The Archdiocese of Cebu’s Commission on Service- Cebu Caritas Inc. has partnered with the country’s largest and only integrated telco PLDT and its wireless unit Smart Communications, for their livelihood programs dubbed Balik-Uma and Demo Training Farm.
Balik-Uma and Demo Training Farm, pilot programs under Caritas’s Cebu Archdiocesan Integrated Farming Program, aim to promote organic farming for sustainable livelihood and food security to basic ecclesial communities, farmworkers, and residents amid and post-COVID-19 pandemic.
“PLDT and Smart are proud partners of Cebu Caritas in its efforts to help uplift the lives of communities, especially those living in the margins,” says Atty. Maria Jane Paredes, Assistant Vice President and Center Head of PLDT-Smart Corporate Communications Group VisMin.
Rev. Fr. Alex Cola, chairman of the Commission on Service and Cebu Caritas Inc., said that they wanted to create a livelihood and development program which would empower the communities.
“Now, we are through with our relief operations and works of mercy, so it’s already high time we proceed to the next level—and that is pursuing works of development that will help empower and capacitate the people to be self-sufficient,” shares Fr. Cola. “We want to change the mindset of the people. We want to remind them that this is a Church that cares and reaches out to its people, that this is really a church for the poor,” he adds.
Empowering communities via technology
PLDT and Smart support Caritas’s livelihood programs by introducing innovative digital solutions that communities may adapt to help improve their means of income.
CCI has selected 10 farmer-families to participate in PLDT-Smart’s Digital Farmers Program, where they will be introduced to basic usage of smartphones, equipped with valuable knowledge on technology that will help elevate their livelihood and share the responsibility of inspiring other farmers and agri-preneurs to explore more possibilities of profit via digital technology.
“Through our Digital Farmers Program, we, along with Caritas’s other partners in the Balik-Uma initiative, look forward to helping enable and empower the target communities to address food security concerns even after the pandemic is over,” says Atty. Paredes.
PLDT-Smart has rolled out DFP to over 15 training sites nationwide. This will be DFP’s first run in Cebu with 10 farmer-residents in Barangay Tal-ot, Barili.
“With Archbishop Jose S. Palma, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to PLDT-Smart for extending support to us through various digital solutions that would empower our farmers. I am very excited about this opportunity. I’m sure most of our farmer-residents in Tal-ot, Barili have not held a single mobile phone in their life, introducing them to this via DFP will surely make a difference,” says Fr. Cola.
Apart from the training, PLDT-Smart has also provided connectivity support via the provision of a PLDT Home Wifi device to Caritas’s farm supervisor, Judelito Milla. Milla is a scholar of Caritas who just recently graduated with a degree in Agriculture. “With this connectivity device, I will be able to send out updates of the progress in our Barili Demo Farm. The organizers won’t have to worry if they won’t be able to come to the farm, I will just send them updates via chat—accompanied with photos and videos,” says Milla.
Sustainability through multi-sectoral partnerships
In collaboration with various public and private sectors, CCI was able to launch the Balik-Uma and Demo Training Farm programs in the Archdiocesan-owned property in Brgy. Tal-ot, Barili, Cebu.
To officially kick off the program, the selected 10 farmer-families will participate in the Grow My Own Food- Backyard Garden Contest, an advocacy supported by PLDT-Smart which is spearheaded by a group of entrepreneurs named “The Origin Box”, together with the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute, and the Provincial Government of Bohol, which aims to help displaced workers and their families to start securing food in their own backyards.
The contest will be running side by side with the hands-on training sessions provided by the Municipal Agriculture Office in Barili. Aside from the trainings conducted for free, participants will also be given technical assistance such as seeds, vermicasts, and other necessary materials for farming.
The local government of Barili has also expressed support to the program by lending land tractor and distributing female goats to participants. “We are in full support of the program initiatives and advocacy led by Cebu Caritas Inc. because these will strengthen the morale of the farmers. Right now, we are trying to organize monthly meetings with my office to discuss how we can support more groups who banner the same advocacy,” says Barili Mayor Julito “Julie” Flores.
Various trainings are also lined up for the farmer-participants in the upcoming months. They will be involved in basic life support training courses by ERUF, TESDA-backed training sessions such as welding and plumbing, and food safety-preparations training by Cocina Collective, among others.
“Without our willing partners, we won’t be able to organize a sustainable livelihood program. Admittedly, starting this was a challenge because it’s my first time handling a big mission. I am greatly thankful to our partners because, through them, we are able to learn from each other and collaborate for the benefit of our parishioners. Now, I no longer see this as a challenge, this program-advocacy is a blessing and a mission by God,” shares Fr. Cola.