Updated: Dec 2, 2021
by Carol Cook
from the archives, March 2020
I have long been an admirer and supporter of NEW Pathways to Enterprise, a UU-led organization that helps community groups in the Philippines identify their dreams of financial stability, and then trains them in best business practices using local experts. When this opportunity arose, I was so excited at the prospect of actually participating in the NEW Pathways project in Ulay with New Pathways President Chris Nielsen. I was glad that Betsy Blosser would be there too. Well – life intervenes – and as it turned out neither Chris nor Betsy could come to Ulay in February. We did not want to delay the process so long awaited and desired by our Ulay partners, so we decided to forge ahead, with my presence and the able leadership of agricultural specialist Reynic Alo and Rev. Arman Pedro from the UU Church of the Philippines.
As it turned out, it was a tremendous experience to spend 5 days in Ulay, attending the Sunday service, followed by the 4-day workshop, to work with Reynic and Arman, and to witness, support, and document this amazing process. By the way – the Ulay chapel was packed on Sunday – the 98 valentines that I took long were not quite enough!
Of the 60 September attendees, 31 showed up for the Level 1 workshop, plus 7 newcomers who were so enthused and hard-working that we decided to include them too, for a total of 38 graduates who will continue through the next steps. Since Ulay is not a village, but a widely scattered collection of families from farms in 2 different jurisdictions, the 38 participants were divided into 4 groups, based upon geographical proximity. The workshops were open to the whole community, but most of the participants are members of the Ulay congregation.
Level 2, the next step, which hopefully will begin this month, is in-depth hands-on training on best business practices for hog raising, and for raising vegetables and chickens in Food Houses – techniques developed and used successfully on Negros Island by Reynic Alo.
Level 3 and 4 take the participants through Business Skills Training, including marketing and cash flow, and Start-up. Groups will launch their businesses, following detailed business plans. New Pathways provides start-up capital and equipment. Local partners provide mentoring and monitoring services.
The main focus of the February “IdeaShop” was to explore further the practicalities of hog and vegetable-raising, as identified at the first session; to consider a few other compatible ideas, such as growing jack fruit or mango trees for longer-term financial gain; to learn about governmental and NGO-based programs that will save families money and improve their lives; to record each individual's priorities; and to help each of the four groups identify their own vision, and record it by choosing a theme and creating a mural depicting their dream for their community. The murals were amazing and detailed. One even included solar panels! I told the group they can consider Artist another career option!
During every phase of the process participants are nurtured and supported with great care, to give them every possible tool to succeed independently. With Ulay's agricultural focus, this is especially important. If farming becomes a viable option for livelihood, young people will be drawn to farming, and less likely to leave the country to seek overseas employment. The Philippines needs a stronger agricultural sector and less reliance on imports. Families need to remain together, and young people need viable employment in the Philippines.
NEW Pathways to Enterprise is investing $6000 in this training program for our Ulay partners, and we have matched that amount. Our current obligation is to pay the remaining costs – an additional $4-6000. Thanks to your generous support of the Alternative Gift Faire, we are almost half way to raising these funds.
This is a lot of information to absorb. What is harder to convey is the joy and enthusiasm that I witnessed and felt each day. Participants were fully engaged and asked lots of questions, leading to good discussions. Rey Minasalvas did a wonderful job of organizing, including building tables for the mural project, keeping track of all the attendees, and configuring the groups. Reynic brought in informative speakers, including members of a women's group from Malingin (another UU congregation) who shared their experiences in their NEW Pathways project. Arman had everyone laughing uproariously with his wonderful ice-breakers.
When in the past I've visited Ulay on Sundays, I have mostly seen the parents and students in our Education Partners program. This time I got to know many of the families' adult offspring who don't often come on Sundays. Every day we ended with the whole group singing Diana Ross's If We Hold on Together – holding on to each other's hands and raising them in victory at the end. I can't wait to return for Graduation Day! Next time with Betsy and Chris!
If you want to see more, check out my photo journals of the 4 Ideashop days, posted on the UUSM Facebook page. If you haven't yet joined our UUSM page – please do so!