Tuesday, 25 April 2000

Vision of the ice-cream Santa

A city rising from the pit of poverty
By Gina Mission


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Matigsalugs on health and literacy training
conducted by the Tribal Mission Foundation

STA. CRUZ, Davao del Sur--Mango for you, strawberry for me. What will you have, young lady? So asked the ice-cream Santa, in the same deep baritone that had endeared him to kids back in the United States. It always drove the kids wild to see him and his ice cream. Ah, and the flavors. In the U.S., they'd chorus back to him, in discordant voices and words, their favorite flavors. But here, he didn't hear a chorus or a girl's skittish reply for a particular flavor.

....."Just like most children, these kids love ice cream. But I was surprised to see that they would accept whatever flavor you gave them, even if there was a choice," narrates the self-styled Santa, a 54-year old Irish-American named Stanley Caldwell.

.....Suddenly, it dawned on him: These kids didn't know about ice cream flavors. For them, an ice cream is an ice cream. But this realization should not have surprised anyone. The kids, residents of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, have never known life other than what poverty has shown them. And ice cream flavors are not among the stuff taught by poverty.

....."I looked at the children and asked myself which of them would become a doctor, and which would be a lawyer or businessman, if somebody paid for their education," Caldwell recalls.

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Which of them could become a
doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman
if somebody paid their education?

Birth of a vision

.....He cannot tell now which child gave what reply, but the experience gave birth to his vision of a new community built from the pit of poverty.

.....Caldwell believes that, given the right opportunities, a poor community can rise and become a "city" where people will have access to modern technologies and infrastructure. A city where barriers and obstacles are turned into opportunities for advancement. A city that empowers people regardless of their political, cultural and religious affiliation, and allows them to live life beyond the worry of where and how to get their basic needs. Similarly, Caldwell believes that any man, woman or child, given the right environment, can succeed in life.

.....Almost a year ago, on July 6, 1999, Stanley Caldwell established the Foundation for Community and Career Development (FCCD) in Davao City. Since then, it has assisted several families and individuals through livelihood initiatives and scholarships.

.....In a joint project with the Tribal Mission Foundation International, the FCCD has helped combat the alarming health and illiteracy problem among Matigsalugs, an indigenous group in Marilog district in Davao City, by sponsoring a feeding program and an adult literacy class for them.

Sharing with others

.....Caldwell hopes that those trained through this program will share what they have learned with their neighbors. "Properly trained and given the tools, locals are most effective in reaching out to their own people and community," he explains.

.....An FCCD-funded multi-purpose building is now rising in Sitio Barobo, a mountain village in Gumitan, around 25 kilometers from Davao City. The building will house a center designed to provide training in farming methods, health care, literacy and livelihood projects for indigenous peoples in the area.

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Under construction: A multi-purpose
building on an ancestral domain in
Sitio Barobo, a mountain village in
Guimatan, Davao del Sur.

.....Another FCCD program, called "Feeding for a Lifetime," is supervised by the Mindanao Entrepreneur Development Foundation (MEDF), based in Davao City. Under this program, over 50 families in Davao del Sur have received initial capital loans for small businesses, with the agreement that, as loan payment, they will give the same amount to another family in the community. The amount is passed on from one family to another until it has been shared and used by many family beneficiaries. The MEDF provides close supervision and weekly meetings to guide each family in handling its business properly.

....."Teaching a man to fish and providing him with the necessary materials for fishing is a principle that should be observed when helping the poor. We are interested in providing means for a man to feed his family for a lifetime, than providing him a fish that would only last for a meal," the ice-cream Santa says.

Indigenous peoples

.....Recently, FCCD set up a partnership with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to undertake programs and projects aimed at helping tribal communities.

.....Explaining the foundation's decision to link up with the NCIP, Caldwell cites a 1996 joint study by the United Nations Development Program and the International Labor Organization, which reported that the indigenous peoples in the Philippines "are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged social groups in the country. Illiteracy, unemployment and underemployment are much higher among them than in the rest of the population. Their major problems are social discrimination, weak political representation and social violence."

.....The FCCD will soon embark on its first major activity with the NCIP, a seven-week "roadshow" in the seven ethnographic regions of the Philippines, to help refine the foundation's programs and projects and make them truly responsive to the needs of the people. The activity includes organizing, consultation with and distribution of basic provisions to indigenous communities, says Caldwell.

.....While it sounds ambitious, Caldwell's vision is not unattainable. Many people might not agree with his concept of a new city, but those that he and his group have helped are grateful for the assistance.

.....Lilibelle Abigria of the Tribal Mission Foundation says that, through the FCCD-assisted health and literacy program among the Matigsalugs, they have succeeded in raising health and nutrition consciousness among the natives, in addition to significantly improving their health.

.....Another beneficiary, the cash-strapped National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, which stands to receive funding of $40 million from FCCD over a period of three years for the processing of ancestral domain claims, can't be any happier. Said the commission's budget director, Noela Paredes: "We prayed for such a person [Caldwell], and he came."