- Posted October 14, 2013 by
Quezon City, Philippines
SMALL TOWN HEROES GO BIG ON CHANGE
For the common Filipino worker, making ends meet is in itself a challenge. Expenses pile up everyday, making the opportunity to do a simple good deed seemed the least of anyone’s priorities. However, a small group of farmers from Sitio Madlum have proven otherwise -- With hard work and an unwavering sense of commitment, they brought back hope into their lives and a whole lot of goodness for everyone.
90 km north of Manila, Sitio Madlum is part of Sibul, a barangay of San Miguel, Bulacan. 200 families reside here and for some time, the main source of income was just farming. Being far from the center of the town it takes a great deal of travel for its residents. Furthermore, the roads are narrow, steep and unpaved, prone to be impassable in times of bad weather.
Amidst the isolation, Madlum possesses natural resources that enrich the territory. The Madlum River is a long sinuous waterway that has impressive rock formations on its flank and beyond is an inviting sandy shore. Opposite paths lay Mt. Manalmon and Mt. Gola, two landmasses that foster a thriving grove of trees and vegetation. Several caves of different sizes are situated just a short distance from the river where numerous species of bats, birds and insects inhabit them.
Past accounts revealed that during the late 1800’s the Madlum caves were associated with the establishment of the Biak-na-Bato Republic, the first Philippine government declared by Emilio Aguinaldo as he attempted to elude his Spanish pursuers. While in 1945, through the course of liberating Bulacan from Japanese occupants, a few skirmishes were said to have occurred within these very caves. The historical significance earned Madlum a place in the Biak-na-Bato National Park.
Although considered to be one of the many protected areas in the Philippines, any monitoring or maintenance hardly reached Madlum. Inevitably, much of the area was riddled with vandalism and litter from abusive travelers. Concerned for the land, the farmers needed to take action lest they witness the slow deterioration of Madlum.
It was not till 1998 when volunteers from Mirriam College and Peace Corp visited Madlum and offered a solution. A selected number of farmers were formally trained at different seminar venues. The knowledge and skill they acquired eventually lead to the establishment of a self-sustaining organization able to handle the potential tourism and at the same time develop a conservation program aimed to last for future generations. A year later, the People’s Organization of Madlum was officially registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“The Peace Corp was attracted to this area.” explained Antonio Donceras, president of the People’s Organization of Madlum. “They (Peace Corp) saw the potential for something great if there were to be a people’s organization.”
Fully equipped and prepared, Madlum farmers follow a regular system that allows them to efficiently address their goals. Visitors who come to Madlum are assigned with an official tour guide. This is necessary to ensure that visitors would be safe and sites would be kept clean. From an exhilarating mountain trek, to an exceptional cave exploration, to a nice relaxing dip on the river’s waters, the visitors are provided ample service that will make their trip worthwhile.
Fees are priced inexpensively and 10% of the guide’s earnings are allotted for organizational funds. Since there is no financial support from any government agency, the Madlum farmers have to get by in trying to improve and develop their village on their own.
“From the small percentage we get from the guided tours, we were able to raise 15,000.00 Php. There, we used to construct a water pump.” said Carlito Carpio, treasurer of the People’s Organization of Madlum. “Now everyone who comes here gets to use it.”
The Madlum farmers also organize yearly tree planting sessions for institutions and universities. They give advice on what type of sapling, the season when to schedule and the area where the planting should take place. This activity is designed to educate the public on the value of environmental responsibility and to make sure that the land will remain healthy and teeming with plant life.
“It would be a beautiful thing if we would be able to make the people, those who come here, realize the importance of nature.” said Donceras.
Today, a continuous wave of tourists arrives in Madlum: from nature lovers, to mountaineers, to thrill seekers. As such, the increase of guests gave the rest of the Madlum community an opportunity to earn at least some extra income by putting up food stalls and “sari-sari” stores.
Even in the midst of success, there are still certain difficulties to overcome. Infrastructures have yet to be improved in order to immediately address times of emergency. Apart from the terrible roads, the only way to cross the Madlum River is either by a single wooden raft or two thick cable wires hung on nearby cliffs. But despite the constraints, the Madlum farmers are optimistic that help will eventually come, even if it will be from their own efforts.
The Madlum farmers have demonstrated that no one needs to be of wealth and influence to make a strong and lasting difference. Though their fortunes are scant and of truly humble means, they have taken the role of conservationists as they safeguard the lush locale surrounding their homes from further damage. Aided by the education generously provided to them, they spread the word to the tourists they guide each day on the importance of respecting the environment and possibly encourage more supporters and devotees to their cause. Thankless it may be, they carry on hoping that all their labors will someday bring forth a far better tomorrow -- one of rich beauty and genuine goodness.