The nth draft but...
This is my nth draft, and I am stymied and stumped. This is already about 850 words and still so much had been left out. I have described more of her projects, not the person, especially her depth and humor. It is a feature article alright but not a profile yet. I need to flesh her out, and put a closure to the story. Why do I have this obsessive need to 'circle' a story -- to make the ending be a clasp to tie it up? Has the technique become a mannerism that makes my work predictable?
I slept early last night (It is morning here now) and let the fields lie fallow, so to speak.
I have sent an earlier draft to my subject and she has corrected certain details: the road was not 'rough' as I remembered but 'paved' (I think it must have been 'roughly' paved because my butt complained :) and the lake's name, 'woodpecker', not 'clearwater'.
Leigh Anne, my supportive and inspirational editorial mentor has seen two drafts over a week and we have discussed the story and its possibilities over Skype yesterday. She has asked some questions and suggested several strategies.
I won't ask for an extension to the deadline. But I wonder if it is okay to ask if I can submit a longer story, say 100-200 more words. Otherwise, I just have to find a different way to put in more of the person than of her projects.
Here is the story:
As the pick-up rattles over the paved road, Athena Banza tells me we have reached Francfort.
“We are soon there. This is home,” she announces as we pass by a lake full of water hyacinths. “That ‘s Lake Kalaw.”
Seeing my awe at the rhapsody in greens by the road in mid-morning, she warns, “Don’t be deceived by the lushness. Banana plantations and bio-engineered corn coexist here.”
“But this is my village. My family is here.” And, she, the wandering development worker-activist, at 45, is coming home to farm.
Francfort is a village in Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur’s remotest town, 1,000 feet above the sea, about 187 miles southwest of Cagayan de Oro. Most residents here are ethnic Maranaos who are Muslims. Migrant Christians like Athena constitute only 30 per cent of the population.
“I have looked up my town on Google Earth, and I was surprised to know that we are surrounded by at least four active volcanoes,” Banza adds.
First on her itinerary was the local water organization office, an austere building fenced with bamboo boles painted omelette-yellow.
Ten years ago, Banza, an engineer turned development worker, helped build the water system in her village. In 2003, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in 2000, had taken off. The MDGs provided a roadmap to better the quality of life among citizens of the world’s poor countries by 2015.
Banza was aware that one of the MDGs, environmental sustainability, stressed the importance of access of clean and safe drinking water. For her steeped in gender perspective, she saw the opportunity to improve life in her village by getting a grant from the Japanese Embassy administered by the Philippine Business for Progress.
“With water faucets right in their homes, women and children did not have to fetch potable water. That meant healthier children with more time to study and play, and women having more productive hours,” she noted.
The waterworks was installed with a P200,00-grant seven years before the UN declared access to clean water as a human right. It began serving about 100 households; now, it serves 700.
Banza is proud that the organization values its independence. “We have been invited to join the state-controlled water services corporation and it might sound alluring, with all the perks. But we don’t wanthought to be swallowed up by the bureaucracy. “
She added that small means more viability and efficiency.“We don’t have to expand or serve the entire town. We can train other communities to manage their own water system. That way, they replicate our experience.”
Next, Banza discusses foregoing a reforestation project with a foundation and the local government. “Are we capable of doing what is required of us in the agreement? And besides, the area is beyond our village,” she says. She questions using exotic species.
The $4-billion reforestation project involves the seven ranges of Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon, dubbed as the island’s “vital lungs”, the sources of Mindanao’s six major rivers. The budget for the 208-hectare area on Bumbaran Range is P9-million pesos.
‘’I believe in reforestation for environmental sustainability, as climate change adaptation. But the process is not right,” Banza stresses.
What is your alternative to this reforestation master plan then? I ask as we move towards the coffee nursery. Her strides are sure and swift; as with her speech, nothing clumsy in her gait.
The nursery houses thousands of varied seedlings. Here, she tells me the story of the 15 Farmers Coffee Project. At Brandeis University in Massachusetts, where she completed her MA in Sustainable International Development, she met Jessica Ketchen, who was working on community-centered coffee production and marketing.
Last year, Ketchen went around the country with Banza, learning about coffee farming in the Philippines. Thus, their partnership with the farmers, agriculturists and local NGOs like Pakisama began.
How does coffee fit into your plan? Coffee is the world’s most traded commodity, next only to oil. With disease plaguing trees in Latin America, there is room for small players. But what makes you think you can outsmart the corporate coffee traders whose wily ways capture production inputs markets, control bean prices and even the supply flow?
“Because we grow and market local(y). We’d go rainforestation farming. Coffee thrives under the canopy of big trees. Plus, intercropping, biodiversity, organic farming, renewable energies. Nothing new but adapted to our contexts.”
She hopes to involve farmers in the production cycle, in benefits-sharing, in the dispersal of economic power. “The women must own the processing stage, that’s the most profitable stage,” she says.
In December last year, Banza got 25 kilos of premium Arabica beans for seeding. “The donor asked only to taste the first cup of coffee when the berries come in three years,” she said. She calculates 75,000 seedlings to sprout. She hopes to have at least one hundred thousand coffee seedlings to share with interested farmers.
“See, we do not have to reforest some far place we have not even seen,” she says, extending her two arms as if to encompass the entire Mt. Panasong Range. “Imagine all these hills becoming rainforest farms tomorrow.”