This post is about Pasali, an organization which works in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. It is active in 7 municipalities and 1 city in the southern Mindanao, but is most active in one particular town – Palimbang, in the province of Sultan Kudarat, where it does almost half of its work.
Palimbang is a town that is different from most other Philippine towns. For starters, the majority of its population is Muslim, and that in itself is unique, since only 5% of Filipinos are Muslim (81% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and 10% follow other Christian religions). Palimbang lacks roads, electricity, and even mobile phone access – very un-Philippines. To make things worse, about 45% of the people live below the poverty line – making it one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.
Palimbang is special in another way – it is the cradle of the Muslim rebellion (which started in 1972, and has not quite ended). Major battles raged there between the rebels and the government military till less than a decade ago; hostilities continued till 2011.
Palimbang has a Muslim majority, but it has a substantial Christian minority. They were in a state of armed ceasefire with each other (always at the brink of hostilities) when Pasali started its work there in 2004. And both Christians and Muslims looked down on the Manobo tribespeople living in Palimbang’s hills.
Businesses and government development bodies avoid Palimbang like the plague. And so do NGOs. Except Pasali. In 2004, Pasali moved in (it had been founded in 1994 in Rotterdam, as a group of Filipino seafarers which pooled their financial resources for themselves, and for Philippine projects). Pasali started by forcing the Muslims and Christians to work together to build its Technical Center – and promoted cooperation instead of hostilities. Since there was no school serving the Manobos in the hills, Pasali launched a program of having Muslim and Christian families host Manobo children, who were able to then go to school in the lowlands.
Ten Years Later
Now, after almost ten years of work in Palimbang, many people in Palimbang are still quite poor. However, Pasali has improved the lives of many in various ways:
The Muslims and Christians work together in various ways – they help each other till their fields, are organized into mixed associations and cooperatives, etc.
The Manobos, from being despised by Muslims and Christians, have become valued members of the community. The Manobos now ‘export’ corn and vegetables which is sold all over Palimbang. And many families have close relationships with Manobo children, from many years of serving as host families for them.
Pasali installs water systems (including the revolutionary Hydraulic Ram Pump, which pumps water uphill – up to 200 meters vertically – without using a motor). This has brought water to hilltribes all over Mindanao island. But almost as important is the fact that Pasali’s water technicians started off as boys from the area; and they were child soldiers before becoming water technicians. These water technicians are now role models for the youth of Palimbang – children used to look up to rebels as role models, now their role models are Pasali water technicians, or farm machinery operators.
Pasali has a rudimentary Farm Machinery Pool, which has simple machinery that are used by rice farmers. This not only helps the farmers, but offers employment to local youth.
Now that Pasali has brought peace and cooperation among the ethnic groups in Palimbang, Pasali is setting its sights on lifting its population out of poverty. It has some projects in this direction:
Farm Machinery and Improved Farming Methods. Pasali is promoting SRI (System of Rice Intensification) which increases rice yields with lesser inputs (uses organic fertilizer, but no herbicides and very little pesticides, less water, less seeds). This, in combination with farm machinery (Pasali hopes to raise money for these in the coming year), would effectively double their harvests, and lift them out of poverty. This will be done in batches of 250 families at a time, over a two year period.
Reforestation and the Planting of Rubber Trees. The hills where the Manobo highlanders live are bare – they had been cut clean by successive logging companies in decades past. They want to restore their forest and also plant rubber trees to augment their income. Pasali has made a start, by planting 20 hectares of rubber trees in the last two years. It plans to plant up to a total of 200 hectares to rubber in the coming years, as well as to restore up to more than 3500 hectares of native forest.
I believe that Pasali does quite good work. It is able to do a lot with modest resources; but could do a lot more if given more support. While helping one town (Palimbang, population of 115,000) in the Philippines (population of 105 million) seems like a drop in the bucket; Palimbang is one of the most difficult places to work in the whole country. If Pasali succeeds in Palimbang, it will mean a lot for lifting other poor communities in the country. After all, if they could succeed in Palimbang, others could succeed everywhere else in the Philippines.
See also: Pasali Philippines Foundation