Planting grass: a modern trend
This is the First Place Winner in the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. The author is a former teacher at the Leonides Virata Memorial School, Rio Tuba Nickel Foundation and principal at the Hope Christian School in the Province of Palawan. She now supervises a pre-school for children from indigenous people’s communities in the province.
“Is it possible for a family in Palawan to live poorer than rats?”
Yes. Our family is more impoverished than rats. The rats are even better off because they have abundant food. In our family, the food prepared by Mother is not at all enough to feed all our 9 mouths seated around the floor every meal time. And another one is coming in September. I hope they are not twins.
“Father, why is it that in this miserable life of ours, our family has become this huge?,” I once seriously asked my father. He only sighed and said, “You will know the answer, Zaldy, when you are already married.”
“Me? When I marry, we will carefully plan the number and spacing of our children,” I whispered to myself. “But before that day comes, I will first finish my studies.” To dream is free anyway.
Since I am the eldest in the family, I am always expected to help carry the burden of earning a living. Mang Victor’s eldest son is intelligent, they say. Many feel sorry that I had to stop my studies to keep my siblings away from hunger. I deeply feel the hardships of life. We get yantok from the forests. We make cribs, baskets, and other stuff out of it. We sell them to the tabuan. We are happy if we could at least sell a few pieces. At least we have something to buy rice, salt, and fish. We are happier if we could also buy coffee and sugar.
My father and I tried rice farming, too, but it didn’t work. Before we could even start the thresher, the truck owned by the person to whom we owe our seedling, fertilizer, and insecticide always comes. Our harvest is not even enough to pay for our expenses. The rats are really better off. They eat so much of the palay that they don’t even plant. So we just followed the rats. We just harvest in other farm lands. Our share, while meager, is at least assured.
“Father! I will just plant grass!” I excitedly climbed the stairs of our decrepit house. I attended a meeting held in the plantation. Because I am excited to learn new things, I have become fond of attending the Information, Education, Communication (IEC) activities organized by Coral Bay Nickel Corporation or CBNC. I always love to listen to the speakers there. Snacks are served, and more importantly, I learn so much.
“What? You will plant grass? In our rice land, we get rid of those pests. And now, you will plant grass?” My father asked in disbelief.
“Yes, Father! I will earn from planting grass! They said they need people to plant the grass. That was the explanation of the head of the Environmental Management and Quality Control Section or EQMCS in the IEC meeting that I attended. I just learned that there are areas in the mine site that were previously used for storing waste water. It is called the Tailings Storage Facility #1. If it is no longer used, it becomes large tracts of reddish brown, barren, unproductive land. No plants can ever thrive in those lands. I discovered that this sight is usually what is captured by camera from an aerial view. They say it really looks horrible.
“You know, Father, I learned that the company would never allow such condition to simply pass. It is because CBNC is a responsible company. They conduct experiments on how to restore life in the tailings dam. They are very eager to demonstrate that they are responsible to the environment.”
“They say their challenge is huge. First, there is a need to strengthen the physical appearance of the land along the slopes of the dam; second, there is a need to make the view acceptable, especially from the perspective of the critics; third, there is a need to make this productive; and fourth, there is a need to maintain this land in its restored or rehabilitated state.”
“Hush, Zaldy, you are still young! You think you already know so much! I really hope that, with your wit and intelligence, you can still finish your studies. When did they say we can start?”
Together with many other members from our barangay, my father and I boarded a truck to the tailings dam everyday. Our group started to implement the methods carefully studied by EQMS that will bring back to life the barren, seemingly hopeless, land so this can be productive anew and to continue protecting the environment.
Atong, Bobby, and Carling are part of the group that plants grass and other fast-growing plants around the slopes of the almost fifteen-hectare dam. They do this to strengthen the soil and to prevent any erosion or siltation. They all look great. They even wear harnesses as they descend and do the planting; just like stuntmen in the shooting of a movie.
Dante, Ely, and Fernan belong to the group that collects seedlings from trees and other plants like bananas in the neighboring barangay. These are bought to be planted by the men in the entire 80-hectare land that seems to be seen only in other planets because of its reddish color.
Aling Gina and Ate Helen are just two of the women who join the planting activities. They bring joy during lighter moments. There are some who are assigned to plant medicinal and flowering plants. But most of them plant grass.
Insiong, Jose, and Kardo are tasked to work on the vegetable farm. There are so many upo, sitaw, kalabasa, ampalaya and other vegetables mentioned in the song Bahay Kubo. Luding, Marcelino, and Narcing assist in performing the rice plantation experiment in the mining area. It is amazing to see their bountiful harvest! I even want to follow their system in our own farmlot. I realized that one can farm without using artificial fertilizers.
Oscar, Pedring, and Quintin, on the other hand, are in the nursery. They take care of the seedlings that are being grown into mangoes, jackfruit, durian, and other fruits. Fruit cocktail is their forte.
These plants managed to grow because of several strategies that restore the nutrients of the soil. Ruding supervises the men that burn the rice hull from the mill. They make this into carbonized rice hull as an ingredient of the organic fertilizer. Santos and Turo take care of the vermi-culture or worms that produce natural fertilizers.
Mang Ulding, Wally, and Yayon collect the dayami and cow dung that are mixed in the making of compost.
Because Tatay and I are hardworking by nature, we hoard all that we can plant and grow in the bags of soil that is fertilized the natural way. We nurture this with water until they can be transferred to the ground soil. We earn a lot from this system than working on a daily basis. Each one of us earns ten thousand pesos every month. P20,000 for both of us! We have no other vice, except only for hot coffee. Now we even have creamer.
Thus, we always proclaim the goodness of the Lord in our lives and those of the people in our barangay. We become partners in taking care of the environment, while our lives are being uplifted.
Like the soil of the tailings dam that used to be barren, our life tomorrow and in the next days will be stronger and full of hope.
Like our aim of stabilizing the slopes of the dam, we shall also become more resilient in facing life’s challenges. We shall not easily crumble. We shall greatly prove that blessings come to those who toil hard.
On the aim of becoming more visibly appealing? What can happen to me and to all of us is beyond that. The smiles would be sweeter because of the confidence that we could work towards improving our lives from abject poverty. To add to that, our house is nearing completion. Roof made of iron, sturdy walls and floor. The curtains are also ready for the door and windows.
Productive livelihood? We now have it! We already have our own poultry and livestock. Each of my siblings is able to raise one. My mother is their supervisor. Every sale would be enough to pay for their school needs. They now have something to bring to school, unlike before when they suffered empty stomachs and could not even go to the canteen for snacks.
Self-sustainability aims? We shall achieve that! We shall continue to do what we are doing in restoring the tailings dam area. The EMQCS (environmental management and quality control) leadership shall continue to discover new strategies to face newer challenges. And we shall join them in implementing these.
Oh, it is 5 o’clock! The truck is coming…
“Oppss… As always, nobody hurries to go up! Everyone takes turn in alphabetical order!
“Nge! Zaldy? I am always the last to board! But it is alright, with all humility, my name is always the first to be called when it comes to the highest pay in pakyawan…”
“Let’s go. I am so excited!” Like me, everyone is happy. It is this time when we receive our salaries from this money farm, ooops, plantation farm. - Rappler.com
The "Faces of Mining short story writing writing competition" received 105 entries from employees, their family members, and the residents in host communities of Chamber of Mines' member firms. Amid negative perception against mining as a mere resource-extractive activity, this contest was launched in July to show the real-life, human interest stories of individuals who have personally experienced how mining touched their lives through the years.
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