Let’s Have a Boodle Fight!

It was a mysterious moment. Everyone suddenly seemed in a hurry and obviously hungry people put the tables out of the houses, forming one large at least 10 meter long plate besides the gym of the Children’s Village. Then, other children came up with huge banana palm leafs which they posed right on the table. Kind of confused I turned to the next house mother and asked about the reason of the sudden spectacle. “Well,” she said, ”it’s time for a Boodle Fight now!”. What? A Boodle Fight? I knew about the common Filipino tradition to put all the food on a table covered by a large palm leaf and everyone grabs the food from there. But a fight? “Yes!” she replied. “Everyone gets around the table and waits for the starting signal! The excitement rises until the signal finally comes. Then, everyone tries to eat as much as possible and the best bits and pieces first, from the shared plate!”

I was really impressed. In Germany you couldn’t even imagine such a collective feast. Initially it seems to be invented by military circles. Soldiers have a “Boodle Fight” whenever there is a special day or celebration. At that point I didn’t know that, although I couldn’t be patient to wait for the start. But before, literally tons of food had to be carried from the houses towards the gym. I got a pretty filled up wok from the green house and brought it to its destination. We also places water buckets aside to ensure clean hands. The meal was Bihon Guisado with lots and lots of rice. It was distributed all over the table and the children already lined up around it. After everything was prepared, Rose, one of the social workers gave the signal and the whole village started to crap food! It was hilarious, but great fun. We always tried to get to small pork pieces, but there was enough for everyone and there were only winners. All the “fighters” were delighted and we volunteers learnt about an incomparable and yet funny tradition that give a nice feeling of collectivness. I am looking forward to start a “Boodle Fight” back in Germany, perhaps combined with a nice BBQ!

 

Balut! Balut!

I knew, one time the day would come when I tried the Asian speciality “Balut”. Something that is quite exotic for a European and therefore requires you to overcome disgust. It is a chicken or duck egg, that is either sixteen days or eighteen days breeded. Hence, the embryo has already developed and the egg yolk is pretty solid. It is a widespread delicacy in Asia, available in countless variations and allegedly an effective aphrodisiac.

Even though the consumption of Balut currently declines in the Philippines, large parts of the population still appreciates the somehow different snack. Especially around Davao, people love it very much. The cities St. Tomas and Carmen are production hubs, where the best Balut of the island are supposedly produced. One can by the egg at the highway and at small market stalls all over Panabo City.

So I gave myself a push and bought some of the desired eggs. They are sold hot and thus stored in white Styrofoam boxes. Price per piece: only 16 Pesos (about 32 Cent). They are delivered with a vinegar / calamanci sauce. Arrived back in the childrens village, the volunteers gathered to join the event. First step is to remove the upper part of the shell. After dark something appeared, some of my fellow volunteers started panicking. But there was no turning back and it had to be done. After removing the shell you need to drink the surprisingly spicy liquid first. Than you refill the egg with the sauce and finally try to sort of suck the contents out of the shell in one go.

The sixteen days version is much more pleasant because the embryo is still small. However, the older egg is spicier and the tiny hair as well as the really small bones don’t really disturb. It’s more about the fact that you need to see what you eat. The taste is alright, but it feels somehow sick to eat a dead embryo, even though there is no qualitative difference to any other meat.

Anyways, the children love it. We have three eggs left when they came and they literally begged for for the protein snack. While eating they assured the partly traumatised volunteers: “It’s sooo very laaami!” Bon appétit!

 

Insights into Rice Farming

Rice is the fuel of the Philippines. Literally every dish includes rice and Filipinos wouldn’t consider food as a real meal when no rice is served. But how is it planted? Nonoy Tauron gave us volunteers the opportunity to get an insight into the rice sewing of his parcel of land. Together with the manager of the MARIPHIL Rice-Coop, Ging Ging, we joined the sewing to learn more about how this valuable resource is produced.

Nonoy’s small farm includes about one hectare of rice land. As a small scale farmer he takes part in the so called “Bayanihan System”. A system of voluntary neighbourhood support. Ging Ging tells me, that for 10 persons it takes about half a day to till one hectare. “When everyone helps, the work can be done quickly with this usual practise”. However, the seeding process is still dominated by manual work. The seedlings have to be put into the soil by hand while only the digging to prepare the soil is done by simple machines that are often shared in the community or manufactured out of old spare parts. The MARIPHIL Rice – Coop, which currently includes 83 members (mostly families) and contribute more than 50 hectares of land, provides such support for its members.

Nonoy, however is not yet a member. But he produces his own seeds. “You need to have about two sacks of seeds to cover one hectare”, he explains. This makes about 80 kg. Proudly he tells me, that he only uses his own seeds from former harvests. The planting itself is hard work. Two to four seedlings have to be drawn out of the butch, the so called “hill” and put into the soil with a distance of about 20 cm. For one hectare that makes around 250,000 times getting up and down with your back while the sun is burning down mercilessly.

But if it is done right, more or less 95 % of the seeds will grow, adds Ging Ging who has plenty of experience in her metier. Producing the seed themselves needs about 15 days. The variety which we are planting is called “160” and quite common. “It is not the highest growing variety available on the market, but it is reliable and I am able to produce my own seeds”, Nonoy explains. After four month of growing it has reached a height of 60 to 70 cm. This however, can only be achieved by using chemical fertilizers. Ging Ging gives me an overview about the most commonly used brands: “ ‘UREA’ for example is very often used, but you cannot use it as your only stand because it only contains nitrogen. Therefore many farmers use ’14-14-14’ which additionally provides phosphorus and potassium.” The first round of fertilizing start 15 days after planting. After that every 30 days another round follows. Overall two 50 kg sacks of ‘UREA’ and six 50 kg sacks of ’14-14-14’ are to be used. A significant investment: A ‘UREA’ sack costs 800 Pesos while a ’14-14-14’ sacks makes you pay more than 1000 Pesos each.

Nevertheless, planting rice is relatively “attractive” compared to other crops. It is possible to sell the so called wet paddy for around 20 Pesos per kilogram to the rice mills. After four and a half months the farmer can expect a harvest of 90 sacks. The gross income for that period is around 90,000 Pesos. Despite lots of manual work, you need to deduct around 7000 Pesos for fertilizers, costs for machinery, maintenance and probably lease expenses. At the end you might achieve merely an income between 12,500 and 15,000 Pesos per month (250 to 300 EUR), when the harvest was good. However, you’re not able to plant rice all your long so the income averages between 6,000 to 12,000 Pesos per month. This is tighly close to the minimum you need to get your family through, but more than you’d achieve with corn or vegetables. In dry seasons or “El Nino” induced droughts, many small scale farmers are depending on loans to survive.

For me it was a fascinating experience and we all learned a lot about the situation of the farmers. It is tough work for a minimum pay. If the harvest is bad, there is no other social security net except that of your family. On the other hand, I was also able to experience the vital support between the small scale farmers, who work together with a strong sense of solidarity.

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Filipinos Love to Pose.

“Lights to Learn” – Distribution of Solar Lights

Imagine, just directly after the sunset an unbreakable darkness lays upon the village you are living in. No lamps, no street lights, no electricity. Only candles help you to get the most important stuff done. The day ends with sunset. This scenario doesn’t describe long past centuries, on the contrary, in some parts of the Philippines it is still part of the living conditions. Especially in more remote villages with a population mostly occupied by agricultural activities, the access to electricity is far from being normality. In 2012, the World Bank estimates the proportion of the Filipino population that has no access to electricity to around 12.5%. Compared to Europe, where theoretically every person is supplied with electricity, the Philippines rank 153th of 250 examined countries and regions.

However, the people involved are not really interested in such figures. For them, the usefulness of light is what counts. Candles are impractical and relatively expensive considering an income of around 150 EUR per month. The farmworkers and small scale farmers often work from sunrise to sunset, which means light not only means enrichment of their lives and security, but also life perspectives. Like in Germany not long ago, the families are depending on the labour input of the children when it comes to sewing and harvesting. Time for school and learning is rare and if available mostly during the evening hours. However, in the Philippines sunset comes around 6 pm which means access to light means access to education. At this point, MARIPHIL’s approach intervenes. As part of the programme “Lights to Learn”, we improve the supply with light. We focus on autonomy and independence of the people who we aim to help. Therefore we often get to use solar technology – there is plenty of sunlight in these latitudes!

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Through a generous donation, it now was possible to purchase more than one hundred solar lamps and to distribute them to indigent people. The lamps have a flashlight mode as well as a “table light” mode. They provide light for more than six hours and can be recharged during the day. The feedback of the people was overwhelming. A few weeks ago, we visited the village Mamali together with Emeterio “EmEm” Blasé. The settlement is located only 15 km southwest of Panabo City, but exempt of a small gravel road, it is cut off of any infrastructure. The gratefulness of the locals was great and honest joy moved them.

The lights are also a great help the Children’s Village itself. Because of the climate phenomenon “El Niño”, that is “associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific”. In the recent years it occurred more often (it is likely that this is due to anthropologic climate change) some which has a devastating effect on the water reservoirs of Mindanao. More than 50% of the islands power consumption  is covered by hydro energy. Therefore planned power cuts are common. End of February we encountered blackouts twice a day for almost two hours each time. At the evening, we normally help the children with their homework and school assignment. Without electricity there is no chance of doing so.

The solar lights help us to also master this situation. I would like to express our deep gratefulness. Daghang Salamat!

First Organic Market in Panabo City

Just a few days ago, the first Organic Market of Panabo City took place. Organized by the City Agricultural Office, this gathering is more a fair than a real market. Framed by the “15th Araw ng Panabo City” festivities, the aim is to raise public awareness about organic agriculture and provide opportunities for local organic farmers and organizations to network and to exchange experiences.

Since MARIPHIL has every interest in boosting organic food production, our farmers Rey and Larry joined the event. Our stall included cooking banana, eggplant and some delicious self-made lemongrass juice. Of cause, this is just a small proportion of the vast variety of plants which Ray and Larry grow in the garden close by to the village. However, we used the chance to talk to other organizations and initiatives like the ACES ATI Vocational Training Centre which teaches organic agriculture. I was also delighted about the students of the Gredu Elementary School who prepared some performances. Samwell, the office’s organizer was also quite excited about the new event: “I’m very happy, that everything worked out well”, he told me after talking a picture and before rushing to the next stall.

It looks like the government takes at least minimal efforts to raise awareness about the topic. Nevertheless one shouldn’t be naive about this. The facts don’t back the words. There is a large scale use of pesticides in the banana plantations. Moreover, the Philippines are one of the world’s largest producers of genetic manipulated organisms (GMO’s). In 2014 more than 830,000 hectares of BT corn has been planted. Considering that the Philippines have about 12,510,000 hectares of agricultural land in total, GMO corn alone accounts for 6.6% of the land used for agriculture.

The Rappler reports: “Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of environment group Greenpeace, is disturbed by how “friendly” the Philippines is to GMOs despite more than 60 countries in the world, including Japan, Australia, and countries in the European Union already putting restrictions and bans on GMOs.”

In addition it is also a good question to ask about the supporters of the event. Names like “Early Wean”, “Mama Pro”, or “PIGROLAC” stand for large cooperation that produce agricultural inputs. PIGROLAG for example produces pig feed and is a business unit of the “animal health” company Univet. This enterprise is part of the pharmaceutical corporation and global player United Laboratories. Considering their business model, it seems very unlikely to me that those people have a genuine interest in boosting organic agriculture.

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All in all Fair’s like those in Panabo are important and necessary. It is great to see that young children are encouraged to think and act about organic agriculture. However, without a large scale effort by the central government to ban certain pesticides and GMO’s, organic agriculture cannot be achieved.

Want to be an UMian?

Just a few days ago, we volunteers got some very interesting insights into the University of Mindanao. The UM is the most popular university in Mindanao. It has around 42,000 students and is open to new students. Unlike the more “elite” like university Ateneo de Davao, which is runned by the Jesuits, the UM is non sectarian. It offers all mayor academic programmes such as the bachelor, master and PHD in the most important subjects like engineering, administration, science and education.

Jinky Grace, who is an UM student and MARIPHIL scholar invited us to explore the Matina campus in Davao City together with her. She diligently studies English for teacher education and wants to become a highschool teacher.

“For me the MARIPHIL Sponsorship is a great opportunity”, she explains. The tution fees are relatively low compared to European standards. However, if you need to pay between P 34,000 and P40,000 (680 EUR to 800 EUR) per year, while having no family support it is hard to gather the funds. The MARIPHIL Scholarship not only cover those fees but also helps with additional expenses for textbooks, costs of living etc. This support is essential because the higher education system in the Philippines is dominated by the private sector. The UM for instance is a private university, one out of 1573 compared to only 607 state-run colleges. The enrolment numbers confirm this trend: In the semester 2012/2013 almost 1.9 million out of 3.3 million enrolees and graduates from the last three years visited a private institution. Moreover, it is very hard to get access to study loans, as Jinky tells us.

Of cause one could argue, that the local labour market doesn’t demand that many bachelor graduates. However, the numbers show potential for significant growth. Compared to Germany, where the ratio of pupils who enrolled at the university after leaving school was at about 43% in 2009, the Philippines this rate is at less than half considering the secondary school enrolment figures.

In principle, the Martina campus is open for any visitors. However, you need to get some kind of document, either from the administration or from a person of authority, that makes to guards let you in. The office of the dean also provides small tours and insights to the class rooms in case you are interested in studying at the UM. The campus itself looks well maintained, equipped and gives a nice kind of “college” feeling even though, most of the students are relatively young, between 17 and 21. The reason is, that the K-12 program of the Filipino government just starts to introduce the senior highschool. With this implementation, the secondary education system will be similar to the US and Canada. We couldn’t find numbers about how many Muslims are enrolled, but the subjective impression was that it could be close to 10 to 15% which wouldn’t be far to the 22% share of Muslim population in Mindanao.

Before we went to the classroom, I followed up with a goal I aiming for since I came here: Get a book of Jose F. Sionil. The wiki article is very promising and I am keen to read contemporary Filipino point of view literature about the social injustice and inequality in the Philippines.

I searched all book stores in the SM Lanang Mall, Abreeza Mall and smaller books stores. I found nothing but textbooks, novels for entertainment, biographies of celebrities and religious literature. So I though the UM might help. However, I once again didn’t find it. In a German university you’ll find plenty of sources for any kind social science and art subject. In contrast, the UM focuses on subjects that are “more relevant” for the local labour market, thus textbooks are sufficient “sources”. This impression also confirms in the classroom. The lecture is similar to what you’ll find in the secondary schools. The class size is about 30 and the teacher talks straight to the students. Even the group work seemed very formal, not to talk about the presentation of the results that sounded like memorizing the textbook. It is quite interesting to see this way of learning while the topic is how to adjust the curriculum to the needs of the students. Perhaps they just were excited about the four visitors 😉 Anyways, it is amazing how many women are enrolled in the teacher education program!

In summary, the university system really needs to offer accessibility for poor students – access to education should be based on merits and talent rather than on money. The lesson are probably too “school-like”. Nevertheless, the campus showed an inspiring learning environment and the facilities seemed to be well equipped with computers and projectors. I know that this insight might not be representative for the entire system, but it was quite fascinating to have a look!