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Reaching out to the Philippines’ ‘lost’ tribes

Mario and Rene with other Plan staff trekking to reach remote indigenous communities
Mario and Rene with other Plan staff trekking to reach remote indigenous communities.

At 35°C and with humidity reaching 90%, you feel the meltdown effect as early as nine in the morning. For Mario and Rene it’s the start of a typical working day.

These Plan community development workers have to walk long distances – sometimes up to eight hours at a stretch – to reach indigenous Mangyan communities in the Filipino province of Occidental Mindoro.

Mountainous terrain

Spread thinly in remote mountainous terrain, the majority of the seven different Mangyan tribes can only be accessed on foot. It is often a tough trek up the mountains through dense woods. There is no road, electricity or water and unpredictable, violent downpours are common.

“I often set off early in the morning with my survival kit and reach the communities by late afternoon,” said Rene.

Mario continued, “Mudslides often block the trails after heavy rains, and the only way to reach the communities is by crossing the river on foot.”

Poor and marginalized

Since 2005, Plan has been running various development programs for the Mangyan – primarily focused on education, alternative learning systems and livelihood training. Currently, Plan works with 51 communities in Occidental Mindoro, which is home to nearly 25,000 Mangyan people.

The reclusive Mangyan are among the poorest and most marginalized people in the Philippines, physically and socially lost from the mainstream. A Mangyan family earns on average just U$0.34 per day. Nine out of 10 Mangyan people have little access to safe drinking water and 60% of Mangyan children are malnourished. Additionally, literacy is low, and it is common for both boys and girls to be married by the age of 10.

Sustainable income

Because of relentless efforts of frontline community development workers, like Mario and Rene, Mangyan communities are beginning to build bridges with the rest of the world. Traditionally, the Mangyan are untrusting of anyone outside their communities and it takes months to establish contact and build trust but Plan’s work is beginning to make a difference.

To date, 178 Mangyan communities have achieved sustainable food and income. By early 2014, Plan hopes to have established 13 community-based farm enterprises covering 73 communities and benefiting at least 16,000 Mangyan people.

Honey processing
Mario and Rene with other Plan staff trekking to reach remote indigenous communities.
Mario and Rene with other Plan staff trekking to reach remote indigenous communities

“Before, we used to get only 150 pesos for 5 whole kilos of unprocessed forest honey from the market middlemen,” said Roberto, from a Mangyan community where Plan has started a food processing centre. “Now, we process our own honey, sell it directly in the market and earn 70 pesos for only 300 grams.”

Roberto’s joy is understandable but what keeps workers like Mario and Rene going?

“Nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing Mangyan children go to school or communities become self sufficient in food and income,” said Mario. “Each community is like an extended family to me and I feel a part of them”.

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