This is a story based on the life of Noel Perez, just one of more than a thousand farmers in Odiongan, Romblon who struggle everyday to survive.
ROMBLON - I got home late tonight all day long in the rice field of Don Juan. Hoping to get my little salary to buy food and pay all my debt to Inday’s little store. Heavy rain suddenly fell when I was a block apart from our home and I know that my wife Noribi was waiting for me.
I felt exhausted by that time since we lived in the upper part of the mountain and I worked on the lower part. Drenched because of the heavy rain, Noribi approached me and said, “Noel, we don’t have husked rice anymore and I already tried to borrow from Inday but she refused because we still owe her P500.”
I felt sad by the news and my nerves started to feel ablaze. I came home late and we had no rice to eat. I went to my father’s house to ask for husked rice. Unfortunately, I saw nothing. All of a sudden I started to cry – reflecting on how hard our life was being just a farmer here in Barangay Pato-o, Odiongan, Romblon.
Noribi was pregnant with our first baby - not so much of an excitement because soon we would be parents facing another challenge. But we had no choice but to face it. We were born poor with nothing to brag. Noribi helped me by planting vegetables to sell. We took care of chickens and a pig that we could sell in case we needed money. Some of them got infected and eventually died because we could not afford to treat them.
There were times when Don Juan did not need my service so I had to look for another job to have money. I was paid to pick coconuts from the tree. I could get 200 coconuts by just climbing the tree. It was scary. What if I accidentally fall? Nobody is going to take care of my family anymore.
Then a special day came. Noribi gave birth to our first baby and we named him “Noriel”. Noribi could no longer work as she decided to devote her time for our baby. Being the head of the family, I promised Elena that I would be more determined to earn more money. The everyday hardships did not stop me to dream for a brighter future. I just needed to figure out the key to success.
Time flew fast and my baby Noriel grew into a boy with masculine body, just like mine. He was helping me in every kind of job. We used to smash big stones until they turned brittle and would sell them for P300 per full load of truck. We shoveled and refined sand and sold it for P350. We chopped and burned tree branches to convert it to charcoal and sold it for P150 per sack. Noribi accepted laundry job twice a week and she was paid P200 per day.
I worked as a carpenter, a chainsaw operator, a motorcycle driver and even a helper if there was a need.
We were working together to make sure Noriel could make it until college. We would always give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ. We attended Sunday mass regularly. I had strong faith. My parents raised me as a Catholic and until now I remained loyal despite the emerging different beliefs nowadays. I believe prayers could move mountains. But sometimes I would feel doubts since some of my prayers remained unanswered. But I just kept the faith alive and believed that God had a better plan for us.
Noriel never got any award or recognition during his elementary and high school days but we were still very proud of him. We admired his determination and perseverance to pass every school year. Until the moment we have been waiting finally came along - Noriel graduated from college. I could not explain the feeling while watching my son marching on his graduation. When his name was called, my hands started shaking and I began to cry.
I will always treasure that moment of my life. Now I can brag to the whole world that even a farmer like me can send a child to college. This happened four years ago. Noriel is now working in Manila with his own family. He has established good reputation and salary.
I am currently living happy and relax with my wife Noribi here in Barangay Pato-o, Odiongan, Romblon.
Noel Perez is just one of more than a thousand farmers in Odiongan, Romblon. Like him, farmers struggle everyday to survive. Unfortunately, not all farmers succeed like Noel. Most of them still live in poverty. How ironic that in a place like Barangay Pato-o, with lush highland and various waterfalls, farmers remain poor?
To improve the lives of provincial communities while sustaining the beauty of the environment, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Tourism (DOT), Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation and ABS-CBN Foundation’s (AFI) Bantay Kalikasan launched the GREEN INITIATIVE.
Through Green Initiative, farmers like Noel and even the rest of the communities can participate to put up ecotourism and agricultural efforts to protect the environment while generating income. Aside from Odiongan and other parts of Romblon, the Green Initiative also targets to improve selected areas in Bicol.
The conviction is that if tourism, agriculture and environmental protection happen in one place – and these efforts are supported by the media and private sector investments, the results will be phenomenal.
Please call 4152272 local 3792 to know more about the Green Initiative.