BY GERMELINA A. LACORTE
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 9, April 6-12, 2008
DAVAO CITY – Pencils and notebooks made in Germany and Switzerland, durable umbrellas, raincoats as big as blankets because European sizes are almost twice as big as average Filipino sizes, used toys curiously making their way to the lumad communities in Mindanao.
This was how Percinita Sanchez, executive director of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (Misfi), described the goods that first arrived in the Philippines 16 years ago, when their friend Monica Baumann, first set up the little Swiss shop in the village of Jeggenstorf, 16 kilometers from Bern, Switzerland, auctioning unused items to send off to poor communities in the Philippines.
“We used to receive huge Balikbayan boxes twice a year,” Sanchez remembers with amusement.
Baumann, who founded women’s group Theresa Ladeli (ladeli is the Swiss term for “little shop”) in Switzerland after the shock of her first visit in the Philippines, believed that reaching out to people who are also helping other people will enable their limited assistance to last a long way.
Now, the little Swiss shop is already coursing its help through 35 nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and peoples’ groups, whose projects include health, medical, literacy, daycare, socio economic and institutional support services in Mindanao’s most depressed barangays.
In her latest visit to the country, Baumann beamed when she learned that funds that Theresa Ladeli has been sending to the Philippines has already benefited 40,000 people in Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Davao, Sanchez said.
The numerous projects included cooperative sari-sari stores, school buildings, pre and post harvest facilities, like corn shellers, corn millers, a rice mill, and in some areas, hogs and cattle dispersal, projects that may appear small, at times, but are critical for small communities to survive.
“The bulk of the assistance in the last 16 years went to our schools for the lumads (indigenous peoples),” Sanchez said. The group has been running 10 lumad literacy schools for adults and preschoolers in different indigenous communities in Mindanao since 1993.
In the beginning, Baumann’s “little shop” only collected donations in kind from people in Jegenstorf, by telling them to “bring what they want” and to give what they do not need. People would flock to the shop in Jegenstorf, bringing things they no longer need and then, picking up anything that they want from the shop displays.
Afterwards, the Swiss women would put the goods they collected in huge Balikbayan boxes and send them off to the Philippines. The boxes, containing used clothes and toys to kitchen utensils, Swiss knives and school supplies, make their way to the NGO communities assisting the lumads in Mindanao.
It was only much later, when goods had accumulated that Theresa Ladeli decided to auction some of the items and send the proceeds to the Philippines.
Last year, Baumann also put up a solidarity house in Indangan, funded by inheritance money from her father, Karl Mader, and another one in barangay Alabel in General Santos.
She was on a visit to Mindanao’s poorest communities with two women companions, Lilly Wirz and Anna Rosa Gersbach when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hobnobbed with the world’s richest and most powerful people at the world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland in January, this year.
Baumann said she was inspired by Mother Theresa’s work with the poor in Calcutta, India and decided to name her group after her. But she said that aside from Mother Theresa’s love for the poor, their comparison with the saint ended there.
For she said, Mother Theresa was concerned only in helping the sick and the dying. Baumann said that in the 16 years that she kept coming back to the Philippines, she discovered that politics, and economics and culture are intricately interwoven they’re almost impossible to separate.
Sanchez pointed out that some political and economic forces are keeping most people poor in the Philippines. “We could never separate politics from the poverty and suffering that we experience,” she said.
For instance, Baumann was shocked to hear about government soldiers closing down some of the cooperatives they helped build in depressed areas.
One of them, a multi-purpose sari-sari store in Hinandayan barangay in Nasipit town in Agusan del Sur was ordered closed last year upon suspicion that the cooperative was financed by the Communist New People’s Army (NPA), said Virna Lañojan, executive director of the Mindanao Farmers’ Resource Center (MFRC).
But this was something that the Philippine Army denied. “How can we close something, when it’s not within our jurisdiction?” Lt. Col. Eric Vinoya told Davao Today.
In January, an enraged Baumann, however, recalled facing the 8th IB commander, who even questioned her motives for helping the poor.
“It’s something that we don’t understand,” said Lily. “We got no word from the government for the work we do and now, this is what we get.”
Baumann said she is planning to write a letter to the European Union (EU), to tell them of the harassments that their small projects in the Philippines have been getting. “Sometimes, you have to open your mouth to say something for the people who can’t say anything,” she said.
She said that she was amazed by the enthusiasm shown by the NGO workers, who are young and dedicated. Some of the lumad para-teachers even have to walk as long as four hours a day just to teach the lumads basic letters and numbers. “For every project, they keep on learning,” she said.
“We want to help the lumads, to tell them they have to protect our earth because no one is doing it anymore,” she said.
She expressed alarm over the coming in of more banana plantations and mining companies in Mindanao. She said only very few people are left taking care of the environment, but whose initiatives are also being destroyed.
She said that her first impression of the Philippines, when she first set foot here 16 years ago, was that the place was so beautiful but the people were poor.
Up to the last day of their month-long stay in the Philippines, the three Swiss women couldn’t take their minds off the poor Mindanao communities they’ve befriended.
“After all I have experienced these six weeks, I do not go back home the same woman as I was before,” Anna Rosa said, “I go home, half-Swiss and half-Filipina (not only because my skin has become darker by the sun), and this half part will always want to come back to you again.” Davao Today / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)