The coconut tree is called "the tree of life" for a good reason. Aside from endless list of products derived from its various parts, the tree also provides environmental and economic benefits to the communities where it grows. It is this tree that provides the solution to my heart felt cause to help lift farmers out of poverty and it fulfills my mother’s vision to provide education to the children of her impoverished village, Kuyaoyao.
Here is my plan to transform this village from poverty, illiteracy, and high unemployment into economic prosperity. Then we can replicate this model in other areas of the Philippines and perhaps around the globe.
This story begins in a tiny village called Kuyaoyao. I remember waking up early dawn when I was a young a boy, to catch a train from Manila to Calauag (the nearest town to Kuyaoyao, in the Province of Quezon, a distance of 145 miles from Manila) with my mother (who is now deceased) and my grandfather (her father, also deceased). I can vividly recall upon arrival to Calauag the Spanish architecture of homes covered with sliding capiz windows (Capiz is a bi-valve that is edible, but the people prize it more for the shells and the pearls. The shells have been used for thousands of years as a glass substitute). Some of the buildings remain the same , yet they are worn from weather, time, and general neglect. From the port of Calauag, we proceeded to ride an outrigger boat (called “bangka” by Filipinos) to Kuyaoyao. There were no motor boats available then so the caretakers of our family land met us to paddle our way to the village. Our family has owned 30 hectares of land here for more than 100 years and my sister, nieces, nephews and I have been thinking about what to do with it since my mother’s passing.
The sea was serene, pristine and clear. I felt one with nature as the boat skimmed through the water hearing only water splashes from the outriggers and the paddles. As we approached the halfway point to the village, as the far as the eyes can see is land abundant with coconut trees. It was a far cry from the concrete buildings that I was accustomed to seeing in Manila.
As we get closer to Kuyaoyao, we enter a water channel filled with submerged mangrove trees traversing the land – an experience only available during high tide. We dock on arrival and walk our way to one of the homes of the caretaker. There we are greeted by the villagers.
Now, fast forward to 2015. It is a place where time has stood still except some of the faces have changed. Huts are common homes to most villagers; they have no running water, and they walk everywhere. Cars are not common - none of the residents own one. The children walk many miles to go to school in all sorts of weather including the rainy seasons where the paths are muddy and nearly impossible to cross at times. Only some of the children have shoes. Older children have to cross the ocean to attend another school district. With an average fifth grade education level for the whole community, there is a high dropout rate . Education is an elusive dream for some, and many don’t dream of it at all -- poverty is a vicious cycle for generation after generation, causing most to decide earning a living to support the family is more important than advancing their education. It is this reason that my mother initiated a plan to build a school in the community. Unfortunately, she passed away before her vision came into fruition.
This is where my journey begins. As a way to make my mom's vision a reality, I have formed an organization, Enhance A Village, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in California, USA. Our organization helps the farmers earn a higher and more stable income, so that their children can complete their secondary education, thereby giving them options for further education or employment, or a more sustainable agricultural income. This economic-educational program will stop the cycle of poverty and lack of better opportunities to earn income. We introduce the farmers to the potential of economic prosperity with new farming methods, renewable energy, and marketing, amongst other programs, all with an emphasis to good stewardship of the land. It is not a handout, but a way to pass knowledge for the greater good. The old adage, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime," still applies. We want to educate, train, and support the farmers and their families so that by the time the next generation is nearing adulthood, we have the majority of the children with high school educations and the ability to dream and find better economic stability for themselves and their future families.
We recently completed a water project for the community, to provide clean, accessible, and consistently available drinking water for the villages. A previous drought caused problems with health and agricultural output, further eroding their basic subsistence level. We are in the process of transferring ownership, management and responsibility for ensuring access to drinking water in perpetuity to an elected group of villagers. The villagers want the responsibility to care for themselves; they recognize some of the obstacles to achieving independence, and are committed to the learning process to safeguard the success they have already achieved.
Our current project is to replant coconut trees for environmental and economic impact. We plan to shift production from copra to coco-sugar, a more profitable and a healthier product that has high market potential worldwide The event to plant the coconut trees will be held March 1-2, 2016. Copra is the dried kernel of the coconut meat that is used to extract coconut oil. We are switching from copra to coconut sugar because of its higher profit potential in the market. With better profits, we believe the children can then stay in school while their parents work the fields.
Currently, the family land is in need of replanting aged coconut trees. The coconut trees from my youth have been unproductive, and the soil/sand needs amending with organic fertilizer in order for the new trees to produce fruit in one and half years.
We invite you to join us and give your support with your donations. Your donation of $20 or more will name a tree on your behalf in commemoration with your support to eliminate poverty. We plan to keep you up to date on the planting event, the maintenance of the fields and the harvest so you can see for yourself how we are progressing with the project AND so you can see how the villagers are developing their economic independence.
We are grateful for every donation, whether it is more or less than $20! Think of a loved one you’d like a tree dedicated to.
- $1-$19 - a Thank you postcard mailed from the village with a picture from our planting event.
- $20 per tree (can purchase multiples): Benefits listed above PLUS your tree’s location (coordinates) and a listing in our registry (online and on the roster on the wall of our community center)
- $100 (can purchase multiples) per tree: Benefits listed above PLUS a brass plaque on our community center’s honoree wall. Please include name and message you’d like on the plaque. Limit 140 characters.
If you would like to volunteer in some way, please e-mail us at email@example.com with your request or apply online. Someone will contact you with an application for you to complete. We accept applications on a rolling basis, depending on our need. The first round for participating in our planting activity will be due by February 1, 2016. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Check back at our website for further opportunities!