F2F COCOS persists

Posted on 12/18/2020

F2F continues to deliver much-needed technical services with the help of volunteers from the U.S. and the Philippines during the pandemic

The news of the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in the UK came as a relief to the highly unusual year we have been experiencing and it was administered by a Filipino nurse. During these bleak times, we strive to find that small glimmer of hope. The Farmer-to-Farmer Capacity Building of the Coconut Subsector (F2F COCOS) program also strives for that hope and it is truly humbling to see our committed volunteers still able to deliver crucial technical assistance to our coconut farmers amidst a pandemic and several typhoons. While a travel hold has been put in place for most of our volunteers, we have instituted a new framework where US-based volunteers are able to provide support virtually complemented by an on-ground volunteer when possible to provide local support and coordination.

In June 2020, we launched a survey to all our partners to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the coconut farming community so we can provide meaningful assistance. Delivery of technical assistance required careful evaluation on a case-by-case basis. With increased cases, localized lockdowns were inevitable and local governments implemented various degrees of restrictions. Following the principle that triangles are the most stable structures, we found ourselves evaluating the host, the assignment, and the volunteer. We asked ourselves the following three questions:

  • Would the assignment require the physical presence of a volunteer or can be done virtually?
  • Is the host capable of effectively interacting through internet platforms?
  • Are there volunteers available in the proximity of the host organizations?

The innovative paired volunteer set-up of the program consisting of a virtual U.S. volunteer and a local volunteer opened opportunities to local volunteers to participate in the program for the first time. Talented, brave, and selfless volunteers such as Jazaika Bienvenido, Anthony John Rodriguez, and Darlene Centina stepped forward to help complete traditional farmer-to-farmer in-person volunteer engagements.

While host organizations benefited from technical services, volunteers like Jazaika Bienvenido grew from the opportunity as well. The volunteer noted, “by sharing what you know, you can also learn something new, make friends, connect with the community, and provide you with a sense of purpose, especially at times like this. My assignment helped me to stay focused and not be stressed about what's happening around the world. Volunteering in F2F COCOS was good for my mental and physical well-being as it allowed me to go to the farms, interact with cooperative members while adhering to all safety measures. The program brought fulfillment to my life while serving others.”

As part of the evaluation of the services of F2F host organization Alaminos Laguna Consumer Cooperative, F2F Volunteer Jazaika Bienvenido interviews one of the cooperative members. Photo taken November 2020.

Sonja Hansen, a volunteer who is a student in Earth Science, was grateful for the opportunity to compliment her studies and learn from the microfinance institution she served during her five-week assignment. She said, “even though the volunteer assistance was virtual, sharing knowledge and skills was incredibly enriching and life-affirming. We certainly had our fair share of technical difficulties and schedule mishaps, but every day I spent on the project was met with gratitude and positivity, and there as not a single webinar that went by without laughter.”

F2F capacity-building of the Coconut Subsector Program (COCOS) is being implemented by Grameen Foundation USA as a sub-awardee of the Partners of the Americas with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Agricultural Volunteer Opportunity Project (AVOP). F2F COCOs will engage 64 volunteer consultants from July 2019 to March 2023 to respond to the needs of various host organizations in the Philippines in promoting sustainable improvements in agriculture processing, production, and marketing of coconut.

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