The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. has been changing lives in small communities through programs that focus on health and technology.

By Yvette Tan

The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) is a Bacolod-based social enterprise that focuses on educating and supporting sugar workers through programs and projects like organizational support and training; agricultural support through programs like seed, fertilizer, and carabao distribution; sanitation programs like latrine constructions; health and livelihood programs like essential oil making, and day care.

Established in 1992, the non-government organization currently focuses on appropriate technologies for basic needs, namely: water (pumps for drinking and irrigation), energy (biogas and hydro and wind energy), sanitation, and agricultural equipment. “From my trips to those plantations, I discovered that everything was lacking in terms of basic needs, from the farming level, irrigation, electricity, even education,” Auk Indzenga, Chief Executive Officer and one of the founders says. “A lot of basic needs are absent in mountainous land areas. That’s why AIDIFI was founded. We were four persons. We didn’t have any money. We only had a lot of ideas.”

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A worker building part of the hydraulic ramp pump.

Hydraulic Ramp Pump

AIDFI’s flagship technology is the hydraulic ramp pump, a hydro-powered pump usually used to draw water in remote, elevated areas, which it supplies to upland villages so they can have easy access to drinking and irrigation. “We discovered and confirmed the need is huge and also the opportunities were also huge,” Indzegna says.

The ramp pump was developed so that once installed, it can be easily operated, repaired, and maintained by community members. Parts should be reasonably priced and easily available. But the project doesn’t stop there. The organization believes that sustainability includes having a sense of ownership as well, which is why they also consulted leadership training and other programs to help the community make the best use of this technology.

He says that before the pumps were installed, community members who lived in elevated areas had to gather water in the lowlands manually. If the maximum a person can carry in a day is two 20 liter containers, this means that that household has 40 liters that has to be rationed for the entire day. “Sometimes they trekked from one to two kilometers for water over an elevation of 200 meters,” Indzegna says. “We heard a lot of stories of accidents. There was a story from a community in Leyte where they lost a child while hauling water.”

For the communities, the installation of the hydraulic ramp pumps has been life-changing. “A woman told me that she had to leave her village in the mountains because it was too difficult for her to get water, but she moved back as soon as the pump made water available,” Indzegna says. “Some people have moved to the villages with hydraulic pumps just so they can be near water. You realize the importance of water when things like this happen.”

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The hydraulic ramp pump brings water to far-flung upland communities while providing jobs to manufacturers.

Global Recognition

AIDFI’s efforts have been recognized internationally, with the ram pump project replicated in  Afghanistan, Nepal, Colombia, and Mexico, and with units sent to Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Colombia Peru, Costa Rica, France, Cameroon, and Mozambique.

On the local front, the organization is a Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, as well as a BPI Sinag awardee. “We went through two intensive bootcamps with BPI. It was a nice experience, even though I have been in this work for more than 30 years,” Indzegna says. “I believe that social enterprise can be an economic strategy to help people get out of poverty.”

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AIDFI’s hydraulic ramp pumps have provided numerous mountain communities access to fresh, flowing water.

Essential Oil Making

The organization also produces lemongrass essential oil. “We have two communities where we partner with farmers associations where we produce lemongrass oil,” Indzegna says, adding that they intentionally partnered with mountain communities far from farmland areas because, “We want to prove that things can still be changed.”

The program was put in place to augment income during the months in between planting and harvest. Mature lemongrass plants can be harvested from every two months. The organization makes sure that the lemongrass is grown sustainably (“erosion control, natural production and processing, and the incorporation of renewable energy (solar and wind) in the factory”).

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One of AIDFI’s community projects is the manufacturing of lemongrass essential oil.

Self-Sustaining, Constantly Growing

AIDFI, which is proud of its bootstrapping roots, has always aimed for self-sufficiency. “We want to be self-reliant,” Indzegna says. “We don’t want to be influenced  by investors who want to give different direction to our work. We really know what we want, what we are doing.”

He adds that government support would be welcome. He also hopes that more communities can have ram pumps installed, and that the installation itself can become a source of funds for the people trained to do it.

Next on the list is to move toward solving the problem of irrigation in mountainous areas. They are also looking into fabricating machines for the recycling of plastics. “We want to help counter the volume of plastic already on the shore,” Indzegna says.

Access to fresh water is an important part of any community. AIDFI’s installation of hydraulic ram pumps and its essential oil distillation program help isolated communities get access to fresh water, as well as offer them a source of livelihood that is not dependent on the seasons.