The Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) and its longtime development partners – the Province of East Flanders (PEF) Belgium and the nongovernment organization Solidagro in East Flanders – held a solidarity mission in the Cordillera region last March 4-14. The mission aimed for the solidarity partners to sustain connection with their partner communities and to have a direct exchange on the impact of the programs and services they have implemented collaboratively. It is also for the Belgian partners to deepen their knowledge through physical learning experience of the reality and situation in the Cordillera region including grounded sharing with CDPC’s implementing partners.

The PEF is a province in Belgium that has a policy on Region-Oriented North-South cooperation that particularly supports the Cordillera region in Asia, Ecuador in Latin America, and Rwanda in Africa. Solidagro advocates right to food through an agroecological approach to food systems. The CDPC is a coordinating NGO in the Cordillera region that implements programs on food security, health, livelihood, formal/informal workers’ programs based on a human rights and indigenous peoples rights perspective. This tripartite development partnership supports programs and projects defined by communities. In addition to the funding from the Province of East Flanders, the CDPC program receives support from the Directorate General for Development Cooperation of Belgium.

These collaborating partners conduct solidarity missions in the Cordillera region every three years. The last was in February 2018, as the supposed succeeding visit in 2021 did not push through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lentjee Grillaert, Deputy for Development Cooperation; Marie Paule De Wael, International Solidarity Officer and Nele Van Haver, program coordinator were the visiting delegates from the PEF. The Solidagro team was composed of the executive director Tim De Roeck and the program manager to the Philippines Ingebord Dries, together with their country office staff Jhana Tehome and Suyin Jamoralin. Eddy Couckuyt, the former Deputy for Development Cooperation, also joined the mission as part of Solidagro.

Community interaction in Kalinga

The mission kicked off with the inauguration of the training center at the CDPC agroecological farm in Lacnog, Tabuk City, Kalinga. The training center supports the learning farm that advocates agroecological rice farming through the use of new farming techniques including the production and use of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides. In addition, it intends to enhance farmers’ knowledge on the agroecological method of farming that complements traditional indigenous agriculture and food systems. CDPC Executive Director Rhoda Dalang with Deputy Grillaert and Director De Roeck led the ribbon cutting of the new building. This was followed by festive cultural dances as part of the traditional ritual for the inauguration.

Ribbon Cutting of the new building

In the succeeding  days, the partners visited some of their service communities in Kalinga: Tanglag in Lubuagan, Bolo in Balantoy, Balbalan, and Dilag in Tabuk City. Going to the service areas is the core of these regular solidarity missions as it provides the partners an avenue to see firsthand the projects they have helped put up and have a personal sharing with people in the communities served.

In Lubuagan the partners paid a courtesy visit to Mayor Joel Tagaotao before proceeding to Tanglag. They hiked for about two hours to see the community’s waterworks system. CDPC closely worked with the people’s organization Tanglag Community Organization for Unity and Development (TACOUD) and the provincial peasant alliance Timpuyog dagiti Mannalon iti Kalinga in implementing the project.  CDPC-PEF-Solidagro provided the funds for the materials, while the community members worked on the construction of the waterworks system through cooperative labor called angkas; the municipal government partly provided food for work. Since its construction in 2020, a potable water source has been sustained contributing to the maintenance of hygiene in the community. Moreover, it lessened the burden of women and girls who had to fetch water from distant water sources. The partners were warmly welcomed by the community with a short program that included cultural performances.

Partners dancing with the people in Tanglag

In Balbalan town, the partners were received by the Executive Assistant and Executive Staff of Mayor Almar Malannag during the courtesy visit. The mission then went to Bolo for a sharing with the community that started with an overview of the area situation by Jerry Bulaat, CDPC peasant staff in the province. He also mentioned the CDPC network’s past intervention programs in barangay Balantoy in partnership with the Balantoy Farmers Asscoiation for Development (BFAD). Among these are communal irrigation system projects, rice cooperatives, a multipurpose building for farming and community-based health programs. The most recent is the installation of solar lamps along pathways in the community.

Courtesy visit at the office of the Mayor in Balbalan

In Dilag, members of the partner people’s organization Basao-Dilag Community Association for Rural Empowerment (BDCARE) shared how the solar-powered water system project has benefitted the community. The community belongs to the Basao tribe originally from Tinglayan who migrated  to lowland Tabuk during  the Martial law years in the 1970s-1980s. They were among the tribes that strongly resisted the construction of the infamous Chico hydropower dam at that time. With their relocation, lack of water had been a challenge for them, thus their expressions of gratitude for the project. In addition to freeing the women and girls from the burden of fetching water, it provided them an abundant water supply for domestic use, with almost every household or cluster of households having their own sanitary toilets. Before this, the surrounding grassland served as their toilet.

Members of the BDCARE sharing about the solar powered water system project

Projects strongly led by people’s organizations coupled with community members’ cooperation in their implementation through angkas/innabuyog is a key feature of CDPC’s services in the communities.

Sharing with partner implementers in Baguio City

            From the community visits, the partners went to Baguio City and met with the Organisasyon dagiti Nakurapay nga Umili iti Syudad (ORNUS), CDPC partner implementer for the program supporting informal and formal workers’ rights. ORNUS showcased their urban gardening project with a visit to the home garden of their member Cora Loste in Springhills, Loakan. Daisy Bagni, also a member of ORNUS, said the project aims to promote urban gardening as an additional source of food. A new project introduced during the pandemic, it intends to help women ambulant vendors put food on the table, as they lost their livelihoods due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Other developments in ORNUS work on mine workers’ rights in two mining companies in Benguet and recent issues on the jeepney phaseout and corporatization of the transport sector were also briefly tackled.

Sharing on the home garden project

The last leg of the visit was a meeting with the Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE), which implements the right to health program. Rayne Suyam, CHESTCORE staff, gave a brief health situation in the Cordillera region particularly during the pandemic. She highlighted their work on education information and trainings of health workers in the communities, as well as lobby work with the Baguio city government on health issues.

The partners also had the opportunity to have an exchange with Saint Louis University (SLU) medical students doing an internship program with CHESTCORE. At that time, the students were  practicing  to make Lagundi syrup, an herbal medicine for cough. The Belgian team were particularly touched and inspired from the exchanges, as the students shared their  very positive outlook on community service and how they can have an impact.

Exchange with the SLU medical students at the CHESTCORE office

Essence of solidarity mission

Struck by and grateful for the hospitality and friendliness of the people they met, Deputy Grillaert said of their mission, “I have seen some really good examples of what we are doing, of what CDPC and Solidagro are doing here, for me that is important. I have seen some important investments that made a change in the lives of the (people), that’s a very good point to go home with.” This was her first visit to the Cordillera region.

Solidarity visits are embedded in the tripartite partnership for Belgian partners to have an actual grasp of projects they are supporting and to meet with partner communities and see their own version of reality. They pave a way for a stronger link between them.

The solidarity visit is also the most effective mechanism in evidence-based monitoring, evaluation and learning as it provides concrete information and common learning to all program stakeholders – communities, organizations, CDPC and funding partners – subsquently towards further improvement of quality of services and optimizing outcomes.