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Story by Jun Dom-oguen | Program Officer, Northern Philippines | Heifer Philippines
and Karla Narcise-Rodulfo | PME Manager | Heifer Philippines
What happens to Heifer partner families when a project ends? What happens to a Woman in Livestock (WiLD) awardee after the attention has died down? Let’s take a look.
If you happen to visit a simple, laid-back picturesque town in Mt. Province, Philippines, called Sagada, you will see a sign that says Sagada Town Cafe on a building across the road from where public utility vehicles park. The inviting scent of Arabica coffee will entice you to enter the cafe, and surely you will be greeted by a tall, cheerful lady asking if you want to try anything in addition to their famous coffee.
Chances are, the lady who greets you will be the owner, Carol T. Balisong, a 2009 WiLD Award winner. She won Heifer’s prestigious Women in Development (WiLD) Award in recognition of her exemplary achievement as a Self-Help Group (SHG) member of the Sharing Agri-Livestock Resources and Enterprise Development (ShARED) project. The ShARED project was co-implemented by Sumya-an Association, a local People’s Organization in Sagada, with Heifer International Philippines, and ended its active life in May 2009. She used part of the award money she received to open the Cafe, while the SHGs share was added to their revolving fund.
A sidewalk vendor and backyard pig raiser, Carol is now a businesswoman as well. She earns an average gross income of $476 per month from her coffee shop and sidewalk vending alone. Carol said with pride, “I believe the project lived up to its objectives of really improving the income of members like me. It taught us how to put up a sustainable enterprise, so when the opportunity came for me to start a small enterprise, I grabbed it to try my luck. Since I have been managing the cafe, I have more time for my children and family. I still maintain my sidewalk vending business every market day (Saturday) so I can regularly see my customers.”
Sagada Town Cafe serves coffee and snacks, and short orders upon request; it also has catering services for small occasions and parties. “With this cafe, luck was on my side and of course, Heifer too,” Carol added.
Back in 2005, a friend convinced Carol to join the Sumya-Ann Women’s Organization in Sagada. “I joined with an ulterior motive in mind, expecting that it would be good for my small buy-and-sell business,” said Carol.
As she attended Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development Workshop, however, Carol was touched by the process of finding her self-worth through personal leadership and human values. “Of all the gifts I received from Heifer International, I’ll say it’s the Cornerstones that are the most important,” said Carol. She realized that even though she was a degree holder, she never really learned and grew up the way she did in both mind and heart at the Cornerstones training. “I began to appreciate the purpose of the organization and treat my co-members with respect, and gained respect in return, building good relationships around me and my family,” she said.
In 2009, Carol was elected president of the Sumya-Ann Women’s Association. Original families from the project were able to pass on the same gifts they had received from Heifer and Sumya-an to needy families last April, 2012. As per the SHG policy, she was replaced as president after three years but is still a very active member.
“I try my best to practice the Cornerstones. It serves as a guide in my everyday life. My relationship with my family became very strong and grounded. We also apply it in our organization; in fact, we were able to establish a policy for assistance from the Mortuary Aid Program for members. We included a savings plan for our children’s future. I now have a total of $357 in our group savings, while my five kids have a total of $333. This, together with the sales of my pigs, is where I got the capital to use for my small business. We continuously save monthly.”
“Right now, I hope members and partner families all understand and are practicing the Cornerstones,” said Carol. She also wants all members of the Self-Help Groups to know that they too can earn money if they take good care of their gifts. Most members of the organization do make money and have their own impact stories to tell as well.
“Through the Cornerstones, I have found my worth and advocacy to spread the Cornerstones to families in our community, even to those who are not members of the organization or Self-Help Groups,” said Carol, “I am also glad that the Sagada Local Government Units, through its Agriculture department, is now recognizing the efforts of the organization and the POG process.”
“The project may have ended, and the award was already given, but the zest for life the project gave to me will never end, will never be taken. I will continue to help women in my community to improve their lives and find their worth as I did,” Carol concluded.