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Change that matters

Annie is a fortysomething mother with a free spirit. Separated from her husband of 24 years, her two grown children have chosen to seek their own independent lives. She is a horticulturist by training, a landscape designer by profession, but a social worker by her chosen vocation. A frail woman with an adept brain and a kind and patient heart, she is the kind of person we need many more of, all over our country.

Last year Annie met Paz, a woman with a similar passion for helping uplift the lives of the disadvantaged, and who had inherited a piece of farmland in a little town south of Metro Manila. Paz wanted to put that land to good use to help the local farmers and their families improve their lives in a meaningful and lasting way. But engrossed in other community initiatives closer to her home, she had little time to spend directly with that farming community. After conversations with Paz, Annie volunteered to live among those farmers, in a one-room structure volunteers had built earlier on Paz’s property from hollow blocks and other discarded materials she provided. Annie admits she wasn’t quite sure why she decided to do so, only that something inside her seemed to push her into it. And so, with her limited belongings and P300 in her pocket, she moved into the farmhouse equipped with nothing more than her technical knowledge and a self-appointed mission: to harness it to help this new community that she walked into as a total stranger.

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The first farmer she encountered was Kuya Boy, who had already been planting on a piece of land on Paz’s property with no explicit permission. She tried to befriend him, and explained that she was there to help them, but he seemed indifferent and skeptical. The children were more trusting; they came around when she cooked and shared a simple snack from cassava with them, and have since come daily. Annie promptly began planting vegetables in plots, and flowering plants around and leading to the house from the main road. For weeks, she went about her own business with hardly anyone but the children paying her any attention, at times helping tend to her seedlings.

One day she noticed that a palm tree earlier felled by strong winds beside her house, and which she had partially propped up with a chair—the best she could do with her limited strength—had been set upright with a fresh mound of soil around it. It could only have been Kuya Boy, who until then had all but ignored her. As she thanked him for the unsolicited kind gesture, she found the opening to ask if he would like to plant cucumbers on Ma’am Paz’s land. He had no money to buy seeds, he said. So Annie bought two packets of cucumber seeds and gave them to him, with one condition: He would turn over 30 percent of the yield proceeds to a fund that Ma’am Paz would use for programs to benefit their community.

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The cucumbers thrived, but on his first harvest Kuya Boy would not give up 30 percent. Annie did not press him for it. At his next harvest, he dutifully turned in the due share. “Nakonsyensya yata,” Annie recounts, as she noted how she felt his heart changing through time, as doing her own quiet hard work seemingly helped change his attitude, little by little.

It was five months ago when Annie moved into that farmhouse. She has since won the trust and cooperation of a second farmer, Kuya Ver, who with her and Kuya Boy has been growing vegetables and corn on more parts of the land. Kuya Boy’s son Aljay, erstwhile a village nuisance, now also comes to her daily to help; he told her he’d rather plant than study. Others, including small kids, come and pitch in, too. Annie brings their produce to a market in an adjacent town, where a restaurant has also become a regular buyer. The sunflowers, marigolds and other flowers she planted are now in bloom, and have become a favorite background for selfies with the women around, now friendlier and more open to the initiatives Paz and she plan for them.

Annie knows there is a long way to go in helping truly uplift this community, but she is egged on by the change she is seeing in these people’s hearts—and that’s the change that matters before all else.

cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: change, Community, Farm, farmhouse, Farming, opinion
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