“Mother”. It may be just a simple six-letter word, but there are various terms that can be associated with it: parent, nurturer, giver, protector, supporter, and the list goes on and on. However, there is this certain word that may not be as common as the others, but its impacts never fail to resonate across people and generations—and that is the word “leader”. In the field of agriculture, there are many exceptional women who do not just prove that they are good in raising their families but also in leading and empowering communities, and Leonora Araña Mila is one of them.

Just like any other mother

Leonora Mila, 48, who prefers to be called “Angging”, resides in a farming area in Brgy. San Isidro, Santiago, Agusan del Norte. Being a daughter of a vendor and a construction laborer, she had always been an aspirant. She dreamt of becoming an accountant. However, she was not able to finish her studies, married at an early age and was blessed with four children.

Motherhood gave a total change in her perspective, directing her focus on her growing family. “Pareho sa uban nga mga inahan, ang gusto jud nako is mahatagan ug maayo nga quality of living ang akong pamilya” (Just like other mothers, I wanted to give my family a better quality of life), said Angging. She and her husband gained income by cultivating abaca and other crops in their upland farm.

However, tilling a small piece of land was not enough to feed a family of six. “Pagkaminyo nako, abi nakog muhayahay ra ang among kahimtang, pero wala man jud. Nakaingon ko na wala na jud niy pag-asa akong mga anak” (When I got married, I thought we would have a better way of living, but nothing happened. I thought to myself that there might be no hope for my children). Given the situation, her husband decided to join small mining activities in their area, along with other farmers in their community. However, their way of living did not seem to improve and their financial problems continued to arise.

Niabot ko sa point na mag sige kog hilak kay usahay mahutdan mi ug kwarta labi na ug hinay ang mina sa lugar. Wala na mi halos pangpalit ug mga basic nga panginahanglanon (I came to the point when I would often cry because we sometimes run out of money especially when mining became slow in our area. We could not even afford to buy even our basic necessities)”, said Angging.

The only solution she thought was to work abroad as a domestic helper. She was ready to sacrifice being away from her family just so they could be able to live a better life. “Kaduha jud ko nag try ug apply para magtrabaho abroad. Pero gihangyo ko sa akong mga paryente ug uban community worker sa amoa nga dili lang daw mugawas, naa pa gyud lagi daw pag-asa labi na ug mulambo ang coop” (I tried applying to work abroad twice, but my relatives and community workers in the area convinced me not to work abroad and said that there’s still hope especially if the cooperative would prosper), said Angging.

Taking things on a bigger perspective, she also empathized how her community are dealing with the same problem as hers. This helped convince her to stay and work for SIUFO (San Isidro Upland Farmers’ Organization).

Rearing the journey of leadership

Angging started as SIUFO’s secretary on 1992. She said that her journey was never easy as she had to start from the bottom, just like what women usually go through at the early stages of motherhood. “Maski gamay ra akong sweldo sauna, nalipay man gihapon ko kay at least wala ko nalayo sa akong pamilya” (Even though I only had a small salary before, I was still happy because at least I was not separated from my family), she recalled her previous lapses and her little compensation. She became the bookkeeper on 1996 and not too long after, SIUFO was registered to the CDA as San Isidro Upland Farmers’ Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SIUFMULCO). On 2002, Angging became the chairperson of the cooperative’s Board of Directors.

She became the SIUFMULCO manager on 2005. Given the managerial position, she thought that instead of being just a plain manager, she can also serve as the ‘mother’ of the cooperative. “Ang ako nga gusto mag-serbisyo ko nga mura ra pud mama nga naningkamot para sa future sa iyang mga anak” (As for me, I wanted to serve just like a mother who’s working hard for the future of her children), Angging said.

Having that mindset, she considered the organization her second home and treated her colleagues like her own family. “Nakita nako na maayo sila, na masaligan sila. Mao ginapaningkamutan nako nga paminawon ang ilang mga opinion ug ginasabot ug gina respeto pud nila akong mga desisyon” (I saw how they are all good and reliable. That is why I tried to listen to their opinions and they also understand and respect my decisions).

As a leader, Angging continued to be an aspirant. “Planner jud ko sa balay, ug ako pud nang nadala sa coop nga attitude mao sige ko ug plano kung unsa napud ang buhaton aron mulambo ang koop dili ko gusto nga magpabilin ra mi sa kung unsa among sitwasyon, dapat pataas jud permi”(I really am the planner of the household, and I carried that attitude in the cooperative which is why I do not want the cooperative to remain on our current situation, we should always be headed upwards), she added.

Fighting her battles

Being a hands-on mother and a manager of the cooperative was not an easy task, according to Angging. “Naay mga panahon nga halos 24 hours ko mag trabaho, mag biyahe sa bisan asa na lugar para mangita ug potential nga buyer. Makalimot nagani ko ug kaon usahay tungod sa ka busy” (There were times when I worked for almost 24 hours, traveling in different areas just to find potential buyers. I even forgot to eat sometimes because I was so busy), she said. During those times, she and her husband fought a lot. “Ako lang jud siyang gihangyo nga magpaka-patient lang jud kay para ra pud ni sa amoa. Mao bahala ug mag-away, bahalag mag hilak, naplastar ra gyud gihapon” (I really persuaded him to be patient because it was also for us. That’s why even though we fought and cried, we were still able to settle things out.

She also faced several conflicts in the cooperative. When asked how she resolved these situations, she said communication really is the key since she knows that they are all working hard for the benefit of the cooperative.

Looking up to a mother and a leader

As a mother, her son Romel admired her mother’s determination in reaching her goal both for their family and the cooperative. “Dili jud na siya maghuna-huna sa kaayohan lang sa among pamilya kung dili pati pud sa iyang isig ka tawo. Gina-balance iyahang time sa pamilya ug sa trabaho” (She does not just think of the welfare of the family but even of other people. She balances her time between her family and her work), Romel said. “Proud ko niya kay nakatabang siya sa pag hatag ug panginabuhi sa uban tao diri sa among lugar” (I’m proud of her because she was able to help give a source of living to the people here in our community), he added.

One of her subordinates consults Angging on the financial matters of the cooperative.

Angging had always been a hardworking manager, according to Elvie Curato, one of her subordinates in SIUFMULCO. “Dugay na man jud mi nag-uban sa trabaho ug nakita jud nako iyang pagpaningkamot para sa coop. Usahay makita namo na masuko siya, pero masabtan pud namo tungod kay dili lalim ang responsibilidad niya sa coop isip usa ka manager” (We’ve been working together for a long time and I saw how she really worked hard for the cooperative. Sometimes we witnessed her getting mad, but we chose to understand her because we knew that the responsibility of being the cooperative’s manager is not easy), Elvie explained.

Reaching goals, achieving dreams

The efforts of the cooperative led by Angging collaboratively helped SIUFMULCO in reaching several milestones. From being organized on 1989 with only 23 members, SIUFMULCO now has 294 farming family members as of 2019, 45% of which are women. The cooperative started with an increasing availment of loan for abaca trading from P1M to P2M which heightened up to P5M in 2019. “Ako jud gi-value ang effort sa akong mga kauban sa field ug sa opisina, maong kadtong nakita nako nga kaya na sa koop, gi-push jud nako nga patas-an ang ilang sweldo” (I really valued the efforts of my subordinates both on field and in the office, that is why when I already saw that the cooperative can already accommodate, I really pushed for the increase of their salaries), Angging said. SIUFMULCO has currently employed 56 workers with a monthly pay ranging from PhP10,000 – PhP30,000.

Furthermore, SIUFMULCO currently supplies an average of 100 Metric Tons (MT) and can reach up to 300MT of Abaca fiber equivalent to 5 truckloads per month with a gross value of PhP 8 million to various parts of the country including Leyte, Iligan, and Bicol, making them the biggest Abaca consolidator in the region. As much as how the cooperative continuously aims to increase its profit, Angging also emphasized how she pushed to compensate the efforts of its workers through conducting recreational activities.

Some of the awards received by Angging.

Apart from SIUFMULCO being recognized by various award-giving bodies, Angging has also personally received various awards for her leadership, such as the PLDT SME Nation Kapatid Award on 2016 and National Best Presentor Award by the Department of Agrarian Reform and Go Negosyo on 2018. But what makes her really proud is that her 2 children are now professionals and her 2 younger kids are doing well in her studies, something that she truly values as a mother.

Women in convergence and development

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the highest number of women beneficiaries for the period 2001-2015 was recorded in 2003 and 2009 with 1,308 women Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs). In addition, the percentage of women agrarian reform beneficiaries remains to be below 50 percent over the years. With this and other prevailing concerns, the Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment (Project ConVERGE), a project conducted by the Department of Agrarian Reform and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) thrusts to champion gender equality and women empowerment as instruments of poverty reduction.

Angging is just one of the recipients of the project’s services, and among the 108 women-headed household beneficiaries profiled by the project in Agusan del Norte. Project ConVERGE is working on expanding the access of women to have control over fundamental resources such as land, capital, traditional knowledge and technologies and strengthening their decision-making roles.

What it truly means

Angging said that striving to be best in both motherhood and leadership is not an easy task. When asked about her driving force, she said “Ako lang jud gi-love lang ang akong ginabuhat, lahi ra jud kung maningkamot ka nga naay paghigugma” (I just loved what I am doing. It’s different when you work hard with love). She also emphasized sincerity and integrity as an important factor in becoming successful. “Kana mas labaw pa na nga imong pwede ikabilin sa imong mga anak or sa cooperatiba” (Those are more important for you could pass on to your children or the cooperative), Angging added.

There were times when she felt down and bothered, but Angging never thought of giving up. She recognized that there are still women in the farming community that are struggling to balance their livelihood and motherhood. “Maningkamot lang jud nga makatabang sila sa income ug kalambuan sa ilang pamilya ug komunidad.” (They should do their best so that they contribute to the income and success of their families and communities), she advised

Indeed, the word “mother” is more than just the six letters that it is composed of. Beyond its many definitions and terminologies, a mother is not just about being able to bear a child, or taking care of a family. Being a mother is in fact, a responsibility, and it does not begin and end in the household but rather emanates from one’s self. Angging is a solid proof that to become a mother is not a challenge, rather an opportunity to rear and nurture milestones in many ways possible. True enough, converging motherhood and management can impact not just a family, but even an entire community.