Fab at 63: Jo finds the fountain of youth via common sense and discipline

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.” – Mark Twain

There is no secret at all. The fountain of youth is right in our hands. 63-year old Jo proved it works with discipline.

Take a look again. Does she look like one? I mean, is she 63 years old and now is eligible for that senior citizen’s card plus benefits. No way, you’d see. Some will say, it is unfair or it is in her genes. Ok, we can list a lot of excuses and never ran out of them.

I have known Jocelyn Suelo, or Jo, to us her friends and her family, for probably over 20 years since our all-women Venture Club of Koronadal days. She is one of those friends who, when you need anything urgent, all you need is call. But I cannot for the life of me, imagine she past 60!

Then in our of our annual impromptu get-togethers, this time at our farm house, she shared her unforgettable climb at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Yes, all the glorious 3,500 steps on foot from 12 midnight to 7:30 in the morning.  That’s 7 and half hours of uphill walk. “I did it and was never tired at all when I reached the top. I even wanted to shout at the top of my lungs but I got concerned other people around might get annoyed at me”, Jo recalls.

“I wanted to shout but I might annoy tourists around us.” Scaling the 3,500 steps of Mt. Sinai was a major victory for her.

While the rest of the entourage was slumped with exhaustion and lack of sleep, Jo was almost starting her day and ready for more adventure. Any secret? She reveals, “During the steep climb that felt like an eternity, I was focused in praying. In every step after completing 15 Holy Rosary Mysteries, I prayed Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. It made me very strong and full of energy.”

Jo’s consistency in watching her diet and doing her daily physical exercise is paying off beautifully. Take that literally. Imagine how storekeepers’ eyes get wide with surprise at her when she hands over her senior citizen’s card like she was making a joke.

Jo did the incredible at her age together with friends Fr. Louie, Mary Ann and Susan.

“I maintained a healthy lifestyle from the very beginning. I seldom drink soda, hardly eat pork and beef. My food always consisted of veggies, fruits, fish, seafood and milk. I love sleeping and would always complete my 6-8 hours and still take a nap after lunch. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I drink 2 tall glasses of warm water. I don’t drink any cold water at all. Yes, I laugh and smile a lot”, she says smiling.

The eldest of 6 sibling, Jo is the only girl. When her father died, she was 26 years old and became the head of the family taking care of everyone including her youngest brother who was 5 years old at that time. “My father did not leave us anything like a farm to support all of us, not even a spoon of property”, she wryly recalls.

There is no secret. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, sleep for 6-8 hours, pray when you are troubled and smile a lot!

Jo became a working student at the South Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health Office since 1974 to sustain her education. She eventually was hired when she finished college and still works there until now. Despite the tough life she went through, Jo said she maintained a very positive outlook at life.

“Everyday I thank God for my blessings. If any problem comes, I resort to prayers and ask God for help and guidance. He has never failed me. God never ignored my prayers”, she says adding as a reminder, “Keep on smiling. There are so many reasons to smile.”

After standing by her 6 brothers, one of whom is now a ship captain, Jo lives her life to the full. Her daily routine? She shares what all of us can do daily, “I do zumba and always find an excuse to stand up and walk when at work. I love sweeping dried leaves in the backyard of our ancestral home that never failed to get my sweat pouring out.”

No rocket science involved here, right? Jo just exercised dear old common sense to practice and got very good at it through the years. Despite all the banquets, endless parties and celebrations she attended, she never went beyond her 50-53kg. weight.

Jo got us all thinking and it is not too late. If she can do it — then we too can!

Remember what Maya Angelou said? “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Sum them up simply as ageing gracefully. Yes, with a smile!

Surrounded by friends and her loving family, Jo lives a full life despite being single.

Siquijor Diaries: Lilibeth’s pan bisaya and why her bakeshop is a hit

By the time I met her in Siquijor, Lilibeth is already famous.

She was featured in GMA’s Byahe ni Drew, a travel show, in an Asian magazine, countless travel blogs and soon according to her on Kris Aquino’s social media channel. The last time Kris was supposed to come, a brewing storm prevented the trip to the frustration of her fans who crowded at Lilibeth’s bakeshop excited to see her.

My guide and pedicab driver Warren Omalza asked if I want to try a pan bisaya that’s been frequented by many tourists. Quite belatedly. By the time he mentioned, we were already past the bread shop. Good move we were already hungry so we decided to go back.

Every day is a busy day but its touching Lilibeth is generous with her time to curious customers like me.

The bakeshop in Barangay Binoongan (or widely known as Talingting), a part of Enrique Villanueva municipality is modest, nothing unusual from the small shops that dot the roadsides of Siquijor, even the whole country. But it changes when you meet the woman who made it possible.

It is made of bamboo and wood with some wooden tables and chairs thrown in for those who want to sit down and eat snacks or lunch.

The presidential son Baste Duterte sat on same tables with his friends. He promised to go back.

Lilibeth Viernes Alce, 49, has been baking for four years after a local micro-finance Paglaum trained her and provided support for her to start her own small business.

A mother of three (one died a baby), she established the business to send her youngest child to school. Her eldest stopped studying because she is sickly and is happier helping her in the shop.

Today, Lilibeth’s bakeshop consumes two sacks of flour for the rising demand which is even higher on holidays, during town fiestas and at summertime. Customers would often buy in dozens for pasalubong to families and friends.

I ate her freshly baked salvaro, cheese bread and bucayo torta and was blown away. Soft, delicious and tasted just like how your grandma can do it at home. There are more mouth-watering choices: ensaymada, tinalay, pan de leche and mongo bread.

As we talked, Lilibeth was preparing mounds of newly-prepared doughs ready to be baked inside her makeshift oven made of stone. It looked like a busy day as more bread are taken out and put in the display shelves.

“It is best eaten hot coming straight from the oven”, Lilibeth quips with a smile.

Baking is a passion. Lilibeth’s joy can be tasted in the bread she bakes with her family.

It was not very hard to figure out why her bakeshop is a hit. Lilibeth’s passion and love for what she does can be tasted in every bread she bakes. Her eyes light up as she talks about baking, the appreciation of her customers and the attention her bakeshop was getting.

She dreams of making the business bigger and build a house for her family. Lilibeth says, “Our house had been there even before I was born so it must be over 50 years old. My mother is also sick and I want to make sure she is provided with the medicines she need.

Tourists and local visitors are fast helping her make this happen, even her own fellow islanders who advise tourists not to miss the bake shop. Everyone loves someone who wins over poverty. One social media post got shared and the rest is history.

Simple and unpretentious, this bakeshop symbolized the hardworking spirit of the islanders like Lilibeth.

I am proud to have met and talked to Lilibeth. She is a shining example to all women that hardwork pays and nothing is impossible if you aim high for it.

Halloween Special: I survived my scary bed-shaking nights in a Bacolod hotel

Atox’s first time trip to the lovely city of Bacolod has become a very memorable one.

Guest blogger: Arthur “Atox” Condes

This one will go to the pages of horror stories just in time for the All Saint’s Day.

Or maybe the script for a short horror flick.

September 29, 2017

It was my first time to be in Bacolod City in the Philippines. Known for its annually-held Masskara Festival, this beautiful city is located in the northwestern coast of Negros island.

Though I have spent many years in the neighbouring city of Iloilo, I have never taken any chance to visit the lovely, bustling Queen City of the South. I have heard stories about its glory and fame: with many sites and sights to behold, delicacies to enjoy and relish, experiences to enjoy. All too difficult to resist.

I woke up earlier than usual, around 3:00 am, although I was scheduled to leave at around 5:30 am for the airport. While waiting for the pick-up vehicle, I struggled hard to keep myself awake. It was a raining and for someone who slept late, the coolness of the dawn and the sound of the pouring rain was lulling me back to sleep, tempting me to stay in bed longer.

It was still raining when we left for the airport.  That morning, the traffic was already slow but the good thing was that we were moving. We made it to the airport. Everything went well.

Though I have started to give up on my daily caffeine intake, I had no choice that time but to take a few sips of that sweet-smelling potion, once again, just to stay awake.

The trip from Manila was smooth, all the way to Silay City, where the airport is. A rainy afternoon welcomed me to Bacolod City. Not bad for my first visit.

The vast fields of green are refreshing to the eyes, especially my tired, sleepy eyes. The activities that afternoon went like a breeze. And then it was time for us to be brought to our hotel.

I settled in my room immediately, tired as I was. The room was quite large, with high ceiling, wide hallways and some dimly-lit corners.

Apart from the famous Masskara Festival held annually on October, Bacolod City is also known for its delicious food and friendly people. (Note: photo is screen grabbed online)

The whole place was bustling with people and activities, as the whole City of Smiles was preparing for the famed Masskara Festival. The hotel was right in the downtown area and I know that it will see some action during the festivities. In one of its corners, on the second floor, a mannequin that was dressed up in a colorful carnival-inspired attire stares blankly at the hotel guests as they pass, with its fixed wide-mouth grin. It reminded me of the clown in the movie “IT”.

The hotel is not so new but still decent, and had some surprises for me that night.

I shared the room with the driver from the host office. He was out most of the time and it was I who had this ‘different experience’.

While doing some editing work on my mobile phone, I decided to sit on bed, with my back on the headboard. I was so absorbed with the thing I was doing and I never thought of anything extraordinary that will happen.

I could hear some noise next door. “Maybe the guests were just rearranging the furniture”, I thought. It sounded like they dragged some chairs on the floor. Unusual because it was quite late at night.

Having stayed in various hotels during my other travels both here and abroad, I am quite well-aware of the unusual ‘first-night-of-stay’ feeling that would keep most people awake or on the edge.

Not for me. I get at ease quite easily even in a new place. More than 30 minutes had passed and I still sat on the bed working.

Then I felt the bed shake! It lasted for a few seconds. I thought it was because I moved to reposition my back on the wall. It can’t be an earthquake.

This time, I tried to keep still to observe. The bed shook like someone was rocking it! Still, I didn’t mind it and kept working on my mobile phone. When I was done sending mails, I washed up and got myself ready to sleep.

Nothing unusual happened aside from that bed-shaking incident — and the occasional noise next door.

As I drifted off to sleep, I began to hear that dragging-on-the floor-noise again. It never stopped! It sounded like the whole crew of housekeepers were setting up a venue for a party and they couldn’t lift the chairs or tables so they just dragged them!

I tried to ignore the dragging sounds until eventually I was off to dreamland. Still, I could hear some noise next door. I heard the door open as my roommate came in.

I remembered waking up, it was well into the witching hours. Nothing strange but the sounds of furniture dragging was still there.

I was beginning to think that it was not normal. “How could these people be so sloppy in their jobs? What is taking them too long to finish their work, to the point of disturbing hotel guests?”

Many other questions are racing through my mind. “I must talk to the front desk staff. I need to know who could be staying next door.” It was part of my ‘to-do” list for the next day.

The next day came, like any other day. I got up before 6:00 AM. Got ready for breakfast. On my way out of the room, I met a hotel personnel in the hallway. He delivered something to the guests in another room. I asked him if room 323 was occupied. We were in 324.

Indi ko sure, sir ba. Pero mamangkot ta sa front desk. Ngaa tani, sir haw?” (I am not sure, sir. But we can ask the front desk. Why do you want to know, sir?)

I told him about the noise which lasted the whole night. The sound of the chairs or tables being dragged on the floor. He smiled. A dry, uncomfortable smile. He tried to laugh but it was a nervous one.

I was beginning to have that weird feeling. Goosebumps! It started to creep from my hands all the way up to the few remaining strands of hair on my head!

As I felt light –headed, he said: Ah. Nagpabatyag gali sa into, sir?” (Ah, so IT made you feel its presence, sir?”). I was with the driver and the other hotel guest and we were all dumbfounded, stumped. I was trying to rub the hair in my arms to keep them from standing.

The big reveal was quite potent, more than the morning mug of coffee that I always have.

The place has been known to have these unseen forces and staff either took it as funny or scary. Would you dare?

September 30, Saturday

The “experience” that previous night, which I now consider to be paranormal, did not end there. That morning, at the buffet table, I shared my tale with the other hotel staff.

“Well, we heard a lot of stories from the other hotel personnel”, one of them said. She went on, “Some staff dealt with guests who walked out of their room after having that nightmarish experience of hearing things falling with no one around, also the usual sound of furniture being moved and dragged on the floor.”

“You know, there were guests who opted to sleep at the lounge chairs at the front desk lobby just to be sure they are safe from the ‘annoying entity’ in their room,” one of the waitresses recounted.

A room boy shared that it gives him creeps when he passes through the cavernous hallway. “I don’t really believe the stories that much but when you are there walking alone, bringing food or anything to the guests during the unholy hours in the morning, you would really feel like somebody’s watching you or someone’s behind you! I try to run away, if possible.”

Another hotel staff revealed that other guests heard someone cleaning up the hallway, only to be shocked to know that there was no one there. The list can go on, I thought, if I ask all the others but what I heard was enough.

After their ‘expose’ or their version of ‘tales from the unknown”, I came to think about the past experiences I had with the unseen world, the different dimension, the spirit’s dwelling, whichever you may call it.

I believe that the spirit world exists. It is something we cannot shrug off, ignore or disregard. Our experiences, whether we believe they exist or not, will eventually lead to one conclusion: that these entities are real.

The book “The Filipino Spirit World” by Rodney L. Henry (1986, OMF Publishers), is an interesting read. I couldn’t agree more when he said, “A “conspiracy of silence” exists regarding certain religious practices of Filipinos.

The Church has ignored a spirit-world belief system held by most of its members. As a result, Filipinos take their unmet spiritual needs to the out-of-church spirit-world practitioners (faith healers, diviners, etc.)”.

Henry, in this book, “expounds the development of folk Christianity in the Philippines, the theological foundation of the spirit-world, including the angelic and the demonic, and the discernment of supernatural powers.”

It will not come as a surprise to know that the Filipino folklore is full of ‘characters’ from the other world: from tamawos or engkantos (fairy folks that can change features), dwendes (elves) and tiyanaks (vampires that imitate the form of a child), kapres (a tree giant often described as black, hairy and muscular), aswangs (monster with traits of a vampire or a ghoul) and others.

Some can be benign, others are vicious or mischievous. While others hide in the shadows, some spirits can make their presence felt in a lot of ways.

Our elders have their stories to tell as well. Maybe, back in those days, the ‘other-wordly’ beings were as real as the page you are reading, the phone you are holding and the chair you sit on.

Well, after having read that book, my understanding of the ‘spirit-world’ concept seem to have fallen into its place, established after the fact. I haven’t had the faintest idea about it at all, yet I already believed they were real.

Some spirits can move in the physical realm. They can move objects, cause them to fall or be destroyed or make them disappear. Such a case can be observed in homes where little things get ‘misplaced’ too often. They can choose to appear to some people or be captured in CCTV, standard or mobile phone cameras, in their various forms.

Still on Saturday, 30th of September

Scary stories aside, Bacolod is a must-visit and one of the good reasons is Mambucal Hot Springs.

After the breakfast exchange, we were off to some other places. An activity-filled Saturday, I felt that it was one of those Saturdays that took longer than usual. We hopped from one place to another, not too far from Bacolod City, high into the mountains and forests and checked some nice places, with endless photo sessions despite the rain.

Towards the evening, all you can think of would be the nice, comfortable hotel bed, after a warm, refreshing shower. It’s an irresistible thing, after a tiring day.

That morning at the hotel, when the room boy confirmed the presence of “something” in that place, I uttered a prayer, in Jesus’s name, that we will not be disturbed by the “entity”. It makes a difference when you declare openly that you believe in a God “who is above all and over all”, both the physical and the spirit world.

True enough, not much was heard about the noise from my next door ‘occupant’ or the hallway that night until the next morning. I still slept late, doing something online but it was a quiet night.

The next day, a Sunday, I was awakened by my roommate’s alarm clock. He set it up quite early and loudly and I think it roused everyone within 10 meters of our room. Nothing unusual, though. I prepared to take a bath and my roommate left to prepare the vehicle because he will bring us to the airport that morning.

Halfway through my shower, I heard the alarm sounding off again. “He must have left the phone and he didn’t turn off the alarm!”, I muttered to myself. I had to turn the shower off to hear the sound. It was ringing alright, it must be in his bag.

Then I finished my business and get dressed to have breakfast.

I met my roommate at the buffet hall and I asked if he left his phone in the room. He said no. “I got it here.” I was a bit shocked. So, what was that noise from a cellphone alarm that sounded like his?

I shook the thought off that someone was still playing tricks on us during that last few hours of stay. It was not that scary, no goose bumps this time, because I understand what is happening.

We left Bacolod early for our 10 AM flight back to Manila. We all bid farewell to the hotel staff but I extended my hello, on the other hand, to their ‘resident entity’ or a poltergeist (noisy ghost) who gave us a “different experience.”

-o0o-

Arthur Condes is currently an executive assistant at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the Philippines based in Manila. Aside from writing feature stories, he loves to paint, take photos and reading.

6 life management skills I learned from my mother

Conscious of it or not, you mother helped set and influence your life’s direction.

Can life be managed just like your team at work? Did it ever occur to you that your mother had somehow influenced you? Pretty much, that’s based on my over 2 decades of experience.

As a manager, I can be a dotting mother and a strict one to beat a looming deadline. Working in global emergencies can often be the same as any work — but in full speed. One needs to be organized ensuring all hands are on deck working.

The schedules are often 24-hours (when you are in Asia or the Middle East and you coordinate with teams in the US or Europe this becomes normal), the conditions life-threatening and deadlines are hairy-thin because you’re working to save lives.

Skill that worked in most conditions? Decisiveness. Discipline. You lead by doing. You’re ready to do the dirty job. You rally your team like a cheerleader, not frustrate them. You are there when they need a decision. You take the risk.

You support what they need and everyone who worked hard gets the credit. You roll up your sleeves when the team is short of manpower. Take a closer look at these. They’re also done by mothers, right?

Some of the skills I learned from my mother I got to use managing teams and working with people from different cultures.

1. Never be ashamed of your name.

Her parents named her from the Roman calendar which memorialised Jesus’s circumcision rites on January 1. Obviously, they did not bother to ask around what it meant. My mom lived through sniggers and sly smiles because of her name. When I wrote her story for an online news, some bashers even sneered and posted insults about her being named such. People can be cruel and heartless. Imagine if my mom lived through this times and opened a Facebook page?

I learned grace and humility from her living with the name. She respected her parents’s choice despite what it brought her. Those who chose to ridicule her just showed what kind of people they are. It’s not the name but how you live your life.

Nothing is extraordinary with my name. But I learned to be sensitive with others who has this same issue with my mother.

She never got conscious (or did not show if she was) of her name. I saw a steely trait that did not easily flinch to challenges, no matter how tough they were. You cannot please or make people like you all the time. Just do the job.

2. Find out the dreams of people you love and work with. Support them.

Despite my mistakes, she never gave up on me. I still clearly remember her, arms on her hips, confronting me head on if I am contended dropping out of school and working in the farm. A small woman so thin you’d think strong winds will carry her away. No sir! She had stood up to so many men bigger than her and won by virtue of her confidence. She said, “Are you contented?”

Not waiting for me to answer, she added, “Finish your studies. Even if you won’t find a job as long as you graduate, that’s fine with us.” I followed the orders and of course I found a job. That simple decision brought unimaginable hardship for my father and mother who worked twice as hard in the farm to send me back to school. I rose to follow my dream because she never allowed me to give up.

Ask them. Talk to them. One way to win hearts (and cooperation) is to know the dreams of people I lead and help them work towards realising them. It is a privilege to be part of it and a sheer pleasure when they get back to you and tell you that they got it because you believed in them.

For more, please click here and read on.

Communicating: Just break that glass!

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”Albert Schweitzer

A cooperative becomes true to its name when it’s run by an inspired and involved team. Koronadal 1-A Director Myrna Clavesillas working with her group.

The Communications Workshop for 25 participants, an interesting mix from different departments of South Cotabato Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco-1) did not disappoint. I made it a point it was not my workshop but theirs. This was often easier said than done, but in this case it was a breeze. Making it great or not, it is in their hands, not mine (well, a big chunk will also be from me, not passing the buck). They did it! The 3-day activity aimed to uncover many opportunities that will make service better for its over 100,000 consumers from 10 municipalities of the province of South Cotabato located in the southern part of the Philippines.

The first day was quite gloomy. Few people came early. An uncertain thought crossed my mind. Will this work? Maybe? As I settled with the materials I bought, I assured myself that in my years of doing a communications workshop, I never went home empty-handed. The house was always brought down. But there could be a first, right?

A frontrunner in the country’s electrification program alongside 120 electric cooperatives in the country, Socoteco-1 has seen many awards roll up its sleeved through the years. How do you keep up with the reputation and service reliability in the social media, and generally the digital communications age? Service includes prompt and effective information sharing with consumers, many of whom are now the milennials – young income-earners who pay the bills.

A leader is often one who is very much part of the team’s work, from the trivial to the most critical, sleeves rolled-up and making decisions. All eyes on Socoteco-1’s new (OIC) General Manager Edsel Epistola (3rd from left) as he takes the coop to new heights in rural electrification.

What have we learned together?

  • Everyone is genuinely interested to be part of change for the better. Looking at internal communications, it was acknowledged that change has to keep on – and going digital is the future that needs to start soon. While printing documents is still valuable, use of emails and online messaging cuts all the tedious bureaucracy that makes the flow of information slower, and thus, often missing its consumer service targets.
  • Planning isn’t always boring. There are many ways to do it, and involving as much people means many great and exciting ideas can come out of the table. Of course there should be someone to take the lead and ensure the best ideas get to the chopping board and into the cooking wheel. But having those ideas out is a good – even great – start. As we did this, it was fun and amazing to see how the groups came up with fantastic media plans for major coop events (think annual meetings, district elections, etc.) deemed boring because they’re done every year on same process.

  • Go for macro and get their minds up and running. While learning activities such as grammar review, how to do an online publications (and so many how-to’s) or specific skills building are critical, making them contribute to the big goals can help them see what are the skills they need to build to make the big one happen. They become part of if and they know where the organisation wants to go. How will you exactly know the parts to fix if you don’t know where you want to be? Decide on the goal and work next on the small ones that will run it.
  • It’s fun to talk about the issues. Get them out sun-dried on the table! What are they? Before getting that group activity to the participants, I was quite curious how open, daring and courageous they are in sharing the challenges and issues that slow down service, and even their own enthusiasm to do things. They did! This time they did not talk about them in the hallway but also came out with very practical easy-to-do solutions. Audience considered, creative activities and resources (fun, I must add), minimal budget and a lot more. Let’s wait for them to make it happen!

  • Social media is the way to go. It’s cheap, it’s in and it’s where everyone goes for the latest news. There are risks, yes. But as everyone has realised quite loudly, there’s no way ignoring it. When people need information, they hardly buy a newspaper (sadly) anymore. They open their phones and browse to find it. While a printed newsletter or report is still much valued, how do we get them online so more consumers can read them? Looking forward to the electronic version of Socoteco-1 Today very soon. At least we’d live to see the day it is available online.
  • Being a service utility means preparedness. To put is clearly, is the coop ready for an emergency? Apparently, resources-wise, they are! A response team is in place and a rough plan and how it will be managed. Does everyone knows about it? Not really. Then this is an opportunity to get this organised while there is time. How do you ensure protection of the coop’s electricity distribution and its services going when there is a disaster? It also has a community responsibility to assist when it can. Reviewing the plan and it’s roll out turned out to be a great time for everyone!

Often, all we need is to sit down and listen to each other’s ideas. That’s what teamwork and serving is all about.

What did I personally learn in the process?

It didn’t take a while to pick up the pieces. Working for 12 years in Socoteco-1 isn’t an easy thing to forget, I wasn’t even trying. It was also my first job in conducting trainings, publishing newsletters (changing it’s name to Socoteco-1 Today) and annual reports, writing its creed (that, fancy, they still use as a pledge until today), running a medical mission in cooperation with South Cotabato Provincial Health Office and more. In short, it became my foundation for the next phase of my career and jumpstarted my love for humanitarian work that took me to different countries. It felt good to be back sharing what I built up after I left 16 years ago. What I learned is that you always have that chance to go back and share. Then and only then can you say you’ve come full circle.

We’re not hanging gloves with this statement. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

“The 3-day workshop was very enriching and fun-filled. It made me realise how important well-planned activities through the use of communications tools and multi-media channels can effectively convey information and influence the stakeholders and public’s behaviour and support. I am happy to be part of this workshop and grateful to have witnessed how talented the Socoteco-1 staff members are! I believe it was able to unleash the potentials. Kudos to Socoteco-1 and thank you Cecil for facilitating the activity.” – Myrna Clavesillas, Director of Koronadal 1-A, Socoteco-1 Board

I should say the future of rural electrification in the country is bright if we make use of these excited and inspired minds to run it! It was more of a pleasure than work – thanks to Socoteco-1 especially to the ISD team led by ISD Manager Shean Roxanne Munar for making it happen!

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

-o0o-

Happy to hear comments, feedback or interest. Please email me at cblaguardia@yahoo.com or mobile at +639399262669. Better yet, follow the blog by ticking the box up or in FB @istoryya. Thanks for the visit and share.

From fighting to farming: The rise of the Kivu coffee

By Dede Monfiston

Sifa and her children. Kivu coffee has given her renewed hope that the children can go to school and have a better life.

When I landed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the first question that came to my mind was, “How can a country be so rich in natural resources but its people so poor?” Many of those who dared visit or work in the country would likely ask that, too. DRC’s natural beauty is amazing but the endless armed conflict that has gripped the country has taken a toll to its people and resources.

My first trip to DRC was in 2012 when I managed a new development program in northwestern Congo which is close to the Central African Republic (CAR). I felt overwhelmed by both the challenges and the potentials. Are the people even aware of the vast opportunities around them? How can an outsider like me help? Is background and experience in non-profit organizations enough? The answers to questions in my head were not that promising.

When my assignment ended after nearly two years, I went home. My next posting sent me to Iraq but Congo kept haunting me. After a year in Iraq, I decided to find a way back to Congo. I got lucky – another organization hired me and my work focused on agriculture and roads infrastructure in eastern Congo.

During the first three months, my interest in building something that would help the Congolese people for long term deepened. Agribusiness always kept me interested but I did not know how, where and with whom to start. Then one day, a guy came to my office exploring support for former combatants. I found it truly interesting and promising. I started talking about the project with the decision makers in my organization exploring ways to help. It never went anywhere, unfortunately. It was quite a suspense on my part as my contract was also nearing its end.

Fresh hopes. A woman works at the coffee plantation with her child. The project enabled families to look at the future with bright promise for their children.

While at home early in the morning, our security guard handled me a business card from the cooperative guy asking to meet me. Curious, I decided to pay him a visit. He expressed his alarm that I will soon leave. He said, “Dèdè we don’t want you to leave. We need you and we want to offer you an opportunity mutually beneficial for you and for us.” The guy turned out to be Gilbert Makelele, the president of the coffee growers cooperative. It answered my question how to start.

After my contract, I went back home to spend some quality time with my family as I figured out potential business concepts. With my family’s blessings and support, I came back to DRC to support the coffee cooperative.

This time I have a lengthy chance to visit the coffee fields, talk to the cooperative members and learn the basics of the green beans business operations. I got introduced as a partner and business development strategist. It was both exciting and daunting. I have to do my job so I won’t let this people down. I need to get them connected to buyers around the world and enjoy the fruits of their hard work.

The cooperative is composed of more than 5,000 members under Gilbert Makele’s lead as president. More than a third of the members are women, with many of them coming from the Congolese Army and other armed rebel groups who have decided that they have enough of the fighting and want to focus on raising their children well.

Starting anew. Coffee-growing has allowed women combatants to shift to a new journey with their families.

The Groupement d’Intérêt Economique Coopérative des Planteurs et Négociant du Café du Kivu (GIE CPNCK) was created in 2012 by a group of young entrepreneurs with strong social responsibility and eager to help sow peace in the beautiful region of Kivu. Operating in the greater region which includes the Masisi, the south and the north Kivu, the cooperative today has more than 5,000 members composed of farmers, women, widows and former combatants.

One of them was Kitumani, 35, who lived in Idiwi Island. She spent five years in the army and describes the experience as horrible. Her expression said it all. An orphan at 12, Kitumani said she had a very difficult life. She got married at 23 and have five children. Now she is a coffee farmer and a breeder. She told me, “I learned to endure and how to survive life’s tough challenges.”

Sifa’s husband died in the Lake Kivu bringing green beans coffee illegally to Rwanda. The trip through the river is always dangerous and most of the people use rickety boats. To be able to earn for her family, she decided to join the cooperative and work properly to avoid the risks that led to her husband’s death.

Apilline Katambara Pendeza is the president of the Widows Association of the Idjwi Island. Her husband was also among those who braved the risks in the Lake Kivu. Apilline has her own coffee plantation and decided to join the cooperative to market her coffee. She hopes that, “With coffee growing, we can aspire for a better life for our children”.

The community now works together towards achieving quality life for their families.

When his father died and nobody can send him to school, 30-year old Koko joined the Congolese Army. His once-normal life was turned upside down. When an opportunity to leave came, Koko seized it and now works as a driver in the cooperative. Married for 11 years now, Koko is the president of the Ex-Combatants Association.

With the mission of being the catalyst for an innovative change, the cooperative aims to see the coffee growers freely in a fair, prosperous and environmentally friendly rural world. It has set objectives to improve the quality and quantity of the coffee production of its members; search for a niche market for its specialty coffee and improve the living conditions of its member and their communities.

It has always striven to implement its vision of a more just future reflected in the culture of its deep values: transparency and accountability; quality work and autonomy of coffee growers; respect for human dignity and protection of the environment.

Gilbert Makelele is bringing coffee growers and workers together to put Kivu coffee in the world map.

Since 2013, the GIE CPNCK set up the program “Peace Around Coffee and Cocoa in the Kivu” to assist the ex-combatants and their leaders, commonly called “warlords,” and to contribute to the stabilization of the Masisi area through agricultural socio-economic activities, coffee and cocoa combined with vegetable and livestock.

It was decided to start these activities in the red zone. These ex-combatants, determined to change their way of life, struggle to survive from the meager products of their fields and small livestock while waiting for their first harvest of coffee this year. The big challenge is to harvest the cherries, process it and have the coffee green bean ready for export. Some basic equipment is needed. We then need to find a market for the green bean since the local market is very limited.

There are many existing coffee cooperatives in Congo and Gilbert and colleagues are hard at work of creating the confederation of the cooperatives. The cooperative was created on 2012 and restructured in 2014. It dreams for the Kivu coffee to one day be sought by millions of coffee drinkers around the world. You can help make it happen. It will encourage more combatants to lead a life of peace with their families, bring stability in their communities and their beautiful country.

Note: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, also known as DR Congo, DRC, DROC, Congo-Kinshasa or simply the Congo, is a country located in Central Africa. The DRC borders the Central African Republic and South Sudan to the north; Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Zambia and Angola to the south; the Republic of the Congo to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It is the second-largest country in Africa by area and eleventh largest in the world. With a population of over 80 million, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the most populated officially Francophone country, the fourth most-populated nation in Africa and the eighteenth most populated country in the world. – Wikipedia

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About the blogger: Dede is a happy family man who is a seasoned humanitarian experienced in development and emergency work. His quest to make a difference through projects such as health, water sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods and economic development took him to Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean regions. Besides a degree in Animal Sciences and Agribusiness, he has a Master’s Degree in International Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management. He speaks fluent English, French and Spanish.
Contact email: dedemf@global.t-bird.edu