The day after their visit to the PREDA Boys’ Home, the Invitation to Mission group in the Philippines went to meet the indigenous Aeta farmers who are benefiting from the PREDA Fair Trade Project, which has been running for 45 years.
We were driven by Donardo, the PREDA link worker to the farmers, many of whom are indigenous communities, to an ‘Aeta’ village north of Olongapo City. We drove for an hour over concrete paved roads that finally turned into earthen tracks, next to the river which borders their land. The river ran shallow in this dry season and mothers with little children sat in the middle of its course, washing clothes and playing gently, enjoying the warm water running around them.
The community comprises 80 families and, as many of the men were tending to crops in the nearby hills, we met mostly with the women of the village, one of whom is the village chieftan. We gathered beneath the branches and among the roots of a large tree and listened to how they grow, harvest and use the wide range of crops native to their ancestral lands: mangos, coconut, jackfruit, avocado, banana, cashew, sweet potato, tapioca, lemon grass and many other herbs and medicinal plants.
Their organic mango crop was the main reason for our visit, as PREDA buy, pack and distribute dried mango grown in these hills, paying the farmers a fair price and using the profits to support its services for abused and trafficked children. Growing mangoes is a precise art, with the time from flowering to ripened fruit precisely calculated – 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days! Forrest Feast distribute PREDA Mangoes in the UK and are sold in Waitrose, Tescos and Holland & Barrett among others.
The rest of the crops grown by the Aeta community are sold directly to local markets and, with higher literacy rates and education programmes, the villagers are now wiser than they once were to the prejudice and discrimination they experience. Between planting and harvesting, Aeta villagers look for work in the nearby town, as construction workers and home helps, to supplement their income.
Their land is ancestral and compromises 1300 hectares. The people live in mostly bamboo homes that are replaced each year; the rainy season necessitating this. PREDA also provides corrugated metal roof sheets to each family but the indigenous methods of construction are still maintained.
The children attend the local primary school in the so called “low lands’ and then a high school provided by Franciscan sisters in the nearby town of Subic. Free health care is provided via a local health worker and also a Medical Mission in the area; the Aeta also know and use many plants and herbs as cures for a host of ailments as they largely let nature provide for their needs, as they have for generations.
When asked what did they do for recreation, they said that they loved to come together to plant and harvest and that they also enjoyed visits from other people, like us. When asked what they would hope for; they wished for a bridge over the river to be completed (one had been washed away and another was unusable and in great disrepair) and for the access road – currently unmetalled on the far side of the river from the village – to be completed.
We left enormously impressed by the harmony of the Aeta people; with one another and with God’s wonderfully abundant creation all around them.
Find out more about the PREDA Fair Trade Project