It was one sunny and welcoming afternoon when we set foot in the GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. The fresh air seemed to caress the fields, swaying the greeneries. The place was filled with plants, filling the place with colors—with life; we were at the GK Enchanted Farm. The place somehow reminded us of VSU. It was littered with students from different places and walks of life. Only, they were listening attentively to a lady. She was talking, posing every now and then for a smile. She stopped and beamed as she saw us, she was the one we came this far for: Miss Cherrie Atilano.
As a child, Cherrie used to spend her childhood at her father's side who was a farmer – overseer for sugarcane fields. There, she was awakened by the terrible truth between the hacienderos' misapprehension with the Sakadas. At a young age of 6, she started doing odd jobs; she worked in their canteen, her mother was her first boss while her other siblings as her co-workers and eventually sent herself to school.
Cherrie worked her way from high school to college and continued to top her class. She was even a Negros Occidental -PAGKAON scholar during college, a college scholarship program for Negros Occidental students who excel at school.
During her college years, Cherrie was involved in many different university activities and organizations. She was one of the pioneers of the Visayas Horticultural Society and Hugpong Illongo, an all-Ilonggo student organization in the then Leyte State University (LSU), now VSU.
Sacrificing a Dream
After graduating as Magna Cum Laude, awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines and passing the Agriculture Licensure Exam, Cherrie paved the way to her life-long dream: a Fulbright Scholarship. She was given a two-year scholarship in the best universities in the US after passing qualifiers for aspirants. It was a one big shot at her dream of being part of the UNDP or World Bank.
But a few months before her leave for US, Cherrie volunteered and lived at GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. Her stay in the Enchanted Farm with the farmers and their children led her to a realization that would change her life. In her stay in the village, she saw that most of the residents' children didn't even know what dreaming meant. Most of them stopped at wanting to become a driver or a noon-time program dancer; they stopped at things she wouldn't even dare call dreams. Her stint in the GK village gave her a clear sight at the real state of our farmers, our country's top producers.
To everyone's surprise, Cherrie turned down the Fulbright Scholarship. It was the first time a Filipino refused Fulbright, and it was the first time someone had the nerve to turn the scholarship down. But Cherrie believes that her countrymen need her more and she just can't let them down. It was not an easy decision for her to make but to be sure, she did not regret it. “Let's be crazy in love to our country and our people genuinely.” she added. Asked about it, Cherrie said, “We can challenge impossibilities. When I joined Gawad Kalinga, it was against all odds. I was in a company where you can really earn a lot. Everything was set, everything was there. It's up to me to challenge myself to climb the ladder of the corporate world.” But she was certain GK was where she could do most and fulfill her life's purpose. “When I joined GK, it meant something. It goes way deeper thansaying “Hey, I want to be a nation builder. Behind that, it's no joke.” Cherrie thought starting her work in GK would be easy, but as it turns out, it was far from she expected. “I always share to my friends that in GK, I feel poverty. I feel poverty as a challenge that seems very impossible to beat, but it can be beaten.”
Passion for Work
“I just dream to make agriculture “smart and sexy”, that's why I put up AgriCool.” Cherrie adds. AgriCool, her pet project is a corporation of farmers where she empowers them by teaching them with the necessary farming skills and involving them in the decision making as her business partners.
She knows how big her dream is. “Theadvocacy that I'm doing right now, it's a big challenge. It's like moving a mountain. It's killing goliath. But it's something we can do.” she told. Cherrie wants to promote agriculture as a smart and lucrative venture. “I'm alarmed that our population is insatiably growing but no one is into planting. I'm alarmed that our farmers are often 57 years and older and no one wants to follow them and be a farmer.” she said. Cherrie dreams of having people see agriculture as a noble field of endeavor, that farming is a good form of occupation “So don't be afraid if people tell you “manlulupa ka”. Being in Agriculture means something— you're feeding 100% of the population.” Cherrie added.
Cherrie considers her being part of Gawad Kalinga as her greatest achievement. “Being part of GK is an inspiring and humbling experience. It makes me a more resilient and resolute person. It makes me more committed and it has made me a person with a sense of purpose; that we can do great things.” Cherrie continues.
“For me, I'm a farmer. I'm a graduate, agriculturist and a farmer of VSU. And I'm proud to say that the values and technologies that I learned from school, the lessons that I earned from my professors' and from my fellow ViSCAns are a really good start at doing something better for our fellowmen.” Cherrie admits.
As our interview ended, I looked around in awe at how far her dream has taken her and her Agricoolers. I was in the Enchanted Farm so I wasn't surprised that I felt enchanted with Cherrie's passion. A few more hours and we would be on our way to Manila, and then to VSU. But I know wherever we end up, our time with Cherrie will always remind us to dream. And more than anything, we know no matter how her life turns out, she will hold on to her dream of making agriculture cool, smart and sexy.