By. Ma. Rosetti G. Villamor
January 30, 2012, 6:20 am
I learned as much as I did (if not more) in my three days in Sultan Kudarat than in my three years of college.
On November 3, 2011, I found myself riding a van to Sultan Kudarat with two other XU students, three faculty program officers of Kristohanong Katilingban sa Pagpakabana – Social Involvement Office (KKP-SIO) and a driver. The province is only one of the many areas assisted by Catholic Relief Services an international nongovernment organization in partnership with XU through KKP-SIO. My job was simple: to learn as much as I can in the three days that we’d be spending with farmers in the outskirts of the city.
Despite slipping on the steep hills and getting cuts from barbed wires, I managed to learn a few very important theories from each of the many humble people living in the land where money is grown.
Theory #1: Anyone can get rich.
Magtanim ay di biro--especially if the people you are selling your hard work to are paying you less than you deserve.
Manong Ricardo Galve, resident coffee farmer of Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat describes his years as a farmer before XU-CRS came to his life, “Lisod jud.” Before, he sold all his harvest usually for a mere P30/kilo to a “middle man”. The middle man would then sell the crops to a huge company like Nestle Philippines, Inc. for P100/kilo, earning him a huge profit of P70/kilo!
Farmers would have a hard time selling directly to companies. Without proper equipment to filter the high quality coffee beans and knowledge of how much a good kilo of coffee is worth, farmers would have to endure a low profit for a year’s worth of harvest.
Then, XU-CRS Collaboration Project came along and the residents of Sultan Kudarat were handed with hope. The project involved teaching the farmers around the area how to properly plant coffee beans. Volunteers facilitated in clustering the farmers so coffee can be sold to companies in bulk. The farmers were even made to make a roleplay presentation to practice negotiating with managers for their market studies.
“Dako kaayo among pasalamat sa CRS,” Mang Ricardo says. After a year of having the project in motion, Manong Mike Bualan had bought a house and lot, cars, motorcycles and a touch screen phone---all in one harvest.
Manong Jimmy Ascuitin, overall cluster leader of coffee farmers and a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), however, invests his profit for a greener take in fertilizing their plants instead of enjoying a touch phone. He promotes the benefits of using organic fertilizers for eco-friendly farming.
Theory #2: Earnest people do exist.
Tumulong ay di biro----especially if you are a volunteer from a nongovernment
“On call ka lagi…walang holiday,” admits Alladin “JP” Guhmalon, Municipal Agro-Enterprise Facility (MAEF) volunteer in charge of the coffee farmers in Bagumbayan. Sometimes, he and his wife would fight about the time he spends in the farms instead of his family. Thankfully, his wife was formerly a NGO volunteer so she understands…at times.
“…[There are always times when] tawagan ka ‘pag may problema. Kahit Sunday o holiday mapilitan ka talagang pumunta sa area,” says JP. “Di mo maiwasan magagabihan sa area matapos ang meeting.” The road towards the area is long and treacherous, filled with remnants of landslides from recent storms. Travelling at night time is absolutely inadvisable.
It doesn’t help if the people you wish to assist aren’t very welcoming. JP recalls the time when he would always pack a tent when going to the area so he’d have somewhere to sleep when he has to stay for the night. “Noon, dito ako matutulog ‘pag magabihan,” says JP, pointing at a small spot next on a house’s front yard.
Sultan Kudarat is known for the Moro-Christian conflict of the past. According to JP, a Moro, the Christian members of the community didn’t trust him much in the beginning. But as soon as the residents realized that his intentions were selfless, he is now always offered a place to stay when he needs it.
NGO volunteers aren’t the only ones willing to lend a hand. Local government units of Bagumbayan provide the farmers a municipal nursery of coffee and improved the roads for easy access to the area. They then ship the healthy baby plants in a truck to the main area once they’re ready.
Theory #3: Students wish to do something more.
Matuto ay di biro---especially if all the facts and theories are confined inside the four walls of a classroom.
Before Sultan Kudarat, the place where I imagined being after college was the corporate world mostly because that was all my teachers taught me about. Then, Service Learning Program (SLP) came along and it opened so many possibilities more fulfilling than just being filthy rich.
I learned a lot in Sultan Kudarat. I learned that even the poor could get themselves a touch phone with hard work and some help. I learned that you can’t talk to other people like you would to your classmates… especially if that person was an MNLF. I thought I knew hard work until I was slapped in the face with all the success stories of Sultan Kudarat.
I saw opportunities in Sultan Kudarat as well. There were so many things I could give to the people there: the basics of accounting, tax
laws, and how to invest their profit properly. All of these I learned from my teachers and I want to pass it on to those who need them.
Right now, XU is working on integrating SLP with its different colleges, according to Mr. Arniel Daluz, SLP Coordinator. As for other projects, chemistry majors were able to warn the residents of Balingasag about the harmful chemicals found in its river. Food technology students taught the mothers of Jasaan how to make use of their rich vegetation instead of eating mere canned foods.
I shall never forget what I’ve learned in Sultan Kudarat, taught by experience, the most effective of teachers. I hope others too will learn about the real world in places where money is grown. C