EDITOR’S NOTE: Oct. 9 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have fought the problem of hunger through their World Hunger Fund. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund is used to provide food to undernourished people all over the world — 80 percent through the International Mission Board and 20 percent through the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, including resources for promotion of World Hunger Sunday in your church, go to worldhungerfund.com.
PORO, Philippines (BP) — In a bamboo home on the Filipino island of Poro, a coconut farmer’s wife holds a ginger leaf carefully over a spoon. She squeezes a few drops of juice onto the utensil while her 3-year-old son watches. The drops mix with juice from tamarind leaves, lemoncito leaves and lemon, forming an amber liquid the woman uses to treat her little boy’s cold.
Rowena Gonato grows these herbs herself, in a small garden a few yards from the front door. That small patch of vegetation has changed her life. In the days before she learned to grow and mix her own herbal medicines, Gonato faced a harsh reality when one or more of her five children fell ill: The income from her husband’s crops did not provide for both healthcare and dinner.
“If I get and pay for medicine, then I have no food,” Gonato says.
Gonato found a solution to the problem — in April 2011, she graduated from a Southern Baptist program called Barangay Out Of School Training, or BOOST. “Barangay” refers to small Filipino communities, like the cluster of wooden huts in which Gonato lives.
The program, operated through Baptist Global Response, educates Filipino villagers about agriculture, herbal medicine, community development and moral values. After six months of BOOST training, the 37-year-old mother learned how to plant and cultivate cucumbers, string beans, squash, spring onions and other vegetables. She learned to care for ginger plants, chili peppers and other ingredients she grinds and mixes together for medicinal syrups and ointments. She learned how to keep her children from dying if they ever contract dysentery.
Gonato learned how to improve her family’s life.
In the two years that Southern Baptist missionary Al Hoopes has supervised the program on Poro, he has heard several stories like Gonato’s. Hoopes chooses sites suitable for BOOST projects and then sends three Filipino trainers to those areas to live and work among villagers for the duration of BOOST classes.
Drawing resources from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, Hoopes pays his trainers a small salary and provides seeds and basic equipment for the agricultural projects. The participants, however, do most of the farming during their hands-on training.
At the moment, Hoopes and a missionary partner oversee six project sites located on Poro as well as nearby islands such as Cebu. He estimates 600 villagers graduated and most now cultivate their own FAITH gardens. The acronym, “FAITH,” stands for “Food Always In The Home.” The title reflects Hoopes’ ambition to improve the quality of life for participants.
“[After graduation,] they have a livelihood and they have values,” Hoopes says. “They have improved their basic health skills. [They know] how to take care of themselves and their children so they can really live independently.”
In the Philippines, this independence can mean the difference between life and death — especially for children.
Hoopes looks for the most impoverished areas for starting a project. The BOOST trainers enter areas where 30 percent of elementary-aged children suffer from malnourishment and the leading cause of death in children under 10 is dysentery.
Village parents, according to Hoopes, don’t know which herbs and vegetables to cook for well-balanced meals and they have no knowledge of basic healthcare. When children develop diarrhea, parents will deny them water, believing they have too much liquid in their systems. As a result, the children die.
Hoopes knows simple education not only can save the lives of hundreds of children, but also can keep them from being forced into prostitution.
When village families can’t afford to feed their children, they often send them to big cities with recruiters, naively believing their sons or daughters will clean houses or work in shops, but the recruiters sell the children to brothels. Sometimes, parents deliberately sell their offspring to traffickers.
Hoopes believes better income and education can lower child trafficking statistics in the Philippines. Training has become his passion.
“I don’t want children being trafficked. I don’t want children to have to beg for money,” he says. “I want parents to learn that they can provide for their family so they have good self-esteem about who they are — and who they are in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Hoopes and his team conduct classes in bamboo buildings and instruct villagers on the basics of organic farming. They teach Filipinos to make their own fertilizer from manure and worms. They discourage the use of any non-natural chemicals, and as a result, the communities begin to produce vegetables with very little start-up cost.
These lessons often take place at a central garden built within the “barangay.” A few days a week, participants meet together to weed, pick and cultivate community vegetables, then use the remaining time to tend their own gardens.
Hoopes says this scheduling not only produces sufficient food for the village but also unites workers and strengthens relationships in the community. Filipinos learn to rely on each other as they toil between rows of cucumbers.
“What we do is try to create a community that works together, and so, really, the people get an opportunity to know one another … (as we try to) create a job for the people so they can provide for their families,” Hoopes says.
Through its trainings, BOOST staff members instill their fellow Filipinos with more than ideas about community and knowledge of organic farming. They demonstrate the love God has given them for the poor. Unlike representatives from other non-profit organizations, BOOST workers live with villagers and become part of their lives. They become family.
Gloryfe Delefuente cries when she talks about why she became a trainer.
“I have a passion for [villagers] because I love them, and also … [because] I came from a poor family,” Delefuente says. “I want to help them and let them know Jesus loves them.”
As an herbal medicine trainer, Delefuente taught Rowena Gonato to mix ginger, tamarind, lemoncito and lemon into cough syrup. With every spoonful Gonato feeds her children, Jesus’ love bears results. Through hard work and BOOST training, the coconut farmer’s wife treats her family’s medical issues without sacrificing daily necessities like food.
Shiloh Lane is a writer in Southeast Asia. For information and resources related to World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 9, and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, visit worldhungerfund.com. Baptist Global Response is on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.