Dear fellow Filipinos,
We know that things have been hard lately. Our country has faced so many challenges from different fronts, from the economic to the political, the educational to the digital, even from the social to the moral. And that is exactly why we wanted to tell you a story of empowerment and hope.
This is the story of how the people our society normally thinks of as “weaker” became the driving force of an entire community. This is the story of how women and seniors defied the odds and their environment because they dreamt of a better life for their families. This is a story that shows how our core Filipino values can help fuel positive actions that result in a better, brighter future…but only if we have the will to make it so.
This is our story.
We live in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija, a quiet town that makes its home in the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve. For decades, our people have made a living off the bounty of the land that surrounded us. The forest and the watershed gave us what we needed to not just survive but also thrive as a community. But as is often the case, the “weight” of supporting a growing community, can take its toll on the environment in which we live. In our case, we were seeing an increase in destructive practices, such as the burning of trees to use as fuel, and the indiscriminate disposal of garbage in our forests.
But what was our community supposed to do? We had limited means to continue making a living, to provide for our families, and to make sure our children had a chance at a better tomorrow. However, we did recognize that we needed to find a way to make sure our environment, the watershed that was so instrumental in our community’s daily life, could be preserved and could continue sustaining us.
All the men in the community were already fully engaged in farm and forest work, busily making ends meet and providing for their families. They had little time for other things, let alone leading community efforts in taking care of the forestland and watershed that had taken care of us for so long.
But then, the resilience and fortitude of the Filipino shone through.
In 2011, 26 senior citizens from our community, led by Rodrigo and Teresita Manzano, decided to band together to form the Kadangdanglaan Farmers’ Association Inc. (KFAI). And then, shortly after, in 2013, 17 women from our community, led by Evangeline Estrella, joined hands to form the Samahan Ng Kababaihang Makakalikasan ng Seguim Inc. (SKMSI). These two People’s Organizations (POs) had a singular mission in mind: to revive and rejuvenate the forestland around our community by helping address the destructive local practice of indiscriminate cutting and burning of forest resources, which was also causing an alarming decrease in the water supply for the irrigation of farmlands around the area while being able to provide more opportunities to augment their families’ daily income.
But we would not be alone in our mission. We found willing and conscientious expert partners who were as dedicated as we were in protecting the environment, like the people behind the Forestland Management Project (FMP), which is a joint initiative of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
And while our community members who formed these two POs were those not traditionally seen as the prime movers or main breadwinners in the community, nothing would dampen their sense of responsibility nor their drive for a better future. Whatever qualities they had that were perceived lacking due to their age, gender, or skillsets were quickly overcome by their passion, hard work, and innate intuition.
Through the FMP, we were entrusted with developing several hectares of forestland, and though the act of planting trees was difficult and tiring, the women and elderly in our organizations took on this challenge. Whenever possible, we also got the support of husbands, brothers, or sons, so that the care for these natural resources became a true community effort.
Our members making up the KFAI and the SKMSI took our mission to heart, attending the upskilling seminars and training sessions conducted by our partners from the FMP, DENR, and even the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and institutions like the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech). And whatever we learned we made sure to apply these lessons in the field and share them with others, until more and more of us became confident in our management skills, financial abilities, and even in the way we speak to other people. As empowered women and seniors, we found our voice along with a stronger sense of community.
And while we struggled at first to convince others to stop abusing the land, with the right communication and consistent efforts to educate, we eventually became the guardians of nature while still remaining advocates of progress and self-improvement.
KFAI was even able to create a fire protection plan, which included mobilizing a fire protection team to address not just man-made forest fires but also erosion problems that were endangering the local wildlife. This was how committed we were to keep our forestland safe.
We also took the leap to becoming microentrepreneurs and trailblazers, learning new crafts like food processing and chips production (banana and sweet potato). These new sources of income that helped tide our families over the lean months in between harvests and also helped alleviate the pressure on the community to make the surrounding forestland and watershed a constant source of livelihood, giving nature time to recover and replenish its harvested resources.
And during the pandemic, which further limited our livelihood, the women of SKMSI saw and grabbed the opportunity of going into another blossoming enterprise: ornamental plants. With the demand from plantitas and plantitos coming from all over Luzon, SKMSI was able to take advantage of this so that the local community could continue earning while learning a new trade.
Year after year, we, the members of the KFAI and the SKMSI, a group of seniors and women, helped our community not just earn more but also earn in more ways than before, all while helping protect and revive the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve. Our area is now slowly but surely regaining its former lush glory, and its verdant cover once again beautiful to behold.
But the job is not yet done. OUR job is not yet done. The mission of the KFAI, now 43 members strong, and the SKMSI, now with 26 members, will carry on. We cannot stop here, because to stop is to lose all our gains and possibly backslide into the dangerous situation we were in 10 years ago. Empowered by all that we learned, we need to continue moving forward, moving towards a sustainable future, contributing in a positive way to the world we all live in.
And this is only possible with your help, our fellow Filipinos. By looking closer at the work our seniors and women have done, their gains and accomplishments, may it inspire you to take a stand and help drive more organizations KFAI and SKMSI forward. May you see all members of your own communities, regardless of age or gender, as possible leaders in our shared quest for a better future, without destroying nature. Should you need proof that it can really be done, look no further. We are that example.
The Kadangdanglaan Farmers’ Association Inc (KFAI)
Samahan Ng Kababaihang Makakalikasan ng Seguim Inc (SKMSI)