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How SEED Sumilao is betting on a new generation of farmer-entrepreneurs

"SEED is an avenue for those at the bottom of the pyramid to start dreaming for themselves"

It’s back to school for millions of Filipino students nationwide. However, for 23 of them, a different kind of school welcomed them as Gawad Kalinga’s SEED (School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development) in Sumilao, Bukidnon, opened its doors in Mindanao for the very first time.

Launched in August 2014, SEED Philippines is the country’s first school for social entrepreneurship for the poor which serves as a model for rural development through education. Registered under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and SEED offers its graduates a certificate in Social Entrepreneurship. 

The school itself is a repurposed community clinic and center, sharing a common boundary with San Miguel Food’s Sumilao property. Underutilized, the existing structure has been converted into classrooms and a laboratory. 

Says school director of SEED Bukidnon, Max Rebucan: “We remind our students that SEED is an avenue for those at the bottom of the pyramid to start dreaming for themselves. Also, as the whole mentor system is implemented, the objective is to support the students in their education and their future aspirations.”

At 27, Rebucan is just a few years older than his students, having graduated five years ago from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Management. Having always wanted to work in the development sector, Max, nevertheless, thought long and hard before taking on the pioneering role as SEED Sumilao’s school director. “It took me four months of discernment before I said ‘yes’, but I couldn’t be happier.”

Two weeks into the school year (the program is two years long), San Miguel Foundation caught up with SEED Bukidnon’s mentors and teachers. Apart from Max, there are Hanan, Gisselle, and Jiebert. Hanan and Giselle were teachers in the SEED Bulacan campus, while Jiebert is a new recruit.

On her hopes for this batch of students, Gisselle, who leads the agriculture program, shares: “I expect them to have an agricultural background because they come from farming families. So far, it hasn’t been difficult teaching them how to till the land.”

Shares Hanan: “This is the first batch of SEED Sumilao—a new experience for them to live away from their families, learn with other people, and nurture a piece of land. This is an opportunity to boost their hope for themselves and their lives, but also for others.”

Jiebert is buoyed by the enthusiasm of his students, “You often hear the students saying things like ‘Para ‘to sa kinabukasan natin!’ which is a main motivating factor for them to continue with the program.”

23 young men and women comprise the pioneering batch of SEED Sumilao scholars. To earn at place at the school they went through an exhaustive selection process that focused more on character and grit and academics. The TESDA accredited course will be supplemented by a one-year accelerator program.

A typical day for the SEED students begins at 5 a.m.  There’s no TV or wifi in Sumilao,  so the students turn in early. At 5 a.m. they are queued up for the showers and by 6 a.m., everyone files into the mess hall for breakfast.

Mondays to Fridays are chock-a-block with classes. Max teaches History and Maths and the rest take on classes on English, values formation, character development, agriculture, and labs. While the curriculum doesn’t overtly state it, life skills like resilience, responsibility, and grit are taught on campus, not just through formal classroom work but through action. There’s a fair amount of hands on work—the students have taken an active role in helping clear the grounds, keeping the classrooms and dorms clean, creating rock gardens and planting their vegetables that are harvested and served in the mess hall.

Among the 23 SEED Sumilao students are Clara Mangga, Allin Rey Pontas, Raviah Golorinda, and Jed Linondo. The month that they’ve lived on campus has required some adjustment. In the beginning, a few of the students were homesick, but for the most part, they’ve gotten used to the communal living and have developed an easy camaraderie with one another.

Clara shares: “As an introvert, it’s been an adjustment but I have learned to be flexible, energetic with others.” Inspired by other SEED graduates, Ate Clara, as she is fondly called by her peers, wants to learn how to increase profit and yield in corn production.

Allin Rey on the other hand wants to become a mentor in the future, “My favorite subject is Math, and I hope to teach after graduation. Right now, my family misses me but I’m able to adjust through the help of my classmates and mentors.”

Raviah, who enjoys her classes in agriculture, shares: “I want to learn how to produce coffee, and I’m looking forward to learning from my mentors to achieve this. Gusto kong makatulong sa pamilya at sa community just like the other SEED grads.”

Jed’s favorite subject is also agriculture, and as a budding social entrepreneur, he says: “I hope to discover more crops that can be planted in our area, aside from the usual corn, cassava, and rice. I also want to be able to teach like my mentors.”

At SEED, students who complete their basic formation and training are given continuing support through the Graduate Accelerator Program (GAP). SEED alumni are supported through a placement support service whose goal is to put them on a stable and steady trajectory out of poverty. 

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