Ursula with her family's pigs.
Freddie Cabrales was a native of Barangay Aurora, Santa Josefa, Agusan del Sur in the Philippines. He is the third son among eight siblings. His parents’ main source of income was farming that supported only the family’s basic needs. As tenant farmers, Freddie’s parents were in constant financial hardship. After graduating from high-school, his parents could not afford to send him to college, so Freddie helped his family by going to work as a farm laborer. He was eventually hired as maintenance worker and harvester in a banana plantation in their province.
Ursula Cabrales is from Barangay Pamotuanan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur. She is the eldest daughter in a family of nine. As the eldest, Ursula felt obliged to take her part in supporting the family finances, so after graduating from high school she went to work as laborer at the same banana plantation as Freddie. A friendship developed and blossomed into a romantic relationship between Freddie and Ursula. After six years of pre-marriage arrangements, the couple decided to settle down and start a family of their own. When they were married, Ursula was 23 while Freddie was 21.
The couple continued to work at the banana plantation, and att the early stage of their married life, everything ran well. Their modest income was just enough for the basic needs of the couple, and they sent a little savings to their respective families. But when their first baby was born, they started to face financial challenges. Although they were expecting a baby, they were not prepared for Ursula’s difficult pregnancy and delivery. They were financially unprepared for a hospital delivery since giving birth in their village was commonly attended by community health volunteers or a mid-wife.
Because of hospital expenses, the couple became indebted to the company were they worked. Ursula stopped working in the company and focused on her new role as a mother to their newborn, Krisia May. Freddie at this time was the sole earner in the family. Considering the large amount of loaned money that was automatically deducted from Freddie’s monthly payroll, the family suffered a great financial difficulty. They had no one to help them, not even their own families. Prayers to the Almighty and a positive outlook in life kept them afloat. After two years, their second child, Kiar Ian, was born. Even with the financial challenges, the family endured; the happy family welcomed their new baby boy with fresh hope.
Then one day the family was surprised by the news that the banana plantation where Freddie was employed was closing due to bankruptcy. This really bothered Freddie and Ursula — they felt so helpless, and they needed to support their growing family. The couple made use of their skills as farm laborers. Both of them engaged in seasonal farm labor in their neighbors’ farmlands. They asked their neighbors to watch over their two little children while they were worked in the fields. Their situation was not easy as Ursula recalled, “There were times that my husband and I would skip meals because the food was just enough for the two kids.” “We would go to sleep with an empty stomach—thinking where to get food for tomorrow,” Freddie added. “The neighbors were tired already of our promises just to borrow rice and sardines and repay them pay as soon as we could.”
The financial crisis of the family had gotten worse in addition to the fact that two more children were added to their brood. They now had two high school students, one grade-school-age child and a nursing infant. This is when the family decided Ursula would work as a domestic helper in Kuwait. This was the only way they knew that would help them escape poverty.
Ursula was earning US $357 every month in Kuwait, and she was able to send most of that money to Freddie for the family finances. Although still insufficient, the family made do with what they had. After only 18 months, Ursula called up her family informing them that she would be coming home in a week. Ursula arrived home with bare hands: no luggage, no presents, just her old self…but different. Only then the family learned that Ursula suffered maltreatment from her employer in Kuwait. She was abused both physically and mentally, forcefully locked up at her employer’s house and given spoiled food to eat. She managed to escape by jumping from an open window of the second floor and ran to the Philippine embassy in Kuwait to seek help. The family decided not to let Ursula work abroad again.
Ursula’s painful experience caused her psychological trauma. She was afraid of going out of the house or meeting people in their community, and her self-esteem depreciated. Freddie went back to seasonal farm labor work again.
When asked what helped them survive the bad days, their simple reply was “we still had dreams —to be free from poverty. We knew it could be done, and we believed it could be done.”
Freddie and Ursula’s outlook began to improve when they joined Heifer International’s RISE Project. The family is one of the members of the ASFA Self Help Group. They received a swine fattener and a gilt. They also received vegetable seeds, corn and soy beans. The project has a component of feed milling, thus the whole project received one feed mill. The group attended technical seminars and trainings related to the nature of the project, and the families learned about begin part of a coop-enterprise.
According to the couple, they are starting to realize their dreams for their family through the project. Ursula, who is the representative member of her family in one of the self help groups said, “During the Cornerstones workshop — I became hopeful and renewed to go on living for my family; my favorite cornerstone is Sustainability and Self-Reliance. I almost lost this value because of past experiences.”
At present, Ursula ensures the health of the pigs received by providing them enough food rations in reference to the recommended technology they learned from the series of the project trainings. She was also elected as the Project Management Committee (PMC) secretary. Ursula was also selected to participate in the RISE project Farmers Field School on Swine Production.
Freddie, on the other hand, asked his parents to let him borrow a portion of land where he can plant vegetables and corn. Freddie’s parents asked the permission of the land owner, and the latter generously granted Freddie’s request. Just recently, Freddie harvested 10 sacks of yellow corn; it was sold to the group as raw material for the feed mill. He earned Php 7,000.00 ($167) from his corn, which he considered as his first income as a farmer.
Last January 6, 2012, Ursula sold the swine-fattener to the local market of Santa Josefa after 3 months of feeding. She received Php 13,000 ($310) as sales for her 145 kilogram pig. She deposited Php 2,500.00 ($60) to the SHG as her Capital Build Up (CBU) for their feed mill enterprise, and another Php 2,500.00 ($60) was deposited to her self-help group as savings in preparation for the feed her sow and gilt will need. She had Php 8,000 ($190) as cash on hand. Minus the total amount of feed for three months, she is proud to say that she earned an income of Php 4,000 ($95).
Last May, her sow delivered 13 healthy piglets. Since the sow gave birth at midnight, Ursula and her family helped to ensure the sow’s safe delivery. Ursula is very enthusiastic in sharing her experience and stressed the application of the knowledge gained from the trainings on swine production. Upon weaning, one of the piglets was given to the owner of the breeding boar, and she chose two of the healthiest and best piglets for the pass-on. Ursula sold the 10 piglets for Php 2,000 ($48) each. Thus, she earned a gross income of Php 20,000 ($476) for this specific cycle alone. For eight months, Ursula and Freddie earned Php 28,000 ($667) from the pigs and piglets they sold.
Freddie and Ursula are discovering livestock’s potential to end poverty. They never experienced raising livestock until the project came. Now, they bought an additional gilt to expand their swine production. They also improved and expanded their flock of pigpens from the money they earned from the sales of piglets.
Their family is now a picture of happiness; they can now eat three nutritious meals a day. Ursula, when asked what she wants to share about her past, responds with a shy smile, “I do not want to look back. My family’s future is much brighter now. Freddie and I are more hopeful that we can provide good food and a good education for our children. The past is history now; I want to concentrate on the future, that is – to pass on the gifts we lovingly took care of.”
Ursula gives a speech at a Passing on the Gift ceremony.