To borrow a popular quote of Lucy Larcom, ‘(S)he who plants a tree, plants a hope.’ The Higaonon community of Sitio Panlablaba, Awang in the Dulangan Unified Ancestral Domain (DUAD) is on its third year of re-planting the bare hills in their area. Under the leadership of the Datu Macalamag Marcus Nabatlao, Sr., and the participation of the youth and women, they had successfully established their nursery even at the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, and have continued to grow seedlings for re-planting.
Last February 25, 2023, sitio Panlablaba community hosted Samdhana Institute and other partners, for the launcing of 20@20 – a tree growing and fundraising campaign. In celebration of Samdhana’s 20th anniversary, it is scaling up its fundraising campaign to support at least 20 indigenous and local communities plant 20,000 trees in 20 hectares.
Supporting the tree-growing were the partners, namely Barangay Awang Local Government Unit (LGU), Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) of the Opol Municipal LGU, Knights of Columbus Council 17623, Babaye sa Baybay association, Safer River Life Saver, and Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish (OMPH in Barra, Opol). There were also volunteers from the Laudato Si youth organization, environmental science students of the University of Science and Technology in Southern Philippines (USTP), and students of Xavier University joining the activity.
Erwin Quinones, the Deputy Executive Director of Samdhana for Philippines and Mekong, recognized the hard work of the community in restoring the forest in the area. He also shared that in various communities in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, with whom Samdhana works with, they have been establishing endemic tree nurseries, and conducting tree-growing regularly. With the help of these partner communities, we are already on the way towards the goal of planting 20,000 trees, and even more. He encouraged everyone to contribute to 20@20, by organizing community tree-growing events and connect with Samdhana, and with other communities.
Rosemarie Delada, the President of Kababaihan sa Panlablaba (KASAP) and Nanay Perlita and shared their experiences and efforts in improving the environment for their children’s future. It was heartwarming to hear that, before, for Nanay Perlita, it was very difficult for her to join in activities. She did not even think that they would be the ones initiating projects in their community, but now, she is actively taking part in their reforestation and agro-ecology projects.
Ms. Meiyoshi Masgon, a practitioner of sustainable sanitation, gave a brief input on ecology principles and the importance of water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). She started with the impacts of anthropological activities and how it will affect all living things. She discussed the seven ecological principles, citing that humans are stewards of God’s creation and that all forms of life are essential and important. She discussed about proper waste disposal, the importance of proper toilets and sanitation. These are very important in order to protect water bodies. She presented alarming statistics on the rapid growth of human population, those who do not have access to clean water, and sanitation/ toilet facilities progress in the Philippines. Ms. Meiyoshi previously worked with Xavier University Sustainable Sanitation Center under the School of Medicine, and is currently working in the Department of Interior and Local Government, and as an instructor of Xavier University National Service Training Program.
After the learning session, the group shared their insights, ideas and personal impressions.
Ms. Sandra, the representative of OMPH, shared her appreciation of how Samdhana’s and the community’s efforts connect with the efforts of the church. In their parish, under the leadership of Fr. Enrique Escobar, MSSC, they are encouraged to respond to the call of Laudato Si. Last November 2022, the no-single-use-plastic policy was established in their parish. Therefore, in their seminars and activities, bottled water is not allowed anymore. Together with the organization Babaye sa Baybay, they are establishing livelihoods while protecting the environment. Babaye sa Baybay are currently contracted to sew the sutana or cassock, a full-length garment of a single color worn by Christian clergy. OMPH and Baybay have active roles in making the church sustainable, such as making and putting up eco-friendly reminders and participating in tree growing events such as this.
They work with the belief that "Kung dili sugdan, kanus-a? Kung dili pud kami sa among parokya, kinsa man?" (If we don’t start now, then when? If not us in our parish, then who?) According to Babaye sa Baybay, it is their first time engaging in activities to promote environmental restoration, and they are grateful that they want to share their great experiences with their family and friends.
Others who participated in the tree-growing, shared their own initiatives to protect the forest. One agro-ecology woman farmer said that they are enthusiastic about protecting their watershed because this is where the water for their rice fields come from. If there is no more water, there will be no rice fields, and there will be no more food.
The MENRO Officer reiterated the support of the Opol LGGU. He also cited their efforts of the such as the crafting of the forest plan use, wherein all related environmental plans and projects will be addressed accordingly by the implementing agencies such as MENRO and the various organizations and individuals who have exerted their efforts for different environmental projects. The LGU of Opol expressed their gratitude to Samdhana, Datu Marcus, and the locals for allowing and taking the initiative of healing and restoring the area for future generations.
Mr. Johnny Cabreira, member of the Knights of Columbus and also a Fellow of Samdhana, suggested ideas to support the fundraising to help the Panlablaba community sustain and expand the tree-growing efforts. They mentioned that more and more members are expressing interest to join succeeding tree-growing events, as they also want to nurture the environmental awareness among their members. ###