The Co-op Man

"A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence."

The same is true with our extra-ordinary participant family who proved that passion, dedication and values coupled with perseverance can move mountains.

Wilson Pan-oy is one of the original participants of Revitalizing the Environment through Indigenous Vantage Enterprises (REINVENT) Project funded by  BOTHAR in Lumin-awan, Tabuk, Kalinga, Northern Philippines.  The project was implemented on July 2006 to June, 2009 ,one of the first projects under Heifer Philippines "new beginning"  implemented by Tabuk Lumin-awaan Center (TLC), the development arm of the Social Action Center (SAC) of the Vicariate of Tabuk.

Project REINVENT's main goals are to increase and diversify family income and improve the families' habit of savings; the project also aimed to institutionalize mitigating measures to eradicate environmental degradation through improved environmental practices.  The project assisted 43 original families and based on the target, to pass on to 86 families.  From 2009 when the project ended its active life until 2014, there are now 172 pass on families surpassing the original plan while the project is still counting.

Wilson and his early days

Wilson was born in Botbot, Tinglayan, Kalinga in July 12, 1976 from a very poor family whose main source of living was farming a small parcel of land and kaingin (slash and burn). He has two siblings, both girls. His father, Vicente Pan-oy was struck by lightning while out in the rice field and died instantly.  Wilson was only four years old then. "Now that I am a father myself, I often wonder how it feels to have a father growing up, I cannot remember my father but only a faint memory of how secured my sisters and I felt when he was around", Wilson said recalling his younger years.  “I grew up surrounded by women- my sisters and my loving mother.  I saw how my mother raised the three of us in poverty and hardship, life was so difficult then, but my mother made both ends meet. Early on I knew that life will not be easy for us, and being the only boy in the family, I have to learn the things that my father would have done if he was with us”, teary-eyed Wilson continued.

In 1982, when Wilson was barely seven years old, the military operations against the New People’s Army (communist rebels) became intense in Tinglayan, Kalinga. Encounters were almost every day. "The military did not allow us to go to the fields and anybody caught working in the field is suspected as rebels.  Food became scarce, we experienced food shortage as production were stopped.  We had no money to buy food, because during that time - we produce what we eat.  I know what hunger means, it is not only the growling of stomach or the desire to eat, but during those days, as a young boy, I hungered for freedom to learn and play," Wilson said recalling the past.

In 1984, Wilson's family left Tinglayan and settled in Tabuk, the capital town of Kalinga, where it is more peaceful and secured compared to Tinglayan. They returned to Tinglayan two years after the EDSA People Power Revolution when peace and order situation improved throughout the country.

Immediately after their return to Tinglayan, Wilson's eldest sister got married.  It is a sacred tradition and custom for Kalingans to give the house and all properties to the first born when they get married. As a result, Wilson, together with his mother and youngest sister migrated to Tabuk, Kalinga for good. "We started a new life in Binongsay with the help of our relatives.  We were able to put up a small house.  It was small but decent." shared Wilson with a small smile.

"I did not finish my education. I only finished third year of high school. I guess when you live in so much poverty and lack of support you do not have much of a choice. So I decided to stop schooling to help my mother put food on our table.  I was a farm laborer earning small income, but it was good enough for us to survive day by day. I also helped my youngest sister finish her education, when she finished college and became employed, I felt so accomplished."  Wilson shared beaming with pride.

Wilson is married to Alma Basnic, also from the same tribe. They are blessed with a son, Gideon who is now 6 years old.  Wilson's family built a small house and planted a 2,500 square meters rice land, the harvest of which is enough for the family's needs. "When Gideon arrived, I vowed to myself that I will give him a comfortable life, it may not be grand or luxurious, but enough for him to feel secure and never will he fear hunger.  I will do all my best to let him grow as a kid, let him play and study.  All the things I considered as luxury in my younger years," Wilson shared with loving eyes.

Entry of REINVENT Project

"You cannot ignore Wilson's presence in the group, his leadership is very natural," Jun Dom-oguen, Program Officer for Heifer Northern Philippines said, recalling the time when he first met Wilson during the project orientation.  Wilson was chosen as one of the Community Animal Health Workers (CAHW), his dedication was instrumental in the success of REINVENT project. As a CAHW, he performed his task with volunteerism, passion and dedication.  One of his greatest accomplishments as a CAHW was when, together with the City Veterinary Office they were able to control hog cholera epidemic in 2007, the epidemic could have wiped out all pigs in the project area and the whole province of Kalinga.   “The disease infestation was a challenge because the participant families expected so much from what a CAHW could do.  It was a test of our capacity as CAHWs; it laid the foundation of the families trust on us."   Wilson shared referring to Orlando, the other CAHW of the project.

In the past, the people in the communities of Kalinga had the practice of letting the pigs roam around, not tied nor kept in fence, posing serious health problems especially to children who played around barefoot. Through his leadership as a CAHW, all pigs were housed enabling backyard gardening to prosper and also ensured healthier environment.  “Wilson is very sincere, he talks with integrity and works by example.   He does not talk that much but works a lot. Our community respects him and we have high regard and trust in his capacity", shared George Chapas, Wilson's fellow project participants.

"I do not receive any income from being a CAHW, I do everything for free. I do it knowing that through improved animal management we can be assured that passing on the gift will continue and that more families will benefit from the project.  That is enough payment for me. I earn additional income from pig sales with an average of 60,000 pesos ($1,364) annually. We used it to improve our house, for our daily needs and my son's education. The pigs have helped us improved our way of life. Our garden produce we also sell but most of the time it is for family consumption, I really can’t remember the last time we bought vegetables in the market by bulk.  Almost everything that we need, we produce", proud Wilson shared.

At present, pigs is one the major products of Binongsay. The particpant families sell pigs and piglets at the Bulanao market three times a week. “Years have passed after the project but still, Wilson serves as a CAHW not only to the project's particpant families but to the community as well.  You can say that, in Bulanao, Wilson has become the pig doctor," shared Isabel Yag-ao,  a project participant.

From CAHW to Local Community Facilitator

When Heifer Philippines approved the implementation of the second project with Tabuk Lumin-awan Center (TLC) entitled Cogawe Sustainable Highland Agri-livestock Resources Enterprises Co-SHARE Project in 2008, the officers in the Vicariate of Tabuk did not have a doubt that Wilson is the best person to be the Local Community Facilitator (LCF) for the project.

During Wilson's leadership with the Co-SHARE project 46 original families and two generations of pass on families (92 in all) where able to receive tangible and intangible gifts from the project, and those accomplishments were done in less than two years, a feat that would take three years for other projects to accomplish. “Wilson is a very patient mentor and facilitator, on top of his skills as the CAHW I think his is really good when it comes to savings. He unselfishly shared all his knowledge and skills as a CAHW which helped me become employed in the City Veterinary Office as Animal Technician,” shared Helen Lopez, a CAHW of Co-SHARE Project.

At present, Wilson and the families are working to complete the next generations of passing on the gift (POG) in Co-SHARE Project.

Strong and sustainable savings is one of the strengths of Co-SHARE project. With this strength Wilson founded the Binongsay-Malinawa Savings and Loans Cooperative.

Wilson shared, “The Cooperative is the testament of what I have learned from REINVENT and Co-SHARE Projects and above all through the lessons learned, I was able toto

to gain the respect and trust of my fellow families and the entire community as well.

As participant families reaped the gains from the projects such as additional income from pig raising, healthier environment, improved nutrition and stronger relationships in the community, sustainability of all these gains became a challenge. I saw many projects in my community which did not survive after the implementers left. I saw some Savings and Loans group that disbanded when they reached savings of more than 100,000 pesos ($2,273) due to mismanagement. I told myself that we will not become one of those projects; I personally did not want to be part of that statistics.  I was challenged and at the same time inspired by Heifer’s Values Based Holistic Community Development (VBHCD) approach in coming up with a values based cooperative which would sustain our gains from the projects.  The idea of values based cooperative came in when project REINVENT was about to end and Project Co-SHARE was about to begin. I went to the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) of Kalinga Province to inquire about the requirements of cooperative registration. Armed with the knowledge and a co-op in mind, I started to organize the original SHG and the first pass on SHG in Binongsay of Project REINVENT into a cooperative through several meetings and close coordination. Pre-membership and Education Seminar (PMES) was conducted by the CDA personnel of Kalinga, a mandatory workshop all members of a potential cooperative has to attend. By October of 2008, I was able to register the Co-op as Binongsay Malin-awa Savings and Loans Cooperative to CDA with 33 members, from the original and pass on families of REINVENT. We then expanded to Malin-awa in the succeeding years. At first membership is open only to REINVENT Project participant families. We started with a minimum share capital of 5,000 pesos ($114), initial capital of 500 pesos ($12) and 50 pesos ($1.14) membership. The Cooperative's main business is micro-credit. As agreed, the co-op gives a 2% interest rate per month.

The Co-op’s paid up capital in 2008 was only 78,870 pesos ($1,793) and total assets of 99, 114 pesos ($2,253). In 2014, our total asset is 1,227,458 pesos ($27,897). The Co-op gives loans for agri-enterprise purposes and emergency or providential loans. Aside from the micro-credit, we also operate an agri-input store for the sale of farm inputs such as fertilizers and biologics using the cash reward given by the city Government of Tabuk when the Co-op won second most outstanding co-op of the city amounting to 30,000 pesos ($682) in 2013, Wilson shared not skipping a bit.

Wilson continued sharing, “Being the Board Chairman, I also acted as the manager and started the co-op in our house which served as the Co-op office. Because we cannot provide honorariums when we started, I also ended up doing the bookkeeping. Through all these struggles and hard work my wife supported me and believed that what I was doing is for the betterment of our group and neighbors.”

 When Wilson became the community facilitator for Co-SHARE project of from 2008 to 2011, he shared that his time was divided between the co-op and being the local community facilitator; the co-op was affected slowing down its progress. Some members backed out in 2009 thinking that he was using co-op funds to attend co-op trainings for personal interest. Luis Bulayang shared, “few members had negative thoughts that the co-op might die. But majority of us trusted and supported Wilson all the way; he shared to us that the trainings he attended is for the Co-op and was all sponsored by the People’s Credit and Finance Association (PCFA), a group who assist micro-cooperatives. This was shown by the books that the co-op profits were intact every audit. The members who backed out returned and our membership is increasing.  Well, we cannot blame those who doubted, many co-ops in our province are laced with mismanagement but Wilson proved all those who doubted, that indeed, our co-op is values based to begin with”.

In 2011, Wilson devoted more time to the Co-op. The Co-op by that time was able to give 100 pesos ($2.27) honorarium to Board of Directors and Co-op personnel's for every meeting attended. In 2012, the Co-op bought a small house in Binongsay which will serve as their new office. The Co-op continued to grow slowly but surely under Wilson’s management. He worked out for strong linkages with the City Government of Tabuk and the Province of Kalinga.  “There is no doubt that Wilson’s Co-op will succeed. I always see him in the City Hall busy with networking and meetings” shared Sison Paut, the Executive Director of International Association for Transformation (IAT) another Heifer NGO partner based in Tabuk.

 His sacrifices and hard work started to bear fruit in 2013 when their Cooperative was selected as second place for the Most Outstanding Cooperative (Micro-Co-op Level- with assets below 3 million pesos) for the City of Tabuk and first  place in the Province of Kalinga. They received a 20,000 pesos ($455) cash reward which they used to buy a lot to construct  a bigger co-op building  just right across of their current office. Recognizing the benefits the people of Binongsay and Malin-awa receive from the co-op, Vice Governor Jessie Mangaoang of Kalinga gave the co-op 50,000 pesos ($1,136) last February 2014 for the concreting of the new co-op walls.  In 2014, they again won first place as the  Most Outstanding Co-op-Micro level for both the City of Tabuk and Province of Kalinga. The cash reward of 20,000 pesos ($455) was used to buy co-op office equipment like computers and printer.

As if the recognition and awards are not enough, Vice Governor Jessie Mangaoang again, gave the co-op 100,000 pesos ($2,273) last February 2015 during Kalinga Day celebration. "The Vice Governor is very excited to finally see our new co-op building, I know he can't wait.  We hope to finish the building before the end of this year", Wilson shared.

As of March, 2015, the co-op has now a total of 142 members who are all original and pass on Families of REINVENT and their family members. It is a mandatory requirement that to become a member of the co-op, one has to undergo and understand the VBHCD process.

Now, Wilson is the Manager of the Co-op with a minimal honorarium of 1,000 pesos ($23) per month. The bookkeeper also receives 1,000 pesos ($23)  per month while all other co-op board and officers receive 500 pesos ($11) per month. With a share capital of 78,870 pesos ($1,792.50) in 2008, the Co-op has now an asset of 1,227, 458 pesos ($27,897).

The Co-op was able to give a total of 73,444 pesos ($1,669)  as dividends and patronage refunds in 2014, it clearly indicates the initial success of the co-op. Patronage refund and dividends was given through the SHGs.

"Looking at where our co-op is now, I can't help but feel proud.  I never doubted that  Heifer Cornerstones, continuous reflections through Participatory Self Review and Planning (PSRP) and participatory leadership  will make our co-op better, stronger and more sustainable.  Passing on the Gift (POG) is also one of the driving forces that keep our SHG and co-op intact.  In fact, we adapted the idea of POG when five members of the co-op applied for a loan so they can buy a carabao (water buffalo).  The co-op purchased five water buffaloes for the five families not as a loan, but as a gift so they can start to improve their farm activities, with the condition that - once the buffalo gives birth, they will pass on the offspring to another needy co-op member. A water buffalo is an important asset in farming and owning one is an honor in Kalinga culture.

“The co-op made the families in Binongsay and Malin-awa more secured. Before, it is very difficult to find someone to loan from in case of emergency. We usually end up borrowing from loan sharks   in Tabuk. With the interest rate so high  we would be forever tied just paying the interest never the principal. That scheme in the past has made many of my neighbors succumb to the vicious cycle of poverty.

Now, we can avail of loans easily with a very low interest which also become ours through dividends and patronage refund. The co-op store also saves us time and fare instead of going to Tabuk. We can also sell our farm produce and pigs to the co-op. I am impressed because our co-op can now provide financial  support to  the whole community, as non-members can apply for a loan but with collateral compared to us members who do not  need collateral to loan”, Elizede Edas, a co-op member proudly shared.

From its Social Fund the co-op also funded the erection of flagpoles in Binongsay and Malin-awa Elementary Schools to symbolize their dedication in improving the communities way of life.

 “Wilson is always busy with many things, with our pigs, our food garden, as a CAHW and as a Co-op leader. Village officials consult him, his opinion always matter to them. I saw the respect and trust of our village mates and how they regard Wilson as a man of action, wisdom and compassion. Despite all these he never forgets his role as a husband and as a loving father.  Our son Gideon once said- It's ok Mama if Papa is always busy, he is the Co-op men remember? If Papa is loved by people in our community then we must be really lucky because the Co-op man loves us more”, teary Alma shared.

 Story by: Jun Dom-oguen, Program Officer – Heifer North PH & Karla Narcise-Rodulfo / PME Manager

Photo by Jun Dom-oguen, Program Officer – Heifer North PH