach director. “Our wish for them is self-reliance. That’s the goal: community empowerment and self-reliance. Success comes,” she continues, “when people can articulate their own needs and solutions, and advocate for them.”
The Ministry with the Poor initiative in the Dumagat communities began in November 2010 as a multiyear—but not open-ended—project. The dynamics of community development are not so readily confined. True change takes time and begins with the patient process of building trust. “At first, the people resisted the idea of communal farming,” says Tony Bueza, “and we had only five to ten people who wanted to participate. Now more people want to join in. The same is true of a livelihoods project in basket weaving,” he adds. “During the first six months it was difficult to convince anyone to participate in the project, but now more people want to do it.”
Tatay Lope—a tall, lanky man with a hearty laugh—says that he and his neighbors are grateful for the tools and seeds the program introduced, even if last year’s typhoons destroyed some of their crop and Filipino counterinsurgency soldiers in the area took the rest. “We know you listen to us, to our needs,” he tells Bueza. Loss of Resources
The Dumagat people had a traditional way of life that served them for many generations. Hunters and gatherers, they simply moved to where they could best hunt or forage for food. There still are some 30,000 Dumagats in seven provinces of Luzon, the Philippines’ northernmost island. Gold, iron ore, and manganese (a component in the production of iron and steel) can all be found on the ancestral lands of the Dumagats in the barangay (village) of Santa Inés, where Nayon and Kinabuan are located. “The irony,” says Broncano, “is that here we have a resource-wealthy barangay with the poorest people.”
Covetous of the minerals, precious metals, water, and fertile land, outside settlers and mining companies began to encroach on the Dumagats’ officially acknowledged ancestral lands. They pushed the Dumagat communities farther up the mountains into increasingly isolated pockets. Some settlers began to grow rice on Dumagat land, obliging the Dumagat people to establish their communal farms more than a two-hour walk up steep paths from their homes.
River water and nearby Laguna Bay also represent a coveted resource. When Metro Manila Water Works and Sewage System announced plans to build the Laiban Dam, Dumagats and other residents feared their barangays would be among the eight that would be submerged—forcing some 10,000 people to evacuate and be displaced. Nanay Miling, a 60-year-old Dumagat woman of Nayon, says that, when she learned she and her people were being “used,” she decided she needed to participate in the program’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) classes. “Sometimes I’m embarrassed because I study with the children,” Miling says. But, she adds, “Age doesn’t matter. I want to learn some new things I can use in my life. I want to learn to make plans and help the community.” A Comprehensive Project
Sustainable agriculture, literacy and learning, livelihoods, health care, and advocacy are all integral to the Ministry with the Poor initiative in the Philippines—also referred to as the Comprehensive Community Development Project with Dumagat Communities. “It’s about creating a mutual opportunity with our partners in the communities to make a difference in this world,” says June Kim, UMCOR’s executive in charge of programs that address world hunger and poverty, including this sustainable agriculture project. Developing that “mutual opportunity” through a holistic program based on accompaniment and empowerment of local communities—ministry with rather than for the people—doesn’t happen overnight.
“It may take years to see the results of such an integrated approach to development,” says Rebecca Asedillo, Global Ministries’ executive secretary for Asia and the Pacific, who oversees the Philippines initiative. But it is the investment of time, patient listening, and accompaniment that will give the program’s outcomes a greater chance of enduring.
The first milestone celebrated by the Ministry with the Poor initiative in the Philippines was gaining the trust of the Dumagat communities. “The people are more expressive now than they were when we first arrived in November 2010,” reports Broncano. Bueza says Tatay Lope now refers to him as “his eldest son”—attributing this growth of trust in part to the fact that program staff members have been consistently visible and available in the Dumagat communities. “Generally, there are three or four of us spread out among the three villages,” Bueza points out. Volunteers and students from Harris Memorial College also provide support.
The Dumagats have felt encouraged enough to establish core working groups, such as the agricultural core group mentioned earlier. There are sector-related core groups for education, health care, youth, and women, as well as community core groups that relate to each other across the three hamlets. These groups not only accomplish groundbreaking work in their particular fields but also encourage participants to develop leadership, planning, and organizational skills.
Nanay Juling serves in the health core group in Kinabuan. “It is very important to train the community in health care,” she says, noting that there is no doctor or medical clinic in the village. Gastrointestinal illnesses, diarrhea, worms, and skin diseases abound. Juling looks over her shoulder at the plants growing in an herb garden behind the ALS instructor’s home in Kinabuan. “I want to learn the herbal remedies,” she says.
Nanay Juling has been an acting midwife for many years and reports that she has delivered hundreds of babies in all of Santa Inés. Now that she has been participating in ALS classes, she wants to seek government certification for her work. Later in the day, she and her husband, Tatay Bernardo, the village chieftain, proudly share a list of the names of some of the babies she has delivered. She wrote the list on a yellow legal pad. “This will help the mothers get birth certificates,” she says. Challenges Ahead
Like Nanay Juling, 20 people in Kinabuan and 60 in Nayon—women, men, and children—have signed up for ALS classes, though only about half of them participate on a regular basis. Adverse weather conditions, such as the 2011 typhoons that wiped out nearly all the crops in Nayon, along with the intimidating military presence in the area tempt the Dumagats to go out and search for food instead of going to class.
“The Dumagats were nomadic for centuries,” Broncano recalls, “so it has been hard for them to settle down, attend classes, and learn to farm. The Ministry with the Poor initiative is here only to guide them; it’s up to them to decide how they want to move forward. We may provide guidance and training in organic farming, but we realize that we may have to repeat the training more than once.”
In responding to the needs of the Dumagats, the program always respects and protects their heritage and traditions, helping them adapt to the shifts demanded of them by the encroaching dominant culture. For example, while encouraging them to learn to read and write in Tagalog, the Ministry with the Poor initiative is helping the Dumagats put together a dictionary of their own language, which is in danger of being lost.
Farming to feed their families and provide their livelihoods instead of foraging for food or working in commercially owned mines on their ancestral lands is also a cultural shift. Even when the Dumagats have an abundant harvest of ginger and squash, they are challenged to consider the best markets for their goods and ways to transport them—concerns that were not traditionally part of their world view.
At the close of the agricultural core group’s meeting under the trees in Nayon, Bueza sums up the group’s agreements. The men will inventory the seeds they have for planting and will decide which vegetables each family will plant. And the group will undertake a yearlong investigation of markets and prices, beginning with an exploratory visit the following month to the markets nearest by. Tatay Opel, who can write, will keep a log of their findings. Linda Unger is UMCOR staff editor and senior writer. She visited the Dumagat communities in February 2012.
Support Through The Advance Comprehensive Community Development Project for Dumagat Communities, Advance # 3021302 Photo: Angie Broncano (right) meets with Dumagat women in Nayon, located in the province of Rizal, east of Manila. She is the director of outreach at Harris Memorial College’s Center for Community Development.
Photo credit: Linda Unger/UMCOR.
Photo: Tatay Opel shows Angie Broncano some of the squash he has just harvested.
Photo credit: Linda Unger/UMCOR.
Photo: Dumagats of Nayon haul heavy loads up and down the rugged mountain terrain of their homeland. They must also haul their produce at least an hour’s walk to the nearest public transportation to get it to market.
Photo credit: Ciony Eduarte
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