VSU Magna cum laude, TOSP alumna, and now AGREA CEO Cherrie Atilano came home to VSU recently to hold a forum on leadership and civic engagement, and share her stories and her success with students of her alma mater.
Ate Cherrie, as she wants to be called, has been helping farmers for almost 17 years now. At the age of 12, she was already training farmers to help them transition from the old ways to more efficient farming practices.
“Supposedly I was going to be a doctor but after training farmers, it changed me so much. They opened my eyes to the reality that needs to be done”, said Ate Cherry.
Pursuing her dream and passion in farming, Cherrie Atilano studied Agriculture major in Horticulture at Visayas State University, graduated Magna Cum laude and was named one of Ten Outstanding Students in the Philippines in 2007.
Ate Cherrie is now making a name for herself globally. At the age of 30, she has accomplished things that really take long to enumerate individually. Recently, she had been awarded as one of the 2016 Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service, and the 'Earth Mover' award through Rappler on Move.Ph.
But what makes her really stand out is her advocacy on agriculture which led her to founding AGREA, an organization for social farming enterprise that believes in changing the unfair rules in the farming business of the country.
AGREA, which is a combination of the words “agriculture” and “Gaea” (which means Mother Earth), is based in the island of Marinduque. It aims to develop a replicable one island economy model founded on sustainable agriculture, livelihood programs, environment, community based tourism, and quality education of the children of the farmers and fisherfolk.
Ate Cherrie opened up during the forum on leadership and civic engagement at the VSU Convention Center November 21, 2016, as to how it all just started with a dream.
“I was dreaming to be someone later on with liberty, opportunity and freedom to help the farmers”.
Now, this is no longer a dream but a reality that she and her team in AGREA are working hard to help farmers more.
Even Ate Cherrie is still shocked at how she was able to reach where she is now. But one thing that she was sure of, “when you do something and you put your heart on it, something big is going to happen.”
During the forum, Ate Cherrie shared to more than 600 participants- students, faculty and staff the eight life lessons that she and her team learned through farming;
1. ALIGN YOUR INNER COMPASS
“There's an inner compass inside you that is strong enough to make you move forward.”
According to Ate Cherrie, we shouldn't work because we want to be famous or be recognized and given an award. We should work because we love what we're doing.
2. PAY IT FORWARD WITH GENEROSITY
“To be generous is a gift.”
For Ate Cherrie, the moment that you feel you live abundantly, it's time to be generous. It's time to share what you have without expecting anything in return. “We only need enough to live. We don't need to accumulate billions of dollars.”
3. LEARN THE VALUE OF COMMITMENT
“Commitment is something that you learn the hard way.”
At the age 23, Ate Cherrie made the biggest decision in her life. She turned down her Fulbright Scholarship because he made a commitment to help the farmers.
“I made a commitment to the farmers that I will be with them, and also try to help send 48 students to school.”
“Commitment is really from the deepest part of my life. It is something that if I face God at the end of the day, that commitment is something that I will answer God if he asks what did I do while I was on earth. I made a commitment to continue to make heaven while I am still on earth”, said Ate Cherrie.
4. GRATITUDE GOES A LONG WAY
“If you don't know how to be grateful, you will never be successful in your life.”
Ate Cherrie said that she always thanked God for the gift of life; the gift of strength; and the grace to conquer all her fears. Given her abundance in life, she wanted to always create something that could benefit a lot of people.
5. STAY GROUNDED AND HUMBLE HOWEVER BIG YOU BECOME
“I don't want to be treated above the rest.”
Despite of all her achievements, Ate Cherrie remains humble.
“It's not that it's because you achieve so much in life that you also put yourself in a pedestal that all people will just worship you. I am just happy to have the privilege to inspire people more than anything else.”
6. WORKING HARD AND HAVING FUN CAN HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME
“We work hard and have so much fun.”
Ate Cherrie emphasized that it doesn't mean that there is no room for fun if you are working so hard. Having time for refreshment is good especially when you're with your team.
7. GREAT THINGS TAKE TIME
“Change doesn't happen overnight.”
It requires hard work and patience if there is something you what to achieve in life.
“In AGREA, it happened a little bit faster because all of us were perfectionists and competitive... I don't accept mediocre work because our farmers are victims of mediocrity all their lives. Our farmers are world class and they deserve to be treated and to be brought to a level of excellence.”
Ate Cherrie said that it was in the University where she learned to live up to excellence.
“I need to live with the challenge of my Alma mater... I need to live on the challenge that the Filipino farmers are world-class because they are. Who else would wake up at three or four in the morning patiently and optimistically wait for the sunrise despite phenomenal challenges? That attitude is world class.”
8. LIFE ACTUALLY IS SWEET
“Life should be sweeter. And the sweetness of life should start on our food producers who are really caring enough to give us a good life and a sweet life that we live every day.”
Ate Cherrie shared how important it was to value other people and listen to their thoughts.
“You always have to have a good heart that connects with people. Have a heart and ears that know how to listen. It's not that you always have a point that you need to speak. You always need to value the power of listening and the value of respect.”
Ate Cherrie said that in pursuing your passion, there are challenges that will cause you pain. “There's always pain on your passion. But that pain on your passion will always prosper you to pass on your passion to other people.”
We are a Filipino SOCIAL ENTERPRISE that believes that the FARMING game is being played under UNFAIR RULES and it’s time to CHANGE.
AGREA has 3 core pillars. PLANET. PEOPLE. PROGRESS. We believe that DIGNITY, OPPORTUNITY, MUTUALISM and SUSTAINABILITY are fundamental values to make BUSINESS.
Agriculture is not just about cultivation of land but cultivation of human beings. AGREA is based in the Island of Marinduque, MIMAROPA region, just between Mindoro and the south of Luzon, in the Philippines. We found this amazing “forgotten paradise” the perfect place to design a model of a replicable one-island economy.