MASBATE CITY, MASBATE – Vegetables harvested in the Gulayan sa Paaralan in Nursery Elementary School, this city, are used as ingredients for a COVID-19 response project initiated by the Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan (EPP), Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) and Technical-Vocational Livelihood (TVL) Teachers’ Association of Masbate City Division.

Dubbed as  Project STRIVE  or Sharing Teachers’ Revenue to Indigents Vulnerable During Enhanced Community Quarantine, this  was an offshoot of the Association’s president Jhonmark Barruga’s   Project Caring to Overcome the Virus through Initiative and Deeds or Project COVID, which conducted a two-day volunteerism project for the poor he spearheaded together with six online volunteers and four mobile volunteers. The said project generated P16,530 by connecting with partners and suppliers for lower price of goods which they sold online and delivered to their customers. One hundred percent of their profit they used as their capital in providing food packs to 30 indigent families, most of them  garbage  collectors in Masbate City. They adopted the  tagline: “Be Healthy While Helping the Community.”

Barruga, a graduate of Education Major in TLE, and a Master Teacher also serves as a Project Director in Gawad Kalinga. He has proven that indeed, kindness is infectious. When his colleagues and EPP/TLE/TVL supervisor Dr. Marizza Vargas learned about his project, they offered help and encouraged him to expand the project. Using their association’s remaining fund amounting to P6,088 generated from the Palarong Bicol 2019 bazaar, Barruga and his co-officers, Marilyn Rosal and Janin Abegail Ayson, started selling home-made fruits and vegetable salad for only P80 per serving. Each salad pack contains potatoes, carrots, apple, pears, grapes, and pineapple which Barruga buys from the Masbate City Public Market as well as fresh lettuce and kales from the school’s Gulayan sa Paaralan garden.

According to Barruga, since they engaged in the project, he has harvested about two kilograms of leafy lettuce from the 200 square-meter school garden and kales from approximately 50 urban container garden which he maintained while raising 88 tilapia using aquaponics and hydroponics technology.

“Mataas yung demand sa salad. Naisip namin siya kasi una sa lahat, ang daming tao ang nagda-diet [lalo at] Holy Week, ang mga tao ay hindi kumakain ng meat kasi bawal kumain ng meat yung mga Christians. Pangalawa, yung mga tao wala nang nabibili na vitamins, kahit pumunta ka ng botica, wala kang mabibili. The only thing you can do para maging healthy ka is eat vegetables and fruits na merong available sa community at sa siyudad. So it’s also a strategy na madali naming na-attract yung customers [kasi], gustong-gustong kumain ng masustansyang pagkain kasi takot sila na humina yung resistensya nila,” Barruga said in a phone interview.

The association saves P30 from their profit from each salad pack to support their charitable cause. As of April 21, 2020, Project STRIVE has generated P32,838 and has served 237 indigent families in five barangays and slum areas in Masbate City.

“Yung pinakamalaking impact ng Project STRIVE is makarugtong dun sa kailangan nilang pagkain, na hindi na nila kailangang bumili ng food kasi since wala naman silang pambili kasi wala naman silang hanap-buhay,” he added.

Nursery Elementary School won as champion in the city’s Search for Best Gulayan sa Paaralan Container Raise Gardening category in 2019. This year, as the school’s Brigada Eskwela Coordinator, Barruga plans to highlight the improvement of the Gulayan sa Paaralan by orienting parents and teachers on aquaponics and hydroponics. The defines aquaponics as the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics or soil-less growing of plants that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. Hydroponics, on the other hand, is a method of growing plants in water rather than in soil. To prepare for the said activities, the school has already availed of free vegetable seeds and organic fertilizer from DA High Value Crops Development Program through the Masbate Breeding Center.

“We hope na in the coming years and in the coming months makita ng mga tao kung gaano kaimportante yung pagtatanim kasi nga if you have plants, hindi mo na kailangang mamroblema sa pagkain sa araw-araw. Malaking bagay ang maitutulong namin sa kanila kasi karamihan ngayon na mga kabataan hindi na nila nakikita yung importansya ng gulay… If you plant vegetables, you have treasures in your backyard.   At ngayon ngang may COVID-19 nakikita ng mga tao.., we’re going back to basics.  Nakita natin kung gaano kahalaga ang pagtatanim. Mahirap yung ginagawa namin but we take courage because we know for a fact that we can be a blessing to others,” Barruga added.

The Gulayan sa Paaralan Program of the Department of Agriculture was relaunched in Bicol in 2018 with the goal of reducing malnutrition among school children and enticing the younger generation to go into agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar is currently promoting urban gardening especially in barangays, government offices, schools and corporate buildings to ensure stable, quality, nutritious and affordable food supply amid the threat of COVID-19. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)

Photo Credits: Jhonmark Barruga, Marilyn Danao Rosal and Jin Valencia Llevares