The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) which earlier partnered with RISE and partner communities MKKs (Magagmay nga Kristianong Katilingban) in repairing and building six public school classrooms in the municipalities of Barotac Viejo, Lemery and San Dionisio, brought Mr. Titon Mitra, the Country Director (CD) of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and his colleague, Atty. Golda Roma to Lemery, Iloilo last June 11, 2015 in the afternoon. We are overwhelmed and inspired by the effort of CD Mitra as he sought to meet directly our partner communities, now transformed into MKK Consumers Cooperative, despite the long travel from Iloilo City and a plane to catch later back to Manila. In behalf of the local government, Vice-Mayor Cecilia Lumampao warmly welcomed them.
CFO earlier selected our livelihood project, now championed by the newly organized MKK Consumers Cooperative, as one of the three projects supported by the Joint Migration Development Initiatives (JMDI) in Western Visayas. The personal visit of Country Director Titon Mitra representing the United Nations Development Program surprised us but likewise validated too what we are doing.
The partner MKK communities met him, close to two hundred of them. While we prepared a formal presentation for CD Mitra, CFO representatives and personnel from National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) – Region VI, addressing the time constraints, we let the partner communities themselves articulate the project processes and outcomes. The first to share was Delsa Buenavista, a survivor from Naborot Island where we started our modest efforts when Yolanda happened last November 8, 2013. Incidentally, Delsa was the subject of the video documentation earlier commissioned by CFO to launch their JMDI project. It was heartbreaking to directly hear from Delsa the horrors of Yolanda on that day, yet so heartwarming too to hear how they recovered starting from rebuilding their sense of community.
The next to share were Melissa Guerra and Xzy Bernel, two of the project’s homegrown leaders coming from the communities themselves in far-flung barangays of Lemery. We’re very proud about these emerging leaders from the barangays and we saw their amazing transformation from being shy and inferior to being articulate and assertive. They knew little about UNDP but they were aware they were briefing an important guest, or better, partner, in the person of Titon Mitra, the CD no less. But they appeared to be un-intimidated, and they casually shared the story of the 3D Map they constructed as a community, all of which were displayed right before the visiting partners. The two women basically recounted that at first, they were daunted as it appeared to be very technical. But when they got to work through simplified technology, and finally completed the 3D map of their barangay in a most accurate depiction. They felt extremely proud of themselves that it is not the external experts doing this for them but themselves. They made the 3D Map as their reference for Community Processing as they realized that no one else but them could account for the environmental degradation that happened in their locality through the decades.
The women representing their communities recounted to CD Mitra and party that the dominant trend that came out during the Community Processing was the adverse environmental effects as a result of their vast upland areas converted into corn plantations. These denuded forest covers resulted to floodings in lowlands that destroyed crops and properties. Massive use of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides contaminated their waterways. They reported resource loss, like indigenous fish species in their rivers and creeks that are all gone now. They also disclosed that the widened area of corn plantation did not reduce poverty among them. Only the financiers, who are all outsiders, made money.
The Project Manager reiterated these findings and emphasized that the communities would push for their Barangay Councils to adopt the findings and recommendations and pass Resolutions to be endorsed to Municipal Council. This way their environmental initiatives get mainstreamed into governance and policy environment. It was happily announced to CD Mitra and Party that the local government of Lemery through their Municipal Planning and Development Office (MPDO) had decided to adopt and implement the Participatory Vulnerability Mapping to the whole municipality.
CD Mitra and Party also dropped by the temporary Common Service Facility that house the food processing of the MKK women. They already produce a variety of pickled products and other delicacies that are marketed as far as Manila. Then they proceeded to Barangay Cabantohan to witness the blessing and turnover of CFO-assisted construction of public classroom, as well as the Communal Organic Vegetable Farm.
As a response, CD Mitra gave these inspiring thoughts:“From my experience of crisis situations, the first to respond are the communities themselves. The last people to come in are the UN, government, NGOs, military. The keyword is for the community to develop resiliency and be able to prevent disaster from happening. What you have here (referring to the 3D Maps) is in many ways a beginning of that process…if you understand what your environment is, you understand what the risks are, you can better respond. In the Philippines, people have been telling me that more than 80% of the forest cover is gone…and the only people who could recover this are yourselves. I hope that in your planning, you do something like replanting and other similar initiatives because it will be your children, as well as mine, who will benefit from what we leave behind.”
Referring to the temporary Common Service Facility that hosts the food processing business of partner MKKs, CD Mitra positively noted that “We’re trying to motivate migrant Filipinos who are doing good outside but have strong affinity with the Philippines…they may want to invest in this kind of initiatives…the role of UNDP is to help facilitate and sometimes, having the United Nation’s name behind the project gives a lot of confidence for donors that money would be spent properly.”
CD Mitra ended his response with the inspiring words: “Keep up the good work!”