A community eco-garden initiative is developing in Catmon

Photo courtesy of Remar Grace “Mai” Montecillo

CEBU CITY, Philippines – When COVID-19 hit, Remar Grace “Mai” Montecillo, for the first time after staying in the Cebu metropolitan area for six years, returned to her family in northern Catmon town from Cebu.

Mai, a 23-year-old management student who graduated from the University of the Philippines-Cebu (UP-Cebu), was surprised not only at how their humble community of Barangay San Jose flourished in a short time, but also by how the strewn rubbish had become.

“I was out of the province for six years to work and finish my studies. When I got back, I observed that our city had really made progress and that many small businesses were operating, ”Mai said in Cebuano.

“But it was troubling for me to find waste that was not properly disposed of. When I was growing up in Catmon, it was very rare to see plastic cups and bottles on the streets. One day, I was jogging in the morning, I managed to collect at least 20 discarded plastic cups in five minutes, ”she added.

With this, Mai and her family set up last April the “One Cup for a Cup” initiative, initially aimed at their milk tea business, in which they offer incentives such as discounts to anyone who can donate. recyclable plastic cups.

“Even my own mother would ask ‘Di kaha ta malugi ani?’ She said jokingly.

The first to take advantage of their discount was their neighbor’s child, who was saving up to buy his first milk tea.

“He would entrust us with the coins he had collected, saying that when he reached P75, he would then buy a cup of tea with milk. I was puzzled and asked my relatives “does he buy milk tea in installments?” So we told him to go get at least 75 plastic bottles and cups, and we’ll give you one. It only took him a few hours to collect 75 pieces. We gave him his coins back and he came home with his first cup of milk tea, ”said Mai.

With the help of her own family, peers, government and non-government organizations, and “strangers on the Internet” who shared the same plea, Mai’s marketing strategy for her family’s milk tea store eventually turned into a community development project that is now gradually helping the underprivileged of Catmon, a fourth-class municipality located 57 kilometers north of Cebu City.

“My concern at the time was the trash. And then came massive help and support, and we were able to fully mobilize the project even without funding. And I am truly grateful for the support from JCI-CSI (Junior Chamber International – Cebu Sinulog), San Jose Barangay Council, SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) San Jose and Corazon, Facebook friends, UP Sagabay, foreigners, family and UP Iskolars, ” she added.

In total, they were able to collect over 10,000 recyclable plastic cups, which ultimately enabled her to further develop the project and lead her to consider a shared community garden, where residents can plant their own vegetables, crops and fruit and reap. them for free.

“I didn’t have a green thumb at all and barely knew enough about gardening when I started the A Cup for A Cup project. But when a family member brought up the idea of ​​using them for gardening, I did my research. I spent a lot of time watching YouTube tutorials and reading gardening articles, ”said Mai.

Recently, May shared with Internet users on Facebook that some of the recyclable plastic cups they received were used to plant donated and discarded “seedlings” that they purchased from product retailers in public markets.

“We also received donation plants. But they cannot go any further. We decided to buy products rejected in wet markets like Carbon for a small fee. We thought these seeds would grow again and indeed they did! We not only tried to solve the waste management problem, but we also offered another opportunity to help people, ”said Mai.

From August 18, they were able to harvest okra, kangkong (Chinese spinach), heel (eggplant) and kilos of peppers. As they sold part of their harvest, Mai said most of it was given to their neighbors and others in Catmon who were struggling.

“Right now, we are providing seedlings for free to farmers in remote areas of Catmon. And we encouraged them to return the plastic cups where the seedlings were first planted to reuse them and give them more seedlings in return, ”said Mai.

“Our family is neither rich nor very privileged. But we can say that we are doing well since we don’t have to worry if we will have food on our table in the next few days. Others, however, are expected to struggle, especially with the pandemic. We therefore asked SK in our barangay and neighboring barangays to share this eco-garden initiative with them. They have volunteers who will then distribute the crops and plants to families who need them, ”she added.

Mai also decided to recruit a gardener to monitor and supervise the growing eco-garden.

“Realistically, it’s hard to find the balance between a 9 to 5 job and projects like these. That’s why we decided to hire people who really needed a job during these tough times. And we selected our neighbor, whose family is a 4Ps beneficiary, and whose husband recently lost his job. At the very least, we were able to provide them with a livelihood, ”she added.

In her free time, Mai virtually shares her experience and lessons in developing their eco-responsible projects to those interested in replicating them. When asked what advice she usually gives to her audience, here’s what she has to say:

“The first would be to stay true to your advocacy. It would go a long way to help you get a clearer and bigger picture of the initiative you want. “

“Second, find the right people with whom you want to share your project. Because with them, you don’t have to go far to find the problems that needed solutions.

“Third, consistency and constant communication will make everything easier. And finally, we must always remember that even small actions can make a huge difference… We cannot save everyone at the same time, but we can improve our community for them.

/ bmjo

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