“Now let us hold hands with the persons at our sides”, a voice from the loudspeaker blares . A few minutes, our group numbering more than 130 composed of women and men, village leaders, institutional partners and funding partners, formed a big circle that is almost half the size of a soccer field.
It was the culmination of a community activity that I attended in one of the rural villages in Mindanao, southern Philippines. The activity called Original Placement Ceremony, gathers women and men from 4 contiguous rural communities to receive the gifts of livestock, seedlings, seeds and farm tools coming from us so that they can improve on their income and generate agro-enterprises at household and group levels. The sustainable livestock production and marketing is made possible with support from our international partners, the DISOP Philippines and Heifer International Philippines through Luntiaw Mindanaw Inc, a non-profit organization I am working with.
Under a project that seeks to alleviate poverty among rural families by promoting self-employability, these gifts are given to more than 400 original recepients, mostly women, with the expectation that a year or less from now, they would be able to make the most of it and produce piglets and seeds that can be passed on to another batch of family recipients.
Now on our third project of this kind, the passing-on-the-gift community ceremony today that sends a hopeful message that women, who are now recipients of gifts can someday become givers themselves. That given with opportunities and guidance on improved livestock, sustainable farming, technical guidance and accompaniment, these families will be able to grow these gifts to better their lives and continue the acts of sharing and caring.
How do we help them fulfill this expectation? First, we work primarily with women in the communities where we are in. We work with women mainly because they have less opportunities than men and we believe that development projects that works for and invest on improving women’s well-being often result improved family and community well-being. We provide them trainings and continuous guidance in the field through our Community Facilitators. Through trainings and group meetings, we emphasize on the values of sharing and caring to build the social capital. We build their organizational strength through continuous dialogues and collective actions in creating income and savings, organizing learning visits to similar groups with successful innovations and tapping local partners. We help them become accountable to the members for every penny they receive as group support or income. We help them understand how the market works and how to make it work for them so that when they set up their business, they know how to link to buyers.
And the annual holding of passing-on-the gift ceremonies or POG, like today creates social pressure that would remind them of their obligation and aspire them to pass on the same gifts they received from us to another batch of family partners.
Almost always, these women did not fail us. Months later, these women with their families would be handing over piglets, seeds, seedling and a commitment to teach, to another set of resource-poor women and their families. Years ago, we only started with forty families, then with hundred families and now, we aim to reach 1,200 families by 2016.
One of the inspiring women that we partnered with is Nang Bayang, a tireless 70 year old woman. When she first came forward to become a recipient, we have our reservations on her ability to pass-on because she is already old and has an ailing husband to take care. "Can she take care of pigs and someday pass an offspring to another person? , was our question. She proved us wrong because later on, she became one of those who passed on a piglet, not just once but on several occasions that we held passing ceremonies. Despite her age and poverty, she is one of the most generous givers in her village.
And so now, as I reach out to hold hands and stand shoulder to shoulder with these new batch of men and women recipients, I am reminded that somehow, the small circle of sharing and caring groups that we started years ago just keeps getting bigger. And I look forward to it becoming even bigger this year.