Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stream, sunshine, stars, and stark realities of a Korean farm village

From the thick forests a stream flows generously with its cold and clear sweet water. The greens of the horizon safely protect a lush valley planted with rice abundant of ripening panicles and some fields covered with greenhouses of other farm products. Every now and then a thick formation of cloud would descend only to disperse momentarily as thick clouds unveil the sun. It is heartwarming sight to behold the infrequent hugging of mists and forest trees.

Although it is summer the valleys coolness is that of autumn. The place is called Green-Eco Touring Village in Mul-an Gol Bukyiri, Chuncheon, Kangwondo. Of its 55 hectares only 44 people or 26 households lives in the place, mostly in their 40s and majority are aged people. Although a paradise, it is devoid of the laughter and noises of children and lacks the charm and energy of the youth. The place unlike the other rural villages of Korea is without migrant resident or a farmer with a foreign bride. With zero birth rate the school facilities are now converted into recreation area for the villagers.

This seems to be the prevailing condition among industrialized country. Korean farm is not far from the present condition of Japan where some rice fields are now abandoned. Japans agricultural statistics shows that in the next 10-15 years most of the old farmers will be gone because of old age. Korea seems to be catching up on this Japanese farming trend.

This alarming condition was shared by a Japanese woman farmer who used to work in NGO and lives in the city now doing organic farming in a village. She was one of those articulate speakers in what was dubbed as Rural Regeneration in Asia the main theme for the 2008 Summer Regional School a program collaborated on by Inter-Asia Graduate School of NGO Studies (IGONS), Sungkonghoe University, and the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives (ARENA) and The May 18 Memorial Foundation. Aside from the intensive lecture and discussion, a day of eco-study-tour was made in a farming village.

At the Green-Eco Touring Village ( we were graciously hosted by the villagers. They oriented us about the place and various eco-green awards they have consistently received. The folks fed us their delicious organically grown farm produce. The place is an ecological zone whose main product is honey; bees sipping nectar from flowers uncontaminated with pesticides and insecticides.

After our sumptuous lunch we were divided into groups, assigned each a fishnet and a bottle to fill at least 3 living objects from the stream. Students and city folks that we were, we enjoyed the activity a great deal, disturbing the peaceful flow of the stream with our noises and laughter; turning over stones and big rocks looking for our prize catch. Cheering is heard everytime a poor creature was caught. At the final count our group got the most 8 living things, 3 fishes, a small frog, a snail and other water insects. One group claimed they lost some of their insects since they were eaten by the hungry and anxious frog, so they suggested opening up the frogs belly so they could be pronounced winner. I also enjoyed floating and being swept by the streams current when everyone starts splashing water on each other.

We were then brought to their organic tomato farm and treated with its luscious taste. On the way we saw beehives on groves scattered on crannies and nooks by the road side. We were told that one of the field have uneven rice plants growing since they were planted by elementary pupils from the city who help plant the rice when they came for their home-stay tour.

Theres a playground at the farms park which has various wood obstacle courses resembling those in the military camps. On one side are various tents for sleeping and resting. Depending on the number of visitors and season, the Green Eco-touring Village has used those facilities to accommodate their guests.

Again we were divided into two groups: one group to do rice cake and the other group to harvest corn. I joined the rice cake group. Steamed rice was put in a log-trunk mortar and two people each with a pestle beat the rice rhythmically. So we took turns, country versus county were paired even the ladies were not spared. After making the rice into sticky dough we rolled them into cylindrical shapes and cut them into smaller size and spread soya powder to prevent it from sticking with the rest. The other group harvested corn and feed the cows with the corn husks.

After dinner we had a chance to interact with the villagers. They enthusiastically responded to all of our questions about their lives. One halmoni (granny) would excuse herself for not being able to answer but ends up saying the most. Although their situation and scenario seems to be depressing, it is contrary to the happiness and enthusiasm they shared with us for a night stay. I can resonate on this with the sharing of a once to be student leader who turned farmer. He said at the summer school that mobile phone factories wont feed people and mobile phones cant be eaten. So he decided to stay in the village and become a farmer to produce food for the people. The hard work and the perspiration keeps him at peace with himself amidst natures beauty and bounty.

We had a camp fire. The harvested corns were boiled and served together with junk foods, beer and makoli (Korean rice wine). Exchanges and discussion in small groups were spontaneously clustered. And everyone was in awe of the skys wonderful constellation. Indeed a very rare scene living in the city.

We left the place after breakfast and the never ending poses for photographs. Sadness in the countenance of the villagers was discernible. The old ladies who cooked our meals were misty eyed waving us goodbye.

I wonder when will be the next time city nuisance like us will disturb their normal village life, always in consonance with the change of the season, at peace with the flow of the stream, nurturing the ecological balance of their village. I just wish that the place gets populated by younger people who would love and care the place like they do.

As we depart the place the sun gets slowly revealed from the tall trees of the mountains. A new morning, blessing the village with sunshine; the villagers generosity and warm heart was sunshine for us to bring back home as our blessings.

(This article was originally posted at the website )

Monday, September 08, 2008

Live life with no excuse and love with no regrets!

Another of those beautiful emails forwarded to me and circulating among friends. So for those who might not be able to receive it in their mailbox I have it posted here on my blog. Sorry the source was not cited. Thank you for the author of this work.

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said: 'I am blind, please help.' There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, 'Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?'

The man said, 'I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way.'
What he had written was: 'Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it.'

Do you think the first sign and the second sign were saying the same thing?

Of course both signs told people the boy was blind. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign told people they were so lucky that they were not blind. Should we be surprised that the second sign was more effective?

Moral of the Story:

Be thankful for what you have.

Be creative.

Be innovative.

Think differently and positively.

Invite others towards good with wisdom. Live life with no excuse and love with no regrets. When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1000 reasons to smile. Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence. Prepare for the future without fear. Keep the faith and drop the fear.

Great men say, 'Life has to be an incessant process of repair and reconstruction, of discarding evil and developing goodness…. In the journey of life, if you want to travel without fear, you must have the ticket of a good conscience.'

The most beautiful thing is to see a person smiling…
And even more beautiful, to know that you are the reason behind it!!!

Monday, September 01, 2008


Ramadan is the holiest month on the lunar Islamic calendar — a time for fasting, taming human passions, and developing compassion for those less fortunate ("O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may aquire self-restraint " Qur'an 2:183).

For Muslims worldwide, the start of the month is based on sightings of the moon, as well as other astronomical calculations.

In the United States, most communities follow the decision of the Islamic Society of North America for the highly-anticipated start of Ramadan.

When is Ramadan? In 2008, Ramadan begins on Monday, September 1 and will continue for 30 days until Tuesday, September 30.

Traditional fasting during Ramadan begins at sunrise or Fajr, and ends at sundown or Maghrib, when foods prepared especially for the month of Ramadan are eagerly devoured!

The entire month finally culminates in the Festival of Fast-Breaking or Eid-ul-Fitr which is observed by families or entire neighborhoods who come together to worship and celebrate the end of Ramadan in thanksgiving for life's many bounties. The end of Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the new moon in the night sky.

On the Web, discover more about Ramadan traditions and prayers, along with a cache of Ramadan recipes, e-cards, kids pages, downloads, Quran study lessons - and the sacrifices, strength and joy felt at Ramadan - a month-long testimony to faith and spirit observed by the planet's more than one billion Muslims who each year celebrate Ramadan around the world.

Read more here (source):

Ramadan Kareem!

Assalamu malaikum warakmatolahi barakatu!


I was told by my Indonesian officemate that today starts the holy month of Ramadan. I have experienced Ramadan having lived for two and half years in KSA. Then I celebrated it with my then co-intern Mus. I decided to observe it as well this year. Not only for health reason but as a personal cause to meditate, pray and invoke an end to violence to the people of Mindanao.

Below is a reflection of a good friend, colleague in the NGO who have direct working experience with the tri-people ( Muslim, Christian, Indigenous People (IP) or Lumad) of Mindanao on the issue of peace and development.

I invite everyone to celebrate with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters the real spirit of Ramadan, may peace start with us and spread it to the world. Peace in Mindanao!

Ramadan Kareem!

The Force of Truth
Reflections on the Eve of Ramadhan
by Marides Gardiola (

The other day I was watching a friend as she slept. She had just come back from a heart-rending trip to Pikit where they had commenced relief work. In the brief moment we were together she described how distressed she was at the recent turn out of events. The same sentiments were echoed by my other friends in Iligan, Marawi, Cotabato and Zamboanga. Mindanao has slipped into another cycle of violence. This has been going on for several decades. And it is making people like my friend frustrated about all the energies for peacebuilding that many people like her have put in.

Halfway through her sharing she dozed off unconsciously and for me the least I could do was to allow her that space to rest. It gave me a profound sense of joy to watch her. In the midst of all the hatred and chaos that has gripped her homeland, she was an image of peace.

But in my heart, I could feel her pain.

We have been friends for eight years. Those were the years when Mindanao became a refuge from a phase of disillusionment about methods of work and patterns of relationships I had opted to take in my social involvement in Luzon . We met two years after I had returned to Mindanao to fulfill the seed of a promise I made as a young community volunteer in Kitaotao Bukidnon in the mid-80s. In the past years, I developed strong ties with her people so naturally it felt like I was a sister to them. Our NGO had been invited to help train some of the MNLF combatants who were trying the ways of peace in their community. I remember how we would talk about their struggle till midnight and how they were trying to get used to a life where they were able to move around freely. When my daughter graduated from high school, they volunteered to come as our guests in place of the other relatives who could not come from Mindoro . “We are now your relatives”, they said. I had never felt so touched by such gesture in my whole life.

At that time, my daughter did not have any idea who they were but now, as a young and idealistic worker for an IP and Muslim education program in Mindanao , she is proud to share with others how an entire squadron made it to her graduation guest list. And how all of them had to scrounge their allowance to be able to come in their best clothes.

Today, she just got back from volunteering in the evacuation sites in Pikit too. She is very engaged in peace work and obviously shares the same affinity for the Moro people that I have.

When the All-out War displaced thousands of people in that same place eight years ago, she wanted to go and bring some old clothes and blankets for the children. Somehow that did not happen inspite of the arrangements my friend was trying to make then. This time she was able to do it with her own connections.

We have both lived the best period of our lives here in Mindanao . As I continued to interact with more IP and Moro groups, I became more aware of the complexities of violent conflicts which manifested in poverty, injustice and war. I felt the simplest thing I could contribute was my own experience of how a peaceful life can be more meaningful as an aspiration. Lately, my mentoring work with development facilitators of the BDA have opened my eyes to the beauty of Islamic principles and how people can be mobilized for community development through value transformation.

In 2005, an opportunity to migrate to Canada became an embarrassing choice in the midst of the serious work that needed to be done here. Mindanao had become my home and there was a tugging feeling in the heart at the thought that I had to leave. As we marked our eighth year here, the decision to build our family nest in Davao had become a wiser option. And for me and my daughter, life has never been better.

But today, on the eve of the start of Ramadhan, we both reflect on “salam” and what it means for the Moro people who have been bombed, displaced and forced to a state of insecurity and risk all their lives. It has always been said that war is crazy but this is perhaps the craziest one, having come at the heels of all the peace efforts of so many stakeholders. I try to search for what positive things can be gathered from this situation and it is only my friend’s sense of humor I can think of. How she can remain lighthearted in this situation is something that escapes my mind.

I love my friend for she has taught me more lessons than I could have possibly learned on my own. I guess that is the reason why inspite of the many differences and disagreements we had to hurdle in the past, I just had to honor the connection we had nurtured from the start. No matter how many twists and turns our relationship had taken, it just had to be embraced fully.

In much the same way that she has accepted me as a friend in her homeland of ancient memories back.

Tonight, I will light a candle for my friend and her people. Maybe not just one candle. Several candles to invoke the peace that is within each one. The times are getting darker, no solution seems to be in sight, and people are growing more restless. Violence begets violence and all I know is that this cycle has to stop on both sides. I would like to keep the flame burning in my vision. Firstly, for my friend, that she will be able to keep her faith in peaceful ways firm. And then for all those who have the responsibility to stop the war to just do that. To end the thought that problems can ever be solved through violence. And with finality, to cease all actions that contribute to that.

As my friend starts another period of fasting, I would like to journey with her to the depths of the cleansing ritual that I have integrated into my own personal tradition of purification. Let me take a fast from the hopelessness and negativity that shrouds this beautiful land. Let me break away from my own internal contradictions as I check how I to can be contributing to the entrophy of energies pulling us into the abyss of despair. And from my cleansed state, let me emerge the innate qualities of purity, peace, love, wisdom and bliss.

From that state of power, I am able to fulfill the vision of peace and love that God has steadily held for us… all these lifetimes. Only then, I believe, can my actions be truthful and beneficial.

Om shanti.