Protecting Camp 7 beyond 2010

PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas - The Freeman

Together with Professor Masanori Kobayashi of the Yokohama National University, we participated in an International Forum for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific (ISAP) in Yokohama, Japan. We joined the panel that presented and reviewed the various projects supported by the APFED (Asia Pacific Forum for Environment and Development) throughout various countries.

The Camp 7 Project of the Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE-Cebu) was supported by APFED (together with IGES (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) from 2008-2010.

For everyone's information, CAMP 7 occupies about 123 hectares within the 2 municipalities of Talisay and Minglanilla in Cebu Province. It is included in the Central Cebu Protected Landscape ( RA 9486) covering 29,062 hectares of forests and watersheds, it is home to about 74 endemic fauna species, 11 of which are highly threatened. At the time of our project, Camp 7's population was about 2500 in 5 sitios (sub-villages with different terrain and conditions) but with rich resources such as 7 caves, 64 tree species, diverse flora and  fauna, 6 springs, waterfalls,  1 river,  watershed, timber, and other forest products.

In an early consultation with forest residents of this 143 wide forest community, the following problems were presented: poverty, illegal logging, land tenure, inadequate water supply especially during summer and unsafe water quality, among others.

Outsiders like us wondered why poverty existed in such a naturally rich environment. The residents' visualization of their world, shown in a map that they themselves collectively drew in an early consultation, gave us at RCE-Cebu an initial glimpse of their forest world that, for 2 years, we would share together. Their view of their forest was very limited in contrast to ours. That was an important first step of mutually sharing and expanding worlds for two years, together.

The youth of Camp 7, those with or without formal education, served as guides to the Saint Theresa's College students who visited Camp 7 with us. The Camp 7 youth easily maneuvered the varying terrain of the forest and skillfully led and protected our group through various types of caves which had various types of entrances, exits and marvelous sights! In appreciation, the STC students gave modest cash tokens to the Camp 7 youth and that experience planted, among the Camp 7 youth, the precious seed of appreciation and awareness for their beautiful natural resources. Slowly, they realized that if they protect and care for their forest and their resources wisely, these natural wealth can be their source of pride and livelihood as well.

It was not difficult to rally many Camp 7 youth later on for river and cave cleanliness drives and for collaborative cave assessment. They themselves asked RCE-Cebu for training that could help them become better eco-tour guides. RCE-Cebu brought certain Camp 7 residents to Kawasan Falls for them to observe how the eco-tourism in that area was managed.

Happily, four years after that APFED project of RCE-Cebu, a youth leader reported that the youth have continued to serve as eco-guides and they are getting good pay as well. They also crafted bamboo alkansya and the proceeds were used to buy plastic bags for seedlings which they also sold to interested visitors. Their active participation and experience made them more self-confident, environment-concerned and responsible stewards and we hope  that the local municipality and Camp 7 barangay leaders will consider the Camp 7 youth as active partners and co-owners of a proposed Ecotourism Project.

Slash and burn farming (kaingin) was also practiced by many Camp 7 farmers during our project. Through the hardworking efforts of Roberto "Bob" Bajenting, who trained them, several farmers are now continuing to do contour as well as organic farming, thus helping to protect the soil and farms within Camp 7. Their vegetable produce has also made them sufficient in food. Where before, they used to go down to the lowland market for their food supply, now, four years after the 2010 RCE-Cebu project, their organic farms are helping to green their lives and the forest even more!

Not to be outdone, many Camp 7 women have their own home gardens of herbs which they use for health purposes or which they sell, together with some fruit and other tree seedlings to visitors (local and international) that are reported to have been increasing. Like the youth, some of these active women are also planting and adding trees to their forest.

Simple realization and awareness of their own resources within their richly-endowed forest community has slowly guided a number of Camp 7 residents, through their own initiatives, towards food sufficiency, hopefully beyond poverty too. More happy updates soon about other beautiful efforts of Camp 7 residents who are continuing to take care of and who are protecting the forest for themselves, for us all, and the whole world! (To be continued)

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