by Sheila Herradura Toreno

“The day I learned to hate poverty was the day I decided to make use of my God-given resources,” says Concepcion “Connie” Carillo, 53, of Brgy. Cairohan, Bingawan, Iloilo.

Connie entered motherhood at 15. With no silver spoon or a house they can call their own, she and her husband Sancho embraced the responsibility as young parents. Since both are from farming families, the couple relied on planting various indigenous vegetables and rearing some poultry animals to make a living.

“The meager income of my husband as a laborer in a sugarcane farm cannot suffice our basic needs. I decided to help him by planting different kinds of vegetables in our small backyard and later on we tended the two-hectare farm of Mr. Eliseo Cercado,” she adds.

Farming was their only source of income although it was not profitable at that time.

With her husband’s help, Connie completed her studies until college. She was able to obtain an agriculture degree at the West Visayas State University in Calinog, Iloilo with the aid of a scholarship.

Connie’s persistence amid the inevitable ebbs and flow is strengthened by her faith to the Creator and her goal of recovering from extreme poverty.

“I cannot remain poor for so long, I told myself. That’s the reason why I kept on finding means to realize my goals as a woman, a mother, and now as an agri-entrepreneur,” Connie shares.
After graduating from college, she had taught non-formal and Technology and Livelihood Education at WVSU in La Paz, and at the University of San Agustin.

“I already have seven kids when I started teaching at San Agustin so they were privileged to study in that school with free tuition fee but we still have difficulty paying for their hefty miscellaneous and our other daily expenses living in the city,” she adds.

Having felt the need to leave the academe, Connie went back to the farm and realized her fortune. It was also timely that in the year 2000, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) granted them the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) for the piece of land they tilled since 1989.

The Super Typhoon Yolanda left huge damage in her farm that pushed her to convert the two-hectare hilly into a diversified organic farm practicing the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology to prevent soil erosion. She is also adopting the technology to preserve the fertility of the soil. As a staunch advocate of organic agriculture, Connie prepares vermicompost and different concoctions to enhance the growth of her herbs and crops. Aside from that, she also raises her poultry and livestock animals through the organic way.

Connie’s innovativeness was commended by the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), an agency that helped her convert her farm into a learning site for organic agriculture.

“When it rains, it pours indeed. We were also tapped by TESDA as a Farm School and we were given a slot in their Program Accelerating Farm School Establishment Scholarship where TESDA pays for students enrolled in our school,” Connie says.

Two years after the granting of their land, Connie also launched the Kryz Handicrafts Resources in Brgy. Cairohan. However, before she jumped into formal technology transfer, Connie had been conducting training on handicrafts and marketing in various communities.

“With huge funding for the rehabilitation of Typhoon Yolanda affected areas, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources tapped the expertise of Krys Handicraft Resources for training on boat and casket making,” she recalls.

Her vocational school was later named to Kryz Livelihood Training Center and was registered with TESDA. But in 2008, it became Kryz Culinary Arts and Restaurant Services (KCARSI) due to the prevailing demand for catering services at that time.
Seven years after, it shifted its name again to Kryz Vocational and Technical School (KVTS) Inc., and it is accredited by TESDA. It now offers courses for Technical and Livelihood Education equivalent to National Certificate Level II as a prerequisite in the K-12 Curriculum.

“I believe that farming can alleviate poverty in the community. We can convert the right skills into money. With the love for soil and the right attitude, we can gain extra income, educate the community, provide jobs, and uplift the lives of those around you,” Connie says.

As she recounts the drudgeries she endured, Connie cannot help but remain thankful to the ultimate source of all her blessings that she was able to help her neighbors in the very poor Brgy. Cairohan.

“I am glad that my neighbors here are part of my growth as a mother, a teacher, and a farmer. Through these projects, I was able to provide them jobs and a stable source of income by teaching them livelihood and life skills,” Connie says.

Even before the launching of her technical school, Connie had been providing livelihood training to the residents particularly the women of Brgy. Cairohan.

“To make sure that they will apply the skills we impart, we are providing them with starting kit right after the training. I also employ women as farm workers and teach them new production technologies particularly on organic farming,” she shares.

“I have been emphasizing to them that we remain poor because we become contented with what we have.”

As she looked back to the oblique past she had been, Connie says “Ano nga klase sang bwas damlag ang ihatag ko sa akon mga kabatan? I encountered a lot of challenges that pushed me to loathe poverty. Gindumtan ko gid ang kaiumulon. I invested on patience and understanding life’s challenges as I did not have money to invest on that time,” she says.

Connie inculcated in the minds of her kids, “maswerte kita kay pigado kita, kay may chance kita to discover kung ano gid bala ang aton nga skills. In poverty, we discovered our resources, our strength, and our means to convert our resources into money. We helped one another on how to get rid of poverty.”

She never stops helping her community as she is presently the president of KCARSI Farmers’ Association in Brgy. Cairohan and of the Bingawan Federation of Farmers’ Association.

“At least, I have proven to my fellows that despite being pregnant at my teenage years, I am still successful. Life, after all, is always a matter of choice.”

Connie’s attitude towards life is worthy of emulation. Her persistence and resourcefulness are reflected in her actions to transform the minds of her community for the better. This ordinary farmer before of Brgy. Cairohan is now an inspiring agri-entrepreneur, a mentor and this year’s Most Outstanding Rural Woman of Western Visayas.