Giving back to the land

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By Prim Paypon

Imagineer

Friday, March 28, 2014


CHERRIE Atilano describes her ultimate dream for our beloved country, “My ultimate dream is to have a hungry-free Philippines with healthy and food-secured Filipinos.”

Cherrie, 27, is a Negrense agriculturist and farmer, who chose to be in the Philippines, to see how she can make a difference in the lives of others.

She went on to explain her dreams: “An agriculturally sustainable Philippines not only in farm production, but also in the development of various world-class products from the produce of farmers that the Filipinos can be proud of wherever they are in the world.”

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Cherrie has committed her life to investing her talents and gifts to turn this dream into a reality. She wants her dreams to happen in her lifetime, so everyday of her life she wakes up at 5 a.m. because, she says, that’s how early nation-building starts in Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan.

At a young professional age, her brand of excellence and integrity as an agriculturist continues to inspire her global students – from kids of local farmers to foreign students from different parts of the world – and raise the Philippine flag in countries where she has been invited to speak about the agricultural innovations she is championing.

Much has been written about her inspiring work at the farm, but not much about her humbling journey to becoming a beloved woman of the farm and prized volunteer of Gawad Kalinga. Her story never fails to remind me how to wholeheartedly give one’s self to the demanding call of service to nation.

She was born to a family who had a deep love for the land. At 3, she lost her father, an “encargado” or overseer in Brgy. E. Lopez in Silay City and her first teacher who taught her how to love the soil and the people.
“I grew up in the hacienda. Every morning, I would see sugarcane workers waiting for their encargado for another day of work in the fields under the scorching heat of the sun or heavy rains,” she says.

“The sugar industry brought a lot of good in terms of beefing up the economy, but insatiably separating the society, making the poor so inferior and discriminated that most of the time, they could not even afford to dream for themselves.”

The dignity as a people and the capacity to dream big were the things that her mother altruistically taught her through service. Her mother took in almost 50 elementary students who sidelined in their managed school canteen for free lunch and extra money for everyday allowances. At 6, her mother became her first official mentoring boss.

As a class valedictorian in E. Lopez Elementary School and Doña Montserrat Lopez Memorial High School, both in Silay City, she proved to many that dreams - when fueled by firmness in faith, generosity in spirit, and dedication to hard work - are more powerful than poverty.

In 2007, when she graduated magna cum laude from Visayas State University with a degree in Agriculture, major in Horticulture (Tissue Culture), she vowed not to accept the scandalous reality that Philippines, a natural blessed country with natural resources, has one of the hungriest and poorest but the most hardworking farmers.

She committed to being part of the solution of bringing healthy food on the table of every Filipino family; especially those who have been deprived of it for a long time – the farmers themselves.

These were her reasons why she gracefully quit a one-year old lucrative job as a landscape designer and supervisor for a top property firm.

But her learning and pioneering involvements in the development of Market Market, Bonifacio High Street and Serendra, and in the rehabilitation of Greenbelt and Glorietta were the key tools she took with her to help redefine the socially relevant position of Gawad Kalinga in building agriculturally sustainable farm villages all over the country.

In 2009, I was privileged to be invited by her and another GK prime mover Roma Padua, to sow the first seeds and toil the first garden plots in Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm.

Five years after, the GK Enchanted Farm is now a home to vibrant farming and enterprising communities. This is where she co-founded Agricool, a farming school that builds kids to be farmers and raises them to be agri-social entrepreneurs.

Currently, she has 49 agri-coolers as her students, ranging from ages 10 to 21, coming from different economic and education backgrounds.

Since I met her in 2007, she never fails to inspire me with her audacious choices and decisions. Her boldest decision happened in March 2011 when she wrote to Fulbright Scholarship to waive their generous scholarship grant to complete a master’s degree in International Agricultural Development at Cornell University.

Her reason was courageous but generous. She cannot give up the most opportune moment to be part of the agricultural landscape that will give farmers access to opportunities and resources to make their lives better.

“It is a privilege to dream with others, and to dream for the country,” she said.

Fulbright accepted her impassioned letter, and gave her the privilege to pursue her scholarship whenever she is ready.

Cherrie may have fought hard battles, but she is always grounded: “I could not say that I am self-made and fought my own battles alone, because I am inspired by countless dreamers who dreamt for me to achieve my dreams.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 28, 2014.

Lifestyle

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