Ati tribe members dig earth for a garden in Kurong Village, Malay, Aklan, Philippines.

Sprouting seeds, growing hope with our Ati friends

Talong / eggplant. Pipino / cucumber. Pichay / bok choy. Silingpula / green pepper. Kalabasa / squash. Papaya / papaya. Tagalog / English.

First, the vegetable seeds. Now, the sprouts. Soon, the crops. Then, the harvest.

It’s another Earth Vagabonds initiative to help the disadvantaged indigenous Ati tribe who reside near us here in Malay, Aklan, Panay, Philippines.

The Ati will do the work and reap the rewards. Hopefully, it will help assure that they have something more to eat – and maybe something extra to sell or barter.

In addition, we will pay a small weekly stipend to be shared amongst whoever does the actual hands-on work.

It’s another attempt to incentivize self-help and sustainability in the poor Ati community which has seen their job opportunities and incomes diminish during the continuing coronavirus crisis.

With matching donations from generous overseas donors, we’ve similarly put pesos into Ati pockets by sponsoring other community improvements and paying small salaries over the past year.

Ati salaried projects:
tree planting
shelter house rehab
drinking water system
electric service
hen house & egg business

As with those other efforts, the Ati have responded with vigor at the opportunity to make a little money and improve their situation. I especially enjoyed watching as the first weekly ‘payroll’ was distributed (photo above).

The garden project officially kicked off a couple weeks ago when we distributed dozens of large seed packets to two separate Ati settlements near our temporary early retired home.

Before I could even begin to personally direct a plan, the Ati were clearing and turning and prepping the soil. You can see the large scale of the gardens in the photos. The first sprouts appeared this week.

In truth, the more easily accessible and populous, lower Ati settlement already had a large garden – but mostly past its prime. More seed was needed for another planting cycle. More seed and a little pay; the growing has now begun again.

Meanwhile, the distant, upper, hilltop Ati village (where we’ve done most our other work) never did have any community garden. Our involvement has motivated many families to begin to work a hillside plot.

In fact, in both places, the demand for seed was so great that I had to purchase 30% more — another $50. A local friend even offered some of his precious, specially cultivated, ‘monster size’, green pepper and papaya seeds.

Growing gardens is a continuation of the community ‘greening’ we started with the planting of hundreds of fruit trees. The hand tools we purchased then will continue to be used. We’ve now bought netting to keep the free-range, native chickens from eating the sprouts; plastic ‘starter trays’ for more temperamental vegetation like tomatoes and peppers; even watering cans. The current ‘rainy season’ is helpful, too.

Both planting efforts are also targeted at involving women, children, and seniors. Previous Ati projects have often required muscle for hauling and lifting and building. Growing vegetables is an equal opportunity exercise.

In fact, I feel almost foolish for not proposing the vegetable garden project and getting more people involved – and paid – before now. It seems like a no-brainer during pandemic lockdowns. And cheaper and easier than the prior projects too.

The unfortunate realization that the COVID situation here is going to continue through this year and beyond is what finally spurred me to action. It seems the Ati understand the likelihood of continuing economic turmoil as well.

Even now, as much of the world moves toward pre-COVID ‘normalcy’, COVID cases and restrictions and hardship are growing in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia. As of this writing, barely 12% of the Filipino population has been vaccinated (and hardly any Ati).

Whatever happens as the pandemic progresses, getting practiced at providing personal food supplies is probably a good plan. Hopefully these will be just the first of many seeds and growing seasons.

As always, be thankful and generous (like our overseas donors), happy trails & more beer.
Life is NOW!

Thanks for reading, “Sprouting seeds, growing hope with our Ati friends.”


We are early retired budget travelers on a travel pause. Here are some popular blog posts with monthly budget breakdowns in locations around the world (pre-pandemic):

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