by Heifer Philippines
Jane Bangao-Lutong, 53, used to live locked inside her shell, wallowing in insecurity and bouts of self-pity. Her husband, Alejandro Lutong, was murdered in November 1995 and ever since, Jane bore her hardships in silence and raised three children amidst a life of wanting and poverty.
Jane lives by herself in a house made of pine lumber with GI sheets roofing built when her husband was still alive. The house was located on a rocky high bank along the Bayudan River in Supang, a mountainside village in the town of Sabangan, Mountain Province in Northern Philippines. Alfred, her eldest son, is now 29, is married and living with his own family. Norvy, the second son, is 22, a working student who supports himself through college (he is on his third year). Her youngest, daughter Je-ann ( 21), is also on her third year of college taking up hotel and restaurant management. Norvy and Je-ann stay in a boarding house in the town of Bontoc where their college is located, about an hour and a half away from Supang. They visit Jane every other weekend and during school breaks and holidays.
Jane has no advanced education, completing only the fifth grade. Jane worked hard in silence, and maximized whatever available resources to raise her children and send them to school. The murder of her husband has strengthened her resolve to raise her children but left her feeling insecure, withdrawn and misunderstood by neighbors.
“Poverty has denied me of higher education, I do not want my children to suffer the same fate, this is the only heritage I can give to them,” Jane says. Her children did their part, looking for ways to support their studies, but there are times where they have to stop and enroll again when money is available. What the children cannot do is restore Jane’s confidence. Jane’s insecurity and withdrawn personality resulted in lost opportunities to make the family life better. Her relationship with her children, at times, becomes stressful and strained, especially when they began working for their own. “I am just sorry that I cannot continuously make it easy for them, they have to learn early how to also support themselves,” Jane added.
Before joining the project, which started a year ago, Jane earned a living planting rice in a 1,000 square meter rice terrace in the hills of Supang. Cropping is once a year and whatever harvest she gets is just for family consumption for the whole year. She augments this by vegetable gardening. Money comes from hired farm labor whenever available and from sales of extra vegetable produce. The children meanwhile also do hired farm labor for their school needs. In times of emergencies, the family gets by with loans from the Rural Improvement Club in Supang Village (with very minimal interest) and small loans from relatives. Jane also raised native pigs, which she sold during some occasions to keep up with certain tribe traditions and for household needs. Simply put, the family is really hard pressed to make ends meet and survive.
“It is quite fortunate that me and my children do not experience serious illnesses, as we only depend on the Philippine Health (PhilHealth) Program for indigent families paid for by the provincial government for our health needs,” Jane says. “Also, the relationship within the family is okay, except for minor misunderstandings, especially when the children try to convince to try new things and look for opportunities,” she added.
But life is really hard. Jane has an annual income barely reaching PhP 21,000 (less than US $500), despite all the hard work she is putting in. Her usual litany is “if only my husband was still alive.” Self-pity and lack of confidence to take part in community programs have long held her back from seeking opportunities to improve her family’s quality of life.
A year ago, Heifer Philippines and the Igorota Foundation, Inc. started a new project in the towns of Sabangan and Bauko. Supang village was selected as the main project site in Sabangan. Igorota Foundation has a very successful partnership with Heifer Philippines with an earlier project in two other villages in Sabangan, which are adjacent to Supang. Again, Jane was reluctant to join. It was only the persistent request from Norvy and Je-ann and the efforts of Igorota’s local community facilitator that convinced Jane to finally try it out. “At that time I told myself, free animal gifts and vegetable seeds in exchange for attending a seminar, I have nothing to lose,” Jane says. “Turned out, it was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made,” she said, with a very faint trace of a smile in her face.
Jane first attended the Cornerstones Workshop for participating families in the first quarter of 2011. “Things happened so fast in that workshop, I realized I have imprisoned myself all these years in self-pity and insecurities,” she says. “That was when I realized I should get out of my shell, develop my self confidence and this Heifer project is the perfect opportunity. Me and my neighbors are all learning together and we are committed to help each other.” Jane also attended other skills trainings, such as improving animal management, savings and loan management training, organic farming, values-based planning, and community-managed disaster risk reduction planning.
In July 2011, Jane finally received her gifts from Heifer and Igorota. “I received one gilt, fruit tree seedlings, assorted vegetable seeds (bitter gourd, string beans, eggplant and pechay) for kitchen gardening. She established her kitchen garden first, and started earning from them as early as September 2011. She earned almost a thousand pesos on bitter gourd alone in just three months. “I am very thankful for this Heifer Project. I have wallowed in self-pity for so long I missed out on opportunities like these,” she says.
In late December 2011, Jane’s gilt had her first farrowing and gave birth to eight piglets. She is now fattening seven piglets while one piglet was given to the boar’s owner as payment for boar breeding service. “My target is to earn gradually from my pigs,” Jane says. “Maybe 50,000 pesos (US $1,100) for this year.” Jane is planning to sell some — if not all seven piglets — by this March.
The biggest change in Jane since joining the project is how to overcome her shyness after years of insecurity and self-pity. “It was a difficult struggle at first, but I cannot allow myself anymore to live in the past. I am sure my husband would be happier the way I am now,” Jane shared with a deep sigh, which, it seems to be, a release from the emotional pain she had been nursing. “My husband is long gone, I cannot afford to also lose my children if I go on wallowing in self-pity. My children are my greatest treasures, and to these gifts from Heifer, they will help me nurture my treasures.”
Jane is evolving into a silent group leader for her self-help group, and she is one of the more dependable members of the group. What she cannot express in words she expresses in hard work and initiative. She readily accepts responsibilities for the group, strengthening her core accountability and the practice of sharing and caring and other principles of the cornerstones. In due time, Jane is sure she will make good progress as the project progresses.
“I am also deeply inspired by the stories of Heifer’s Golden Talent Awardees. I hope to be able to emulate their examples. For me, the only way to repay Heifer and Igorota Foundation is through sheer hard work to take care of the gifts and do justice to the opportunity they have given for poor families like us to break free from hunger and poverty,” she says. “Thank you Heifer International and all the donors who make these kind of projects a continuing success.”
Story Contribution by:
Jun Dom-oguen, Heifer international – Philippines, Program Officer for Northern Philippines
Marifee A. Lucaney, Facilitator, IGOROTA Project
Editor’s note: This post is the first from the Philippines in a new series that follows the progress of specific families, starting at the beginning of their work with Heifer. Initially, this series will focus on our programs in Asia/South Pacific, where our colleagues have chosen one family in each region in the countries where we work and will bring us quarterly updates.