When Hands are Held Tight: A Story of the Endearing People of Claveria

Primary school students in Claveria.Everything was still dark. Not a streak of sunlight had touched the silent sky. We packed our suitcases and a few days’ supply of food and water in the bus. “It would be a long day on the road,” my old pals told me. We had to hurry.

In less than an hour, we were outside Manila traversing the North Luzon highway. Daylight started to peek. The dark blue sky slowly changed to red then to yellow, touching everything on earth with the magic of its colours. A few hours later,  a surge of excitement enveloped me as I begin to see the quiet beauty of our country – a kaleidoscope of cities, rice fields, trees, mountains, bridges, coastal towns, shores and seas.

We made a few stops to take some food and freshen up a bit. As we pushed on, the late afternoon sun started to climb down the mountains. Dusk set in, but we were still on the road. I wondered where we were heading. I had never been there.

It was in June 1997, I was twenty-two. My pals and I were on a mission to evaluate the performance of the Claveria Agri-Based Multi-Purpose Co-operative (CABMPC) as it competed with other co-ops in the Gawad PITAK  in the annual search for the most outstanding co-operative, a contest sponsored by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

“We’re here!” exclaimed one of my pals. At last! After 14 hours of travel from Manila, we had reached Claveria, Cagayan, a coastal community on the northwestern tip of the island of Luzon, 740 kilometres from Manila. “Sand!”, I felt it as I jumped off from the coaster. I realized that from where we were standing, open water was just two hundred feet away. It’s where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea!

The pretty white buildings and the satellite dishes of CABMPC greeted us. The local people welcomed us warmly and served us mouth-watering seafood dishes for dinner. After the great meal, we started to work. We finished late and had to continue the next day. After talking to many people, browsing through a lot of documents and visiting various projects, we concluded the evaluation and headed for another destination.

Students getting lunch at the school canteen.Within the limited time we had, I learned that CABMPC played a major role in the community of Claveria and the nearby municipalities. But it took me more years and more opportunities of returning annually to this place to really see how the people of Claveria provided the context that allowed CABMPC to become the institution that I found it to be. It was also time for me to discover the marvels of the little children who sparked hope in their rather listless community. One founded on need and fortified by perseverance and discipline.  Now that I’m twenty-nine, I know that I cannot talk about CABMPC without talking about Claveria, its history, its people, its community.

Claveria, a Quiet Community

Claveria is a 4th class municipality, blessed with mountains, farms, and seas. About 28,000 people inhabit the place; 13,000 of them are registered voters.  A great number of its people depend on farming and fishing. Others go abroad to make a living, while some are employed in government offices.

For many years, Claveria has remained a quiet community. No recreation, aside from what nature offers, exists in Claveria. The children go to school. The folks go to the river or to the sea, to the farms, or to the offices. The day ends when dusk falls and the entire community settles at home.

People marry at a young age, especially those teenagers who cannot go to the cities to pursue a degree since education in Claveria only goes to the secondary school level.

No bank existed in the area until the Rural Bank of Claveria was put up in the 1980s. Before that it would take about four hours to reach the nearest banks in the cities of Laoag or Tuguegarao.

Organizers of the multi-purpose co-opMore than three decades ago, there was the Taggat Industries, a logging company nested in the barrio of Taggat and it had employed about 2,000 workers. During its prosperous days, the company provided for the needs of the workers and their families. When the company folded up in the early 80s, people lost their jobs; their families got hungry and scared.

There were not many big businesses in Claveria. There were no livelihood opportunities[and] no available capital except the money from usurers. Some men were forced to loot in order to feed their families. Life was difficult for most Claverianos at that time.

Co-ops to the Rescue

Something had to be done. Life could not continue in that way anymore.

The idea of a retired nurse, Mrs. Petra Aguinaldo, seemed to spark hope.  She encouraged a small group of people to start what was known as a consumers association. They put up a store and began selling goods to members at a relatively lower price than what was sold by the other traders. They operated their store according to the principles of the co-operative movement. In a short period of time, more people got interested and joined the association which would later be named Claveria Grassroots Mart, Inc.

In 1986 the officers of the Grassroots Mart encouraged the members to put in more share capital so the store could start up a lending operation. The year after, it was separated from the consumers operation, which gave way to the establishment of what would be known as the Claveria Agri-based Multi-Purpose Co-operative. Its membership was extended to the neighbouring municipalities of Sanchez Mira and Sta. Praxedes.

The Assistant Manager of the Grassroots Mart, Mrs. Petra Martinez, served as the Manager of CABMPC. With 58,000 pesos, the co-operative began financing the various economic activities of the small vendors, entrepreneurs, farmers and fishermen in the area. Through the co-operative, irrigation facilities were constructed for the farmers. Fish cages and an ice plant were built for the fishermen. They put up a consumers’ store, a warehouse, a canteen, a hostel, and a calling centre. They bought the exclusive franchise for cable television in the area.

CABMPC existed without a collection agent, yet were able to collect 95 per cent of its loans through voluntary payment.

In 2000 and 2001, CABMPC bagged the first prize  in the Gawad PITAK . These services and more are offered to their 13,000 members who raised the total assets of the co-op to more than three hundred million pesos .

Fashioning the Heritage of the Youth

In a land where transportation and communication were once difficult,  it’s a blessing that a book landed in the hands of Mrs. Martinez; one which gave her bright ideas to tap into one of Claveria’s rich resources – the youth.

A co-operative school canteens in Claveria.Being the Guidance Counsellor in the district and at the same time President of the Claveria Teachers’ Association for more than 15 years, Mrs. Martinez knew that one of the problems of school children was the lack of variety in healthy foods served at the school canteens. The children were forced to buy from vendors outside. This situation left the canteen with little profit at year end. To help both the children and the school, she proposed the organisation of laboratory (laboratory is probably a bad translation) co-operatives by primary school children, co-operatives that would operate their school canteens.

It was in 1994, during one of the district meetings of teachers, Mrs. Martinez talked to them about her idea. Since almost every teacher in the area was a member of the co-op , they readily agreed to it. Point persons were identified. Together, they came up with plans for its implementation. They would start at the schools nearby, the primary schools of Claveria East Central and the Claveria Central.

General consultations with parents were held to explain to them how it would be done and at the same time secure their approval. This did not present much of a difficulty because the majority of parents were members of CABMPC as well. They, too, supported the creation of the new institution. They agreed that every student would contribute five pesos (P5.00) as share capital, to be given upon entry to the school. This amount, plus the patronage refund, would be given back to the student upon graduation or withdrawal.

The laboratory co-operatives in both Claveria East Central and Claveria Central Schools were then registered under the Co-operative Development Authority, with CABMPC serving as their mother co-operative.

The Pupils’ Government Organisation (PGO), a representative body of students elected commonly among students in Grades V and VI (about eleven or twelve years old) concurrently served as the officers of the laboratory co-operative. They worked hand-in-hand with the teacher-in-charge in managing the school canteen.

With the capital at hand, they purchased some utensils and simple equipment. They procured the goods from the consumers’ store of CABMPC on a consignment basis. Parents supplied the other goods. The teacher-in-charge saw to it that the foods were clean and healthy for the children.

Organizers of the school canteens.A system was devised to ensure that operating the school canteen would not impede on the studies of the children. Students in Grades V and VI were to help out in the canteen during their class hour on EPP  (Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan). All EPP classes were divided into families with about 6-8 students in each. For one whole week during the school year, a family would be assigned to the canteen. The members of the family would perform the tasks of cleaning the canteen, preparing the food, listing the sales, counting the money and turning it over to the teacher-in-charge. On occasions, when the school children were busy and could not keep up with their activities in the canteen, the parents would volunteer to assist them.

On the other hand, the school officials made sure that the schedule of recess time for all grade levels was staggered and co-ordinated with the canteen.

Co-ops help students learn how to work together, to treat each other with respect, and to behave honestly.When I visited, I was amazed to witness how the school children in Claveria behaved, especially during recess hours. One section at a time, the students in single file would proceed toward the canteen, each file led by its own leader. Without breaking their queue, they would get their stuff one by one and pay at the counter near the exit. In Claveria Central School, where self-service is employed, the children simply drop their payment at the box before they leave. Then they would head back to their rooms silently and orderly. Truly, it’s discipline at its finest! It was a way students learned how to work together, to treat each other with respect, and to behave honestly.

The cycle continued until year end. Although revenues and incomes were computed on a monthly basis, the net proceeds were determined and allotted at the end of the school year, according to this breakdown:

50 per cent - patronage refund

20 per cent - school improvements

15 per cent - canteen improvements

10 per cent - school reserve fund

5 per cent - education and training fund

100 per cent Net Proceeds

Much to the children’s delight, the years of operation had given them yearly patronage refunds ranging from 500 per cent to 1000 per cent. There was also a steady supply of funds to support necessary school improvements and programmess such as feeding and participating in inter-school academic competitions.

Aside from “this” or “the financial benefits”, learning the principles and values of co-operatives became fun, easy, and authentic by having the laboratory co-operatives around. Teachers use the co-operative as a reference in teaching Mathematics, Values, English, Language, and other subjects.

The Coins that Changed a Community

An organized group of 4,000 school children gathered coins to raise funds and help their co-operative put up a million-peso calling centre to connect their community to the rest of the world.

They were the wonderful Young Entrepreneurs and Savers (YES) Club members, the schoolchildren who fulfilled the dream of the Claverianos to have in-coming and outgoing telephone access.

The transformation was again led by the vision of CAPBMPC manager, Mrs. Petra Martinez. During the summer of 1999, she noticed that there were plenty of 25-centavo coins scattered around the school grounds, streets, or even in the houses in Claveria. It was evident that the value of money had gone down even in the eyes of the children. “Children did not consider 25 centavo as money anymore. They thought of it as a plaything. If you gave them 25 centavo, they would even cry,” said Mrs. Martinez.

The manager felt that something had to be done about the situation. She requested the employees of CABMPC to pick every 25-centavo coin that they saw lying around and bring the coins to the office. They cleaned the dirty coins and bundled them into fours after working hours. It was a comic tale when she presented five boxes of these coins to the Board of Directors. They teased her, asking whether the coins were the per diem they would receive after the meeting.

“With this bundle, you could buy something already.” Mrs. Martinez realized that the government had spent money to mint these coins. She had faith that encouraging schoolchildren to deposit their coins in the co-op would teach them to save money, hence, develop in them the value of thrift.

Through the massive campaign of the Education Committee and other officers of the co-op, the YES Club was launched in June 1999 in different elementary and high schools in Claveria and in the neighboring municipality of Sta. Praxedes. Soon after, the club membership was opened to children within the age range of 0-18 years, to include others who also became interested.

Again, it had not been difficult for them to start off the YES operation since CABMPC had proven its competence and commitment in establishing the laboratory co-operatives in the schools.

Co-ordination with parents and school officials also took place. Children were taught how to open savings accounts and fill-up deposit or withdrawal slips.

In six months, they were able to amass six million pesos (P6,000,000.00), which became the co-op’s source of funds when it put up the calling centre in February 2000. To this day, the calling centre generates income for the co-op and connects families and friends anywhere in the world – an experience the Claverianos were deprived of for many years.

Today, the YES Club members total 5,600 and their savings deposits amount to fourteen million pesos (P14,000,000.00). Every year, during the Co-op Month celebration, the folks watch with delight as thousands of children parade in the community. They happily show the people how they are taking care of their future and saving their way to the land of their dreams.

Paying Tribute to the Silent Heroes

The success of the laboratory co-operatives and the YES Club would not have been possible without the persistent support of teachers who served as extensions of the co-op – collecting, recording, and safekeeping the money of the children without getting paid in return. They were indeed exemplary!

The parents, who supported their children’s participation in the YES Club activities and assisted in the canteens, are also worth commending.

Being members of CABPMC themselves, they trust that the co-op is strong and stable and that its management is composed of credible, trustworthy and capable people, who would not let them down.

It was not mere luck that brought success to this community. It took the concerted efforts of every member to find solutions to its difficulties. They say, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Yes, it is true. It might be equally true to say that, “It takes children to build a community.” They are valuable resources and they have a lot to offer to us.

I was at first charmed by Claveria’s serenity, by its mountains, farms, and seas. But spending more of my time with the Claverianos taught me a lot more than I ever expected to find. Here lives a different kind of people – a community that truly thrives on trust, unity and co-operation – and involves its young people in doing so.

Clarissa TrampeClarissa Trampe is a graduate in Co-operative Studies from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. From 1996 to 2001 served as Officer-In-Charge of the Co-operatives and Livelihood Desk in the Office of Senator Magsaysay, who chaired the Senate Committee on Co-operatives. From 2002 to 2004, she was Youth Co-ordinator for NATCCO, during which time she developed the Co-op Youth Planet Programme. Currently, she is the Marketing Officer for the Metro South Cooperative Bank, a national co-operative bank organized, owned and controlled by co-operatives in the Philippines.

Creator - Author(s) Name and Title(s): 
Clarissa S. Trampe
Publication Information: 
Youth Reinventing Co-operatives: Young Perspectives on the International Co-operative Movement – (Eds.) Robin Puga, Julia Smith, and Ian MacPherson
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Publisher Information: 
New Rochdale Press, British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies