ALPSIDE DOWNED: An OFW Returns to Mindanao

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 22 Dec) – Minda Teves is no ordinary OFW.

Aside from leading the Associazione Culturale Filippina del Piemonte or ACFIL for many years, Minda had already set her goals forward. She had already saved from her work in Turin, Italy for a beach resort that she had planned to build up in her hometown of Cantilan in Surigao del Sur.

Shortly after she retired from Italy some two years ago, Minda went home to Cantilan to follow her dream.

Minda left Cantilan in the 1970s, so she was shocked to find out upon returning that their ancestral land somewhere in the boundary of Cantilan and Madrid towns was left abandoned by the people. Coconut trees were falling down, the fruit trees were gone, and the land had become barren with no other crops growing. “I thought the remittances we sent would enable those who were left behind to restore the land, giving us many opportunities and contentment,” lamented Minda in a Facebook post.

She decided that trees would have to be replanted to prevent more soil erosion, and mangroves planted to stabilize the riverbanks. “Soon we will have more green”, she wrote in a Facebook post.

In honor of Italy, the place was called “La Vecchia Spiaggia” or “The Old Beach”. Since “La Vecchia” was located between the sea and the Union river, Minda took advantage of this location and together with partners and friends built up a fish pond teeming with bangus and other fish. Together they planted various plants and fruit trees, developed a flower garden, decorated the pathways and landscaped the place, and built up a bridge and structures for rooms and overnight accommodations.

They also worked together with the local government unit to plant mangroves for a future marine sanctuary. There, Minda imagined, her guests would be able to relax, eat fresh seafood, harvest the bounty of the sea by hand themselves, and in general be treated to the simple luxuries that the people of Surigao del Sur enjoyed.

In the short span of time since she left Italy, Minda was able to develop the place with hard work and determination; she provided the vision that enabled the locals to imagine a place better than they had now. Because the coconut trees were rehabilitated, Minda planned to start a business in virgin coconut oil; she also applied in the local government for the place to be approved as a Learning Site in Agriculture.

In Minda’s mind, La Vecchia would not only be just an ordinary tourist destination competing with the big resorts, but also a social enterprise that involved and organized the locals, used local resources, and also complemented the environmental and tourism programs of the local government unit. It was a wonderful concept, a glorious dream.

And then everything was changed overnight.

Tropical depression “Vicky” rolled in Saturday (December 19) over the province and many parts of Mindanao, bringing heavy rains and too much water.

By evening, the power was cut. The wind howled and the rain poured on. Minda said she was reminded of the last strong typhoon she experienced back in 1964.

Their dogs were barking unceasingly and when they went to inspect why, they were alarmed to see water from the rising river. To their horror, the sea tide was also rising. The current became strong and overwhelming. So the rest of the night they waited in the darkness, unable to sleep and feeling helpless because they were only able to save themselves and a few other belongings.

When morning finally came, they saw with dismay that their whole property had become a sea of water.

The machine and equipment for the virgin coconut oil product was waterlogged and damaged, the ingredients and the bottles carried away by the current.

According to the Cantilan agricultural office, the floods destroyed up to 633 hectares of ricelands. Vicky only brought wind gusts of up to 55 kph, but its rains had wrought havoc.

Minda is devastated, and said in a post that she does not even know where to start rebuilding. “One thing for sure, I lack courage to continue my journey,” she posted a day after the tragedy.

But ACFIL and friends are coming to Minda’s aid, starting a fund drive this week to help rebuild “La Vecchia Spiaggia” and help the affected families of Daan Union, Cantilan and Union Madrid.

Said ACFIL’s Rosalie Bajade Cuballes in her Facebook announcement: “We decided to make this initiative to support the families and the tourism and labor-generating establishment of a returning OFW who has put her soul, heart, skills, expertise and treasures in helping develop the place and providing opportunities to the locals.”

Minda’s friends are also sure that Minda – always a strong-willed and creative leader – will find a way from this temporary setback. In one of her Facebook posts, Minda had then declared her motto: “I consider every problem as a challenge, therefore I have to find a solution that in the end becomes an opportunity.”

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)