when there is hope…
By RACHEL C. BARAWID (Manila Bulletin)
MANILA, Philippines — It may only be an hour away from the city, but the mountains of San Mateo, Rizal is still devoid of basic necessities such as electricity and water.
The rustic, rugged terrain, accessible through several river crossings, is inhabited mostly by the Dumagat tribe which survives through farming, hunting, and scavenging. Due to extreme poverty, many Dumagats are forced to engage in mining. Parents have no qualms about bringing their children to work in the mine sites rather than send them to school.
There are public elementary and high schools in the area, but only one preschool exists and it charges students P50 a month. Many could not just afford that amount. Classes are also irregular because underpaid teachers do not always show up to teach.
Malnutrition and sickness among the communities are prevalent, so is violence wrought by local hoodlums.
This was the scenario that greeted Christian evangelist Rjay Lizarondo upon his first visit in San Mateo. Initially, his mission was only to spread the Word by establishing a church called “Lugar ng Pag-asa.”
But it became much more than that.
“The first people who had a life-changing transformation were the hoodlums. Dati nag-iinuman lang sila, nakikipagaway sa isa’t isa. Ngayon sila na ang nagfafacilitate ng mga Bible study sessions. Nakikipagtulungan na rin sa mga tao,” shares the 35-year-old pastor.
After spending more time with the tribesfolk, Rjay and his older brother Jayjay felt compelled to get them out of poverty by addressing their basic needs. They thus established an NGO called HOP-E (Helping Overcome Poverty thru Education) and built a preschool in Pintung Bukawe.
The ICAN Learning Center provided the Dumagat and local children with free books, uniform, bags and a brighter future through education.
Much like the hoodlums, the Lizarondo brothers were also changed men. Coming from a wealthy family, Jayjay and Rjay rebelled against their father Roy who gave up his career and businesses to head a Christian church. That decision got him so bankrupt that he could not even send his children to college.
Rjay later on became a pastor like his dad. Jayjay, on the other hand, left the family and wasted his life and money.
Years later, the prodigal son came home and decided to join his brother in one of his outreach programs in a dumpsite in Payatas.
There, they met 12-year-old Maryrose Dizon who helped them realize their mission in life.
“Maryrose said she wanted to go back to school but she didn’t have any choice but to help her family earn P100 a day for an eight-hour work at the dumpsite. I was moved by her dedication and love for her family. I blogged about her and someone from Malaysia saw it and offered to help. We gave her a lifetime scholarship, a small business and a house for her family,” says Jayjay, the chief executive officer of HOP-E.
Hope through education
The Lizarondos together with their partners at HOP-E are now focusing their efforts to help not only the children of the Dumagat tribe in San Mateo and Tanay, but also the entire community.
More children have started studying at HOP-E’s chapels-turned-learning centers in Pintung Bukawe, Tanay and Uyabo, San Mateo. In the afternoons, the center welcomes its adult learners who are enrolled in the Alternative Learning System program of HOP-E. On Sundays, children and their parents go to the Bible service at the chapel.
Rjay says one of his goals is to build a preschool at every barangay in the area to bring education closer to the community. But to be able to do that, parents must be given a sustainable source of livelihood that can also continuously fund the growing demands of the learning centers. Hence, HOP-E resorted to organic farming.
HOP-E has purchased 18 hectares of land in the area and has converted it into a farm tended by the Dumagats. It is now looking for potential investors to purchase the raw agricultural materials being produced at the farm such as Moringa leaves, Chia seeds and other vegetables.
“We have Moringa (Malunggay) and Chia in our farm. I believe we are the first growers of Chia in the Philippines. These two plants have tremendous nutritional benefits and medicinal properties.
Moringa leaves, are usually made into capsules or powderized and used as a fortificant in noodles, bread, biscuits, delicacies, burgers and hot dogs. The Chia which originates from Mexico, is a high energy endurance food used by muscle builders who are on a diet.
It is said that the Aztec warriors of Mexico take a bag of Chia seeds and this is only what they eat when they go out into the wild. In the U.S. the Chia is already being used as an ingredient in noodles and other food to nourish kids. Hence, we believe this will be an ideal raw material for investors who are into feeding programs,” reveals Boris Joaquin, a strategic business partner at Salt & Light Ventures, a consultant at HOP-E, and an evangelist.
More than helping address malnutrition, Boris is hopeful that the sales from the farm will not only provide initial capital investment, but enable community development through sustainable livelihood for Dumagat farmers, and continuing education for their children.
“What we want to succeed here is thecycle of sustainability that comes from the community itself. We don’t want to depend on donors but on the people to help themselves.
We can empower them through social entrepreneurship,” he stresses.
Unlike other social entrepreneurship models though, Boris says HOP-E is using a more holistic approach.
“Pumunta kami dun na hindi mga negosyanteng nag te-take advantage sa kanila. Our vision is for the kids, the organic farming became a means to sustain that vision,” he points out.
The organization who calls themselves spiritual entrepreneurs believe that this is the best way to really develop a community.
“Charity cannot really change the world or take us out of poverty. Business can. But if you allow business to rule, there will be commercialization.
An educator says you cannot save the environment without social development. You can’t do social development without livelihood. You can’t do all these without putting in the moral and spiritual aspect of it. It’s the moral guidelines and moral DNA that you start planting in them and that will grow eventually.
This is what Rjay and Jayjay started. So when social entrepreneurs come in, it becomes easy for the people to accept, adapt, cooperate and participate in the development,” Boris explains.
The projects being undertaken by HOP-E in San Mateo and Tanay have opened more doors of opportunities for the communities and attracted the attention of other NGOs and private organizations.
For one, the Rotary Club of Makati has built a makeshift hydroelectric dam for the farm. Potential investors have also began showing interest to the organicv farm’s produce.
“We are also building a bamboo school in the area to provide education to a greater number of children, despite the absence of electricity. May mga naglalakihang basketball courts, multipurpose halls at napakagandang health center doon pero walang tao. Hindi yun ang kailangan nila kundi ang libreng edukasyon at trabahong marangal at permanente.
Hopefully in the near future, we will be able to supply our produce to many countries around the world, help our nation prosper and take this people away from mining,” ends Rjay.
(For partnership or donations to the schools, e-mail hopephilippines@ gmail.com or visit www.hop-e.org.)