Some 160 out-of-school youths aged 13 to 23 are learning to read and write, and they are also learning the basics of organic farming at the Aces Natural Farming Institute in Panabo City in Davao del Norte.

By Zac B. Sarian

Dr. dela Peña with fruitful American lemon that is just one year old. The students
help take care of the lemon.

The youths, male and female, come from different regions all over Mindanao and two regions in the Visayas. They are under the program called ATI-P or Academic and Technology Integrated Program, which is part of the alternative learning system.

The kids study for a period of six months. They stay on campus with their own sleeping quarters and are provided three meals daily and other basic needs like toothbrushes, soap, etc.

The project is a program initiated by the Agriculture Training Institute and is aimed at giving opportunities to youths from poor families who can’t afford to send them to school. The idea is to equip them with self-confidence as well as academic and technical know-how.

Dr. dela Peña and Rudy Camus of TESDA posing with a module of chicken housing for teaching.

In the end, they could become productive farmers or entrepreneurs in their own communities. It is one way of encouraging the youth to go into agriculture. Every day, they attend classes where they are taught writing, reading, and arithmetic, plus good manners and right conduct. In the same day, they go through lectures as well as hands-on activities in agriculture training.

The schedule is like this: upon waking up at five in the morning, they take coffee and then proceed to their assignments which could be feeding the chickens or pigs or tending their vegetable garden. Then at 8 o’clock they take their breakfast. They could then attend practical activities at the roofed training hall where they could be mixing potting media for seedlings or feeds for the pigs. By 10 o’clock, they will be attending reading and writing classes.

Trainees mixing potting medium for vegetable seedlings.

The schedule has been patterned after the usual schedule of farmers. They work early and then rest when it becomes too hot in the field. It’s not all work and study for the youths, however. They also engage in recreational activities like basketball, singing, and dancing.

Dr. Frank dela Peña, founder of Aces Polytechnic Colleges and the Aces Natural Farming Institute, is a practical educator and an advocate of natural farming. He said that the kids will learn five technical competencies, namely: hog farming, chicken raising, organic fertilizer production, organic vegetable production, and making organic concoctions and extracts used in growing plants and animals.

The piggery without the usual foul smell.

In the latter three months of the program, they will also be taught techniques in processing harvests from their crops, and their pigs and chickens.

The cost of the six months’ training, which is about Php21,000 per youth, is shouldered by the Agricultural Training Institute.

Dr. Dela Peña notes that when the out-of-school youths arrived last April, they were very reticent and reserved. Today, they are outgoing. And whenever they meet a visitor, they smile and never fail to say, “Good morning, sir,” or “Good morning, ma’am.” If you ask them what they have learned, they can tell you, too.

(Story continues after photo.)

Dr. Frank dela Peña with out-of-school youths during break time from field work.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s July 2015 issue.