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Building Self-reliance One Step at a Time
The story of Soto-Tanlag Self-help Group
Set in the middle of the dry and rugged terrains of Kalinga Province is Sitio Soto, one of the most depressed communities in the country. There the soil is almost barren, there is no electricity, and the single source of potable water is a well used pump donated a few years ago. When the rainy season comes, the only path that leads to the main highway turns into a muddy, slippery trail.
“Life is hard here,” laments Mang Pedro Licadang, a farmer who has been living in Sitio Soto for 20 years. “We can only grow limited crops such as rice, plantain bananas, native corn, coffee, and a few local vegetables. To sell our produce, we need to walk at least eight kilometers to reach the main road.”
Despite the difficulties, Mang Pedro and the other Sitio Soto residents refuse to fall into despair. They decided to work hard and band together. “We realized that we need to help each other and as a group, we can be stronger,” said Mang Pedro. Determined to build a strong organization, Mang Pedro and his companions decided to first join a farmers’ group in Kalinga before forming their own. “We knew that we did not have much knowledge and resources in forming an organization, and so we joined the Agbannawag Indigenous Farmers Association, Incorporated (AIFA). This proved to be a wise decision because we did not only acquire organizing skills, but more importantly were able to discover and work with Heifer International – Philippines.”
Heifer Philippines in Kalinga
Heifer International - Philippines (HPI) started helping impoverished families in Kalinga in 1999. After visiting and seeing the conditions in the Municipality of Lubuagan, the Philippine Team implemented the Draft Animal and Environmental Project in partnership with the Salidummay Communities Development Association, Inc (SCODA).
Not long after, HPI expanded the project coverage to the Municipality of Tabuk, this time in collaboration with the Agbannawag Federation of Associations and Cooperative. The federation served as an ad hoc partner group for the project, as the organizations which applied were still not capable to stand individually at that time. This federation was composed of the Agbannawag Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Inc. (AMPCO), Association of Mountaineers in the Cordilleras (AMOC), and AIFA in which Mang Pedro and his fellow Soto farmers joined.
HPI eventually implemented more projects and formed partnership with six more farmer groups. These were the Indigenous Multi-Purpose Cooperative (IMPCI), Namitpitan Bulo Farmers Associations, Inc (NBFAI), Bado Dangwa Federation of Association and Cooperatives (BDFCO), Ileb Farmers Development Association, Inc. (IFDAI), Pide Aguid Fidilisan Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PAFMPCI), and BIIK-CAHV.
Genuine need calling
According to Mihan Buliyat, HPI’s Regional Program Manager for North Luzon, poverty and lack of support have long been the plights of families in Kalinga. “The province is mostly home to indigenous tribes which, sad to say, are often neglected. They are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, but because of the hilly terrains of the province, they can
Pedro Licadang and his sugarcane crop
only grow limited crops,” he said. He added that basic infrastructure and agricultural assistance are lacking. As such, families are having a hard time increasing and marketing their produce. Due to lack of income, families are migrating to forested areas.
Youth and children have a high tendency to drop out of school, and this affects them even when they are already out of the classroom. “Because of their inadequate education, families and children are deprived of opportunities to plan beyond their communities. If ever they attend trainings, they cannot participate much in activities that require writing and reading,” Mihan said. He likewise added that parents and children are not full aware of proper health and sanitation practices.
Working for self reliance
These situations, however hard, did not daunt Mihan and the HPI team in extending development assistance. “Although there were problems in the communities, we saw the inherent strengths of each family. For one, they have this strong sense of unity and mutual help. They are very eager to learn new skills and are willing to work hard,” said Mihan. Further, having lived on settlement areas built by the government, each family has a tract of land on which they can raise crops and animals for food and income.
Working on these strengths, HPI implemented more poverty alleviation projects in Kalinga. These include the Community Animal Health Volunteer (CAHV) wherein farmers were trained to render basic veterinary services for animals; Children in Livestock Development (CHILD) which taught children to raise poultry and earn income for their school expenses; and the Sustainable Development Program for Luzon wherein farmers received draft and small animals and learned sustainable agriculture and soil renewal practices.
Mang Pedro was one of the beneficiaries of the Sustainable Development Program for Luzon. He received several trainings and a carabao from the project. “To others, a carabao may not mean a lot. But for us here in Sitio Soto, it is almost a lifeline,” he stated. Mang Pedro explained that because of their distance from the main highway, most of his fruits and vegetables end up bruised. “I cannot command a good price for my produce. But with the carabao, my income from selling my harvests improved. I used to earn P1,000 but now I get P3,000-5,000 per harvest. Further, the carabao helps a lot in preparing our fields and hauling water and firewood.”
Mang Pedro said that he is grateful for the carabao and the trainings he and his fellow Soto farmers received, but even more for the values they learned from HPI and the inspiration they got from Mihan. “The concept of passing on the gift greatly improved our outlook in life. We realize that we have the capacity to help each other, even those outside our group, in spite of our situation. Knowing that you can help others is very fulfilling,” he said.
In the face of difficulties during the project, Mang Pedro said that they were encouraged greatly by Mihan. “He did this not by talking but by actually doing. Mihan worked hard to help us and did more than what the projects indicated. He initiated tree planting and beautification activities in Sitio Soto, and even helped some of our high school students obtain scholarships. He very kind and patient, smiles even when the situation is already angering and never dictates. He is a true development worker at heart.”
Now, Mang Pedro and his fellow farmers have started being self reliant. They separated from AIFA and have built their own organization, the Soto-Tanlag Self Help Group. The group has initiated several livelihood activities and is looking for further collaborations. “There are still a lot of problems in our community. The education, health, farming, and road systems need to be improved. We still have a long way to go, but what is important is that we have laid the foundations for progress. Thanks to organizations like HPI.”
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