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Story and Photos by Jonathan Sandigio and Rico Locaba | Heifer Philippines

Knowledge changes lives, and Heifer’s training produces tangible results in communities.

“The seeds of knowledge and values through training I received from Heifer taught me a lot,” said self-help group member and  community leader Mario Abaluado, 50. "Heifer’s project taught me how to manage a village guided by principles of [12 Cornerstones of Just and Sustainable development]; I can proudly say I am a leader with a heart.”

Mario, the third child of a landless couple, grew up in poverty. His parents scraped out a living through subsistence fishing. He never finished his education and neither did any of his seven siblings. As they grew up, their opportunities were very limited.  

Mario lives in Barangay Lamba, located about three miles southeast of Legazpi City in the Philippines. It is a small community of 251 households in a hilly area. Most of its inhabitants work as fishermen or farmers. Some own small businesses and others work menial jobs in the city. Poverty is visible everywhere.

Mario is highly invested in the success of his community. He is married to Elizabeth del Rosario, 49, and they have three children—Elmar, 27, Maribeth, 26, and Mari Liza, 20. He is one of the original partner families of Anduyog for Families Toward Values-Based Sustainable Development and Disaster Management Project. Heifer Philippines, in partnership with the Aquinas University Foundation, Inc. (AQFI), began the project in June 25, 2008. Mario, who was first elected village councilman in 1998, has a natural inclination to help others. He was elected as village captain a year after Heifer and AQFI’s project was implemented. As one of the original participants, he believed in the project while some of his neighbors refused to join because they believed that the project would remain a promise rather than a reality.

During the past four years, Mario has incorporated the lessons he learned in Cornerstones and Values-Based Holistic Community Development (VBHCD). He participated in environmental protection and training, including the disaster-risk reduction (CMDRR) initiative from Heifer through the local partner NGO. Heifer’s CMDRR initiative in Lamba trained the families on what to do, what to bring and where to go if natural disasters, such as typhoons, floods or tsunamis, occur.  

Mario’s leadership has led to marked community development.

“Leaders with strong spirituality are more efficient and effective; they have the integrity to lead,” said Myrna Antiquiera, a self-help group member. "Chairman Mario was able to unite the political factions in the community.”

Antiquiera also said the disaster-risk reduction (CMDRR) is proactive. “We now know what to do and where to go every time we face hazards,” Antiquiera said. “He taught us how to help ourselves and be accountable for own safety and those we love”

Lamba’s CMDRR effort was honored in the search for excellence in disaster-risk management conducted by the Office of Civil Defense. Mario received an award and a cash prize for placing first in the 2012 Regional Gawad KALASAG, Best BDRRMC, Urban Category. (Kalsang is a Filipino term for shield.) The award ceremony was held September 26, 2012. Barangay Lamba emerged as the best among 3,471 barangays in the Bicol region.

“Truly, it is not material wealth, but strong spirituality as the most potent tool in governance,” Mario said.


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.