As Director of RICE, Inc., I walk many painful miles through the terraces to attend local meetings with the farmers and provide training sessions. I am often invited into the homes of the farmers to share a meal and visit.
The faces of the farmers and the stories that they tell about how the project has affected their lives are what keeps me going when I get discouraged by the funding setbacks, the bureaucracy that hinders more than it helps, the floods, the landslides and all the difficulties that the farmers and the project face every year.
The story of Nanay Pacita resonates in my mind. I see her in a group of older women; she stands out, erect, her face lined by hard work. Even though she is 60+ years old she doesn’t wear glasses and her keen eyes closely follow the information in the training session on Quality Control. When asked why she had come to the training session she replied,
“I am encouraged by your consistent invitation for all farmers to be part of the rice development. Me and my family are so helped by this project, not just the technical part of training with machines or equipment but you allowed us to be involved as we are…you asked me to hold the pen and sign my name; to write my thoughts. A long time ago, when I was in grade school, I held the pen and learned to write my name. I didn’t finish school. I put down my pen and worked in the fields all the years of my life. I am now old and as long as I remember, I have not done any writing until I became part of this program.”
At the session break, I continued our conversation asking her again why coming to the meeting was important to her. She answered with a shy smile. “I feel honored to be part of the program where I am valued as an important member of the group. I told you that now I have to sign my name each time I sell my rice. In the past we sell our rice and nothing follows: no knowing or asking of names, information about us or coming back to inquire about what else we need. But this project, it is all about the production, the rice, the process and the farmer. I am so happy. “
“Going to the paddy terrace is what I am good at doing. I do all the work of softening the soil, weeding our paddy and all the work needed to be done on the farm. At the end of the day I go home, wash my hands, eat and the next day go back to the farm. That is the cycle of my life. Now, I get to hold the pen, sign my name and write on the application. Even if I have to copy the words, which someone gives me, I used the pen to write. I attend a meeting such as this and am part of the activity. Before, a meeting for a farmer like me was no place to be. But you insistently ask for our attendance. Being here is difficult but feels good because I am part of something very important for my self confidence, my family and my community.”