A 14-year-old shares his experiences in helping maintain his school’s communal garden.

By Yvette Tan

14-year-old Rolando Palapan is from Upper Suyan Malapatan, Saranggani Province, five hours from the nearest major city. His school started a communal garden for its students with help from Lumad Advocacy Networking and Services Incorporated (LANSI). The Palapan is very active in his school garden, which grows vegetables like sitaw, radish, and alugbati and fruits like santol and mangoes.

“Yung lupa nila mataba talaga. Kaya anything pwede siya. Nasa higher ground eh,” says LANSI Executive Director Jemina Andrea Alonzo, who also translated for Palapan, who spoke in Bisaya. So, halimbawa mga 4:00 or 5:00 AM Malamig na talaga sa lugar. Maganda talaga. Magtabang-mataba. Rich yung lupa.”

The 2-hectare garden is manned almost exclusively by about 30 students from grades 14-17, who follow a rotating schedule of six students a day. “May mga naglilinis nung lupa. May mga nagtatabo at naghahakot nung tubig, at may naka-toka rin taga-dilig araw-araw,” the student says. The vegetables harvested are distributed among the student volunteers. They are also used in school meals and are also given to teachers as supplement to their income, as well as in special projects like the school’s Nutrition Month. “Designed na kino-consume siya for sustainable agriculture sa community kasi usually ang mga tanim lang nila kamote, saging… mais, kamote, saging, at mga palay… Meron na daw silang manok sa school,” Alonzo explains. “Kaya pi-nush talaga ng school at ng community na magkaroon sila ng nursery, para yung mga bata natitiyak yung kalusugan nila.”

Palapan has learned a lot from working in the school garden. “Yung mga fertilizers, organic. Yung mga tira na pagkain, iniipon nila tapos ayon yung ginagawa nilang fertilizer. Natutunan ko yan sa garden,” he says.

He admits that gardening is not easy. “Maalikabok. Tapos mapapawisan ka. Tapos minsan gumagamit kami ng kabayo pang-harvest,” he says, adding that it’s all worth it because, “kung walang yung tanim, di magiging masigla yung mga bata sa mga tinanim.” This concern for his co-students’ health as a reason to keep farming is touching. “Mas gumanda noong may garden na kami kaysa noong una. Ngayon, mas masigla yung mga bata. Tapos tuwing Sunday, yung mga bata, kinakain yung na-harvest,” he adds.

Alonzo explains that a typical meal in the community: “Ang breakfast niya ay giniling na mais. Tapos pag lunch, kamote. Sa gabi kanin, manok o kaya itlog, may gulay din. Kung titingnan yung nutrition na nakukuha complete siya.”

The ongoing Martial Law in Mindanao has increased challenges faced by Rolando Palapan and the folks in his community, but he hopes that people realise that they’re just farmers who want nothing more than to live peacefully off their ancestral land. Meanwhile, Palapan hopes to be able to keep working on the school garden as he continues his education “(Gusto ko) maging teacher para makatulong sa mga bata,” he says.