The culture and ways of life of indigenous peoples are closely linked to the land of their ancestors and their ancestral environment. Forcing indigenous peoples to leave their homeland can have incalculable effects on their lives and ways of life - effects that are linked to the danger that their culture and existence will eventually disappear forever from the legacy of the Philippines.
As a church we have always had the task of being shepherds for the poor and disadvantaged. Because we want to faithfully fulfill this task, in 2015, when about 700 Lumad fled their villages due to massive militarization, we opened the doors of the Haran Mission Centre of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) to displaced Lumad, so-called Bakwits. Haran has since become the second home of these Lumad brothers and sisters. There they have time to recover from the trauma that the attacks by paramilitary units on their ancestral territory have left them with. And their children can continue their education at the Bakwit school.
Land has become a sought-after investment and speculation object of states, international corporations, banks and investors. They buy or lease huge areas of land to grow what is currently in demand on the market: for example, palm oil, from which fuel for cars is produced, or soya as animal feed for cattle, which later end up as steaks on European barbecues. Valuable mineral resources such as gold, copper, rare earths and valuable tropical woods are mined ruthlessly, with devastating consequences for mankind and the environment.
The life of the traditional Papuan ethnic group on Indonesia's second largest island is changing dramatically: in the past, people lived off what the rainforest offered them. Today, extensive palm oil plantations and huge gold and copper mines are displacing the last intact rainforests in Asia. The Papuans are forced to give up their traditional way of life as guardians of the forest. They will not participate in the rich raw material deposits of their country and the income of the palm oil companies. To this day, the Indonesian state does not recognize the Papuans as an independent people and denies them the rights to those areas that were inhabited by their ancestors.
Pygmies are considered the first inhabitants of the rainforest in the Congo. They used to wander through the endless forests as nomads. But they were driven further and further away from their ancestral habitat by national parks and growing settlements. The state still does not recognize their land rights as hunters and gatherers. Without this recognition, any outsider or the state itself can take over their land without restrictions or compensation. UEM campaigns for the rights of the disadvantaged ethnic group by training those affected and with income-generating projects.
Churches support village communities in cultivating their land together. Together, challenges can be mastered better and mutual support in everyday life is guaranteed. With the additional income, many families can finance the school fees for their children or buy new seeds.
The Equator region is still one of the most inaccessible areas on Earth. The people here live from manioc and corn, which they cultivate on the surrounding fields. Often the yield is only enough for one meal a day. When crops fail, many families starve. The food is not only scarce, but also unbalanced, there is a lack of important vitamins. Children often suffer from developmental disorders. Agricultural experts, such as the VEM employee Safari Kanyena, teach the rural population new cultivation methods in order to achieve higher harvests. Regular crop rotation, mulching and compost fertilizer improve the soil sustainably and provide lasting protection against desertification. New vegetable varieties enrich the unbalanced diet. This change has a positive effect on the lives of families. Especially the health situation of the children improves.
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The Graben region, in the east of the Democratic Republic, offers good conditions for agriculture with its fertile soils. But due to the deforestation of many mountain slopes, fertile soil was washed away by increasingly frequent, stormy rains. What remains are barren soils on which nothing can grow. The effects of climate change are noticeable and visible. The situation for hundreds of farmers in the region has deteriorated dramatically: large parts of the land can no longer be used for agriculture.
The Baptist Church in Eastern Congo (CBCA) is committed to environmentally friendly, sustainable cultivation of usable land. Agricultural experts train the farmers. With new cultivation methods they achieve higher harvests and enrich the diet with vitamin-rich vegetables. The establishment of agricultural cooperatives is also promoted and supported. In a community, farmers have more financial opportunities to purchase seeds and equipment for joint field work.
More than 400 farming families have been selected to successfully cultivate their fields. Already in the first year many families were able to significantly improve their harvests of potatoes, onions, carrots and amaranth. This encourages all those involved and shows that this is the right way to go.
Paul Tsongo, a farmer from Kisima, took part in the church's training sessions and reported:
"I have been a farmer all my life. There were times when I had good yields. But that was a long time ago. Year after year, the harvests have continued to decline. This had dramatic consequences: I could no longer feed my families sufficiently. Often it wasn't even enough for one meal a day. We could afford neither the school fees of my children nor visits to the doctor. It was a very bad time.
It is a real blessing that I was able to participate in the church's trainings. Today I know that my cultivation methods have leached out the soil and therefore the harvests have been constantly decreasing. Much has changed since then: I work the soil much less and cover it with mulch to keep the moisture. Instead of cow dung, I use green manure, which supplies the soil better. Our entire village has planted hedges together, which with their roots solidify the soil on the slopes, so that during heavy rains only little soil is washed away.
From the church I received vegetable seeds, better cassava and banana seedlings, which are not so susceptible to disease. I didn't even know that it was possible to grow vegetables on the soil here. Now we also harvest leeks, tomatoes and cabbage, even more than we can consume, so that we can earn something with the sale. Instead of having to buy vegetables on the market myself, I can now sell some - an unbelievable feeling!
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