I spent a decade and a half working with poor, marginalized upland farmers in the Philippines, as well as several other areas in Asia. Hunger with its accompanying friend poverty was a constant threat in this area. It was here that I met Salis.
Salis was a local farmer and a through the years became a close friend. He was a good farmer, but couldn’t grow enough food to feed his wife and three children because of the small area and the fragile, nutrient-depleted soils he farmed on. It was even harder to earn cash that he needed to buy things he couldn’t grow or make such as school supplies or household goods.
We began to implement community development efforts in Salis’s community. Initially, we entered the community through a relationship with a local government official who identified Salis’s community as one in need. Through a series of public community meetings, the community members organized themselves into a development council and began identifying the needs and dreams of their community.
And they had a lot of plans and dreams.
They wanted clean water, a local school (the kids had to walk a long way just to attend elementary school), and electricity in their village. The power grid of the government ended in the bordering township. As the group met from week to week and began to put plans to what they envisioned happening in their community, they began to see that some of their dreams, mostly smaller projects, could be accomplished fairly quickly. But some of their ideas would take years to accomplish- like getting their village electrified.
The community realized from their discussions that there were some immediate needs to address. They needed more food and food security for their families. They needed a bit more income from their farms and labor if they were going to keep sending their children to school. And, when they began to look at the resources they had on hand to address these problems identified and plans to be implemented, they began to see some limitations and realities.
Salis and his community decided to make their dreams happen one step at a time. They held on to their long-term dream vision for their community but decided to start working on the smaller, more doable problems. Since hunger and lack of income was a problem for all the villagers, they decided to do a project that addressed hunger. They talked about the resources they already had: land, labor, local knowledge, and relationships both in the community and outside. They then considered what kind of agriculture projects they could fairy easily accomplish with these resources.
Several ideas were discussed and they decided to improve their goat breeds and herds. They knew of some provincial government programs that were promoting good goat raising and actually distributing improved varieties to qualified communities. Salis and I and a few others took a day trip to the local Department of Agriculture offices. We found a very welcoming group of government officials who were interested in partnering with Salis’s community. We discussed requirements and obligations of participating in the government program and took the information back to the community.
The community wholeheartedly agreed to apply for the government program. The program required the community members to prepare a few things such as feed and forages to keep their goats healthy and a goat barn to house the animals. They also needed signed agreements outlining the obligation of the local villagers, the community, and even my role as an NGO (non-government organization) helping with the technical aspects.
It turned out to be a great project. Over a period of three years, almost every family in the community was able to participate and receive an improved breed of goat for their family. Nutrition and income improved in the community and, within a short time, impact on health and education could be observed.
In addition, the community gained a new-found confidence and returned to their original dream for their community and begin attempting other projects. Some failed but many succeeded. They built a new water system for their community. They worked together to improve some small roads, giving better access to isolated community members. After five years, they became so well recognized as a model development community, the government agreed to extend electricity to their village.
On top of all the good, measurable, physical developments, a church was planted in the community during our time there. Salis and many of his fellow villagers came to faith. In the end, Salis turned out not only to be a well-respected catalyst of development in his home community but also the leader of the local church that grew there.