By Dr. Linda Seger
Many of us want to do good in the world. To make a difference. To help. To care. To give back. If you’re like me, you may feel stretched thin and overwhelmed by the many appeals to do Good, and soon, don’t know what to do. Do you do a little with a lot, or choose one or two charities and try to become more involved?
In the early 1990’s, I started working on an M.A. degree in Feminist Theology. In a sense, this is a sociology degree, looking at how social structures continue to keep people oppressed, and about ways to empower ourselves and others. Part of the requirements for the degree included working 40-80 hours with a women’s organization that dealt with overcoming oppression – whether rape crisis centers, battered women’s centers, centers for the homeless, etc. I met someone who had founded a charity in the Philippines, and decided to go to the other side of the world, and find out something about the poor. My major professor told me, “If you go, don’t think of this as your Third World experience and then return and forget about it. You will be connected to this people for the rest of your life. Decide if that’s what you want!” I decided “yes”.
WODEEF – Women’s Development and Earth Foundation -- interested me because it dealt with the education of children, which I understood to be one way out of poverty. It had a micro-lending program, which helped women become empowered economically through starting their own businesses. Both of these were on the island of Cebu. While there, one of the founders, Sister Luz, who was knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture, told me that she wanted to get a farm on the island of Mindanao that would help raise crops. This income could help the Cebu Center as well as help the indigenous farmers in the area. She found a nine acre farm, and then asked if I would buy it for them. After some thought, and prayer, and asking God where I would get $8500, I did.
This February, 2007, I journeyed back to the Philippines to see what was happening at the charity and to re-connect with the people I had grown to love from that first visit. What a change! In 1999, there was one college student sponsored by WODEEF. Now, in 2007, 11 were in college, 10 had graduated, and another 23 were seeking assistance. Through grants, and through the founding of the WODEEF/USA fundraising branch in 2001, we have been able to provide 11 fishermen with motorized boats, to help the women start a small take-out eatery, to create a water project that provided fresh water for the families in the various neighborhoods, to help start savings and loan projects.
The farm also prospered. In 1999, the farm had 5 fruit trees and a pond. Now, it has over 30 different varieties of trees plus a vegetable garden, goats, chickens, a pig, two caribou for plowing, and a seedling project, obtained through a grant, to raise seedlings on the farm which are then given to the farmers, in exchange for their organic fertilizer. The pond raises tilapia. And there are two rice fields.
This whole experience has raised my consciousness. It’s taught me that I can do much. It has enriched me with this very close relationship with the people of WODEEF, and also with Sister Luz, whose thinking about poverty is so empowering. WODEEF is not bureaucratic. And it doesn’t do give-aways. It’s objective is to empower so that the people of WODEEF can become self-sustaining through these projects. There is an exchange – whether it’s seedlings for fertilizer, or paying back low interest loans which develops the resourcefulness and the financial ability of the poor.
Most of all, it continually teaches me about stewardship. For me, it isn’t about helping those who are victimized, but about entering into a mutual giving relationship that is personal, and that helps me learn what works and what is effective. I am not the rich white woman from America with these people, but someone who is willing to enter into mutual caring.
You can learn more about WODEEF through the website: www.wodeef.org.