Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Saltan Farmer's Association

 For the past five days, the E-Care staff of EDNL have been in Saltan, Balbalan. We worked with community members to host three days of capacity building trainings for the newly formed Saltan Farmer's Association. The members of St. Timothy's Episcopal church revived the organization at the end of the last year to serve as a channel for church members to partner with NGO and local government to develop the community. The first project SFA decided to take on was a partnership with E-Care for small scale livelihood assistance and organic farming systems.

We arrived on Saturday night and attended the early mass on Sunday. Afterwards we had breakfast and coffee and went right into the days trainings. We had sessions on gender empowerment, bookkeeping, savings and loans, and leadership. The members then had their first official meeting where they set up procedures, rules, regulations, and finally voted in their very first board of directors.

The next day we had a training seminar on production of organic feeds and fertilizers using local plant, snails, coconut vinegar, sugar, and the wonders of fermentation.

Tuesday we spoke with the community members and brainstormed ideas for current and future projects. They are interested in improving the irrigation system to their rice fields. While in the past the fields were irrigated, a major earthquake in the early 90s changed the landscape and the old system is no longer usable. So we hiked 6 miles round trip to evaluate the canal and mountain spring that is the source for the irrigation system.

By a stroke of luck, we were in town for the municipal women's day. So, after supper that evening we went to the town plaza and watched the local women perform speeches, compositions, songs, and traditional dance.

Finally on Wednesday, we got down to the nitty gritty business of running a community organization. We spend long hours in the Sari-sari store of one of our members drinking coffee, and setting up the books. As the day progressed, most members of the organization dropped by and took an interest in the methods. By the end of the day, the SFA was ready to provide its first ever livelihood assistance program to its members.

The staff went back to our quarters at the end of the  day exhausted and shared dinner and conversation in the cool nights air of the Cordillera Mountains.

The freshly elected SFA Board of Directors.
Members preparing our chicken lunch.

Me doing our bookkeeping training.

Rice fields outside of St. Timothy's Church.

Aldwin presiding over the drafting of the SFA constitution.

Cuttings from leafy plants, bamboo shoots, and banana trunks to be used for organic fertilizer production.

Member provides music for our coffee break.

Member's children lounging in the outdoor kitchen.

Jocel conducting training on organic farming systems.

Mixing sugar with plant cuttings for fermented plant juice fertilizer.

Preparation of ginger and garlic for fertilizers.

Jocel oversees while women crush the snails from the rice paddys and the men chop herbs.

Jocel, Aldwin, and our community members taking a little break during our hike to the water source.

Ginebra San Miguel: a member's dog who followed us all the way to the source.

Chatting and snacking at the water source.

Member teaching us the local history during WWII.

The treasurer accepts the first livelihood application in our makeshift office.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lubuagan Weaving Festival

Lubuagan, Kalinga is a community of around 30,000 individuals in the Cordillera Mountains of Northern Luzon. The main livelihood of the people is farming with rice as the primary crop. The production of handicrafts by traditional methods still contributes greatly to the livelihood of the community. Crafts include woven materials, pottery, beads, rattan, and soft brooms, all produced according to the indigenous tradition.

An integrated modern and indigenous education program is integral to the community’s values. With this in mind, St. Teresa’s, a private Catholic school, applied for a grant in 2011 to found the School of Living Traditions. Its original intentions were to enable women to pay their children’s tuition while educating young women in the art of weaving. The program was a success, training 13 young women in the art the first year. The program then moved to the public Lubuagan Central School, in order to intensify its impact. Unfortunately, the government cut its grant support for the project. The School of living traditions has continued its efforts in teaching indigenous craft, dance, music, stories, and values.

The 15 women weavers involved in the project formed their own organization, the Mabilong Weaver’s Association, in order to continue the practice and teaching of weaving. The name comes from Barangay Mabilong, population 1,400, which is the customary base of weaving in the area and the home of all the weavers. While, they no longer have a weaving center, the women have found working in their own homes more productive, as they can tend to their household chores and families. Their products include skirts, jewelry, collars, shoes, and purses.

The E-CARE Foundation had the joy of attending the Lubuagan annual town fiesta in order to experience the impact of the school. The day started bright and early with a parade through the town with brief demonstrations from the school marching bands. Then at the parade ground we listened to a speech about the town's motto, "Weaving Our Rich Culture for Economic Development". The speaker stated the goal of the Lubuagan community was adaptation. She encouraged the community neither forget the past, nor to stop evolving, but rather to find a way to move into the future on their own terms. After the speech, we watched a native dance and music competition and weaving demonstration put on by the local schools. We ended the day by meeting with the members of the Mabilong Weaver's Association to discuss a possible marketing partnership with E-Care. Look forward to spending more time with the ladies and learning more about their unique take on education.
6:30 AM with Lubuagan in the Distance

Our Lovely Hosts, Padi John and His Wife
Apparently, I Wasn't Dressed for the Occasion

The Parade

The Town Gathered to Watch the Procession

Community Gathered at the Parade Grounds

Weaving Demonstration by Lubuagan Central High School
Traditional Dance Competition

Elementary School Division

Detail of the Local Pattern

The Mabilong Weaver's Laptop Bag
The Gorgeous Mablilong Heels and My Debut as a Foot Model

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Evaluation Trip

The Group from Cabiroan at the Water Source.
Sitio Hall in Cabiroan where we spend he night.

Crop Storage Bodega and Drying Pavement

Mini Mill for Feed Production

Our Truck and the Town Tractor

Crossing Creeks on the Way to the Source

Crawdads for Lunch!

Corn Field with the Ocean in the Distance

Clearing the Way to the Source

Breakfast in the Field


Mother Making Use of the Water System

Evening in Santa Clara, Gonzaga

Interviews With Community Partners

An Unexpected Livelihood: Community Members Can Now Grow Plants and Flowers for Sale.

The Barangay Tanod and Philippine National Police Helping With Our Flat.

Organically Raised Hogs in Isabela

Checking Out Aldwin's Rice Farm With the Indomitable Kayla Massey
A week ago, we took a four day trip to Gonzaga, Cagayan, on the Northern coast of Luzon. Along with the regular crew of Jocel and Aldwin, we brought along two external evaluators to look at our projects and give us constructive feed back.

Our first stop was the sitio of Cabiroan where, in 2012, we partnered with the community to install a water system. Until this time, the community supplied it water needs by manually pumping from communal wells. The first night we camped out at the sitio hall and had a wonderful dinner. I think I lived my mom's worst nightmare when at one point I found myself eating a bowl of oysters and dog meat. Frankly, I found it wonderful. The evaluators and I got a little nervous when they community members began to show concern over whether we would be able to make it to the water source the next morning. Turns out the mountain spring source was a 6 kilometer round trip hike. Let's think about what this means. In order to find a source of clean water, i.e. one that carabao didn't wallow in, the community had to go 3 kilometers. This also means that the community, without heave machinery, laid over 4 kilometers of pipe by hand. All of this after spending five months digging down to a safe level in the spring, and building an intake tank and reservoir. The community divided into teams, worked six days a week to complete this project, including providing meals and shelter. Six months after this, the community worked together to install an electrical grid as well. People commented that before the water system, this all seemed impossible, especially working together as a community. Cabiroan is a migrant community consisting of many different tribes and even some nomadic groups.

The next day took us to Barangay Santa Clara where we have a long standing partnership with the community including a water system, post harvest facilities, co-op foundation, and livelihood assistance funds. This was the most developed of the three communities that we visited thanks to a strong sense of unity in the community. We again visited the water source, only slightly closer. We also visited our first project in the community, post harvest facilities. These consist of large concrete drying pavements. This allows the farmers to dry their crops to prevent spoilage. Since the only other option for many people is to dry along the side of the road, rocks and dirt contaminate the crop and reduce the retail value. This project also includes a bodega for proper crop storage and a feed mill for the production of organic feeds. We also got to visit the green houses of two women, who discovered after they had access to water, they were able to use their skills are gardeners to grow lowers and decorative plants for sale in the nearby towns.

Finally, we visited the community of Laok, which in the local dialect translates to "mix" as the community is, again, a mixture of many different tribes. To the extent that the local dialect was unlike any of the dialects the 4 Filipinos in our group spoke and we had to rely on translators and English to communicate. This community does not yet have electricity or a water system, but after the successful completion of agricultural enhancement projects with our organization, they are in the application process for a water system.

After this we took off to the Diocese of Santiago, where the evaluators were scheduled next. Unfortunately, around 10 PM, out back tire blew out. And the spare was flat. Luckily, we looked incredibly suspect, I guess since we were in front of the school. After about 10 minutes, we got busted by the 3 members Barangay Tanod, or local police force that had been called out. 3 minutes later, another 3 members arrived. Since that didn't seem to be enough,  5 minutes after that, 4 members of the Philippine National Police got called to come check us out. Which mean 10 law enforcement officers to the 5 of us. I think I would feel pretty safe living in this Barangay. They were very kind and drove us and the spare tire to be filled and got us on our merry way.

On the last day of the trip we stayed in Santigao, home of my fellow YACSer Kayla. We had a great day checking out a new rice mill, an organic agriculture demo center, and Aldwin's experimental organic rice farm.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Awong Chi Gongsa: The Sound of a Thousand Gongs

This weekend marked the 20th anniverary of the founding of Kalinga Province in Northern Luzon. 20 years ago the province split from the province of Apayao in order to better serve the needs of the local peoples.

The population of Kalinga province is incredibly diverse, consisting of 48 different tribes. In this diversity is a history of persistent inter-tribal violence. The name of the the province itself can be translated as "headhunter" or "enemy". While headhunting is by no means the modern way of the Kalinga people, there is still a strong sense of tribal affiliation. This at times manifests in cycles of revenge and violence. An article from an NGO operating in Kalinga quotes local Sison Paut, “most of crime cases in Kalinga are related to tribal conflicts. While it is all quiet right now and there is no war going on, peace and order in the province is volatile because hostilities that happened even long ago can be rekindled. Here in Tabuk, once it is 7:00 PM, you do not see people walking out in the streets and there is hardly any vehicle on the road. There is that fear of either being affiliated with a tribe or caught in crossfire.” National court cases concerning anything, land disputes, traffic violations, or violence, always include mediators from the tribes of the parties involved. The local Episcopal Churches are also deeply involved in efforts for reconcilliation and peaceful mediation.

In a province of so many different tribes, what brings people together? What enabled the people to come together from the far reaches of the province and celebrate together, as I witnessed this weekend? I asked a friend of mine about this, and she looked at me a little funny. Wasn't the answer clear? "Because we are all indigenous people... we have to protect our traditions." One tradition that all these tribes have in common in the playing of gongs. This is a live and energetic part of life for the people of Kalinga. In my time here, anytime there is any sort of celebration or gathering, I know it is not finished without the inevitable playing of the gongs and the dancing that goes along with it. The different tribes and regions have different rhythms and melodies, but they all play gongs.

So for this Kalinga day, the province issued a call for 1,000 gongs for peace in Kalinga. This meant that all of the 11 municipalities, and their various tribes, would have to come together and play. On Monday, February 16th, this vision became a reality. Each municipality, dressed in different colors, paraded through Tabuk ending at the local sports arena. Then, each group gave a performance of their own particular style of gong playing and dance and moved on to each form a letter in the provincial motto, "Kalina Shines".

But the real exciting moment of the day came, when at long last, the gigantic gong was struck, and all the people played and danced in unison. At this point, the letters, once segregated by colored t-shirts and tribes, moved and mixed together to form the word P-E-A-C-E. The crowd stood and roared. In that moment, it seemed like a prayer briefly answered. There was something that the people agreed upon besides the playing of gongs, a deep desire for peace, unity, and cooperation of the indigenous peoples of Kalinga province.

The Crowd and Food Vendors Assemble to Watch the Parade.

The Representatives from the Municipality of Tabuk.

The Parade Enters the Arena Alongside the Giant Master Gong

Keynote Speakers Having a Chat Before the Program

A Tableau Representing the Products and Livelihoods of Kalina Province

A Tableau Representing the Natural Resources and Beauty of Kalinga Province

Tableau Representing the Spanish Colonial and Religious History of the Philippines

Dancers Trying to Escape the Heat During the Presentation

From Left to Right: The Flag of The Philippines, The Cordilleras Region, and Kalinga Province
The Kiddos and the Motors
The Elders

The Gong Players and Dancers Formed the Motto "Kalinga Shines"

In Formation Waiting for the Playing to Begin

The Youngers

The Sound of a Thousand Gongs