Thursday, September 1, 2011

AIDFI: 'greatness of spirit' in harnessing technologies

Again, congratulations to the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI) for being one of the six awardees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) for 2011. This is a great honor for this non-government organization (NGO) based in Negros Occidental. AIDFI was the only organization that received the award during formal ceremonies on Wednesday. The rest were individuals.

Last year, AIDFI won first prize in the BBC World Challenge, a global competition aimed at finding projects from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at the grassroots level. The AIDFI entry was dubbed “The only way is up” to describe the direction of the water source from down below to the upland communities needing water for their homes and farms. Shortly after receiving the award from BBC, AIDFI received the Fr. Neri Satur Award for Environmentalism. Since 2006, AIDFI has been getting awards and recognition here and abroad.
For those who have become cynical about NGOs and their sustainability or have had less than pleasant experiences with NGOs, AIDFI is one great example of concrete service to communities. It had its share of organizational problems in the past but it not only rose again from the dead, it climbed to heights—literally and figuratively—in order to deliver water to upland communities and improve lives through the use of technology.
AIDFI (Philippines) is being recognized for its “collective vision, technological innovations, and partnership practices to make appropriate technologies improve the lives of the rural poor in upland Philippine communities and elsewhere in Asia.”

The RMAF, in choosing awardees these past 54 years of its existence, puts great weight on “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in selfless service to the peoples of Asia.” Greatness of spirit is that X factor.

We might falsely associate greatness of spirit with leaders oozing with charisma, tremendous drawing power or profound spirituality, great thinkers, philosophers, men and women of letters, missionaries and the like. What about an engineer in flip-flops?

This year’s awardees—two from India, two from Indonesia, one from Cambodia and one from the Philippines—have one thing in common, RMAF president Carmencita T. Abella said. “(They) are all deeply involved in harnessing technologies—both hard and ‘soft’—that can genuinely empower their countrymen and create waves of progressive change in Asia. Working on critical issues that impact not only their respective countries, but indeed, all of Asia, they are showing how commitment, competence and collaborative leadership can truly transform individual lives and galvanize community action.” (For more on the awardees, visit the RMAF website.)

The RM Award is another boost for AIDFI, not only because it is a prestigious award but also because of the cash prize that goes with it. The cash can go a long way for AIDFI’s sustainability. As in, thank you for the honor, but thank you, too, for the cash.
If I may stray a bit, there are awards and awards, plaques and trophies and glowing words for service-oriented groups and individuals, but rarely do these come with cash when cash is what these awardees sorely need to go on serving or to stay alive with integrity. Excuse my cynicism but I can’t help thinking that some awards are probably more of an image booster for the award-givers than for the recipients. Many award-giving bodies require their awardees to fly over, leave their work behind and dress up for the occasion. The awardees are then sent home with heavy trophies or plaques that add weight to their baggage. And then there are fly-by-night award givers who require their nominees to, you know what….

RMAF, considered Asia’s Nobel, is a class all its own. It gives a certificate and a medallion with the likeness of the former president Ramon Magsaysay after whom the award is named—plus big cash which an awardee could use as he/she pleases. I remember the late film director and RM awardee Lino Brocka saying that the first thing he did after receiving the cash award was to pay his electric and other household bills. He was not wealthy but he quietly helped workers in the movie industry. A footnote: he received his award (this was during the martial law era) with a cry for justice emblazoned on his barong tagalog.

AIDFI introduced the ram pump to upland areas to provide clean and cheap water for homes and farms, saving people the back-breaking work of carrying water from distant sources. AIDFI, with the help of Dutch marine engineer and Philippine resident Auke Idzenga, re-invented the centuries-old technology and made it come into its own. The technology uses the power of a river’s flow to push water uphill without any other energy input.

AIDFI has fabricated, installed and transferred 227 ram pumps that benefit 184 places in Negros Occidental and other provinces in the Philippines. AIDFI has also extended help for the poor abroad and is now doing technology transfer in Afghanistan, Colombia and Nepal. It has designed and fabricated an essential oil distiller that can process lemon grass into organic oil for industrial users. By transferring the technology to farmers and giving them support in marketing, AIDFI has helped increase rural incomes.

In AIDFI’s premises is a technopark that showcases AIDFI-designed technologies—from cooking and farm implements to a biogas plant, and a windmill which can generate up to 800 watts of electricity.

Truly, AIDFI’s pioneering technological innovations, the vision and greatness of spirit of the individuals—Filipinos and Dutch—behind it, have transformed countless lives in Asia.

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