Japanese overseas volunteer is bullish on aid projects

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

`I'VE come to see how your cow is doing.'' So Ohori, a gangling six-footer, greets the stocky, T-shirted farmer in Tagalog. He has just pulled up at the farmer's concrete-block, galvanized-iron-roofed house on his trusty Honda, a journalist friend in tow.

The farmer, obviously pleased to see Mr. Ohori, invites us to sit on stools in the fresh morning air outside his house where palms sway in the breeze and bougainvillea is blooming. Beside the door hangs a painted plaque: ``God bless our home.'' His name, he says, is Martin Maklang, and he farms two hectares (five acres) of rice paddies. He also has four cows. One of them was artificially inseminated three weeks ago, and Ohori has come to see whether she has become pregnant.

Ohori is a livestock technician from Tokyo who works as an ``overseas cooperation volunteer'' - Japan's equivalent of the Peace Corps. He has been in the Philippines since March 1986, and is thinking of extending his tour by a year when it comes to an end next March.

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``We're just beginning to recover from the confusion caused by [deposed President Ferdinand] Marcos's downfall,'' he said, ``and I'd like to stay on a bit longer to help see things through.''

The overseas volunteers are under the jurisdiction of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which sends aid experts to developing countries. Japan's whole aid effort is now under intense scrutiny by the United States and other Western countries, which complain that Japan should be doing a lot more in this field.

Japan's aid is now second only to that of the US in monetary terms. Last year it stood at $5.6 billion, and by 1990 it should be $7.6 billion. Last week, Japan offered Southeast Asian nations a new $2 billion aid package.

But Japan's aid budget is only 0.29 percent of its gross national product, less than half the United Nations target of 0.7 percent. Also, Japan's ``grant element'' - the proportion of aid that is a grant rather than a loan - is considerably lower than that of other Western countries.

That said, Ohori and his fellow volunteers are an impressive example of the saying that aid is people.

Ohori is one of nearly 1,700 volunteers who have signed up for two-year stays in 38 countries. Ninety-four of them are in the Philippines, where they work in agriculture, health, education, processing, construction, sports, and maintenance.

Ohori's expertise is in animal husbandry, specifically in artificial insemination, a program that has been a feature of Japanese technical aid for 20 years. It costs a peasant 100 to 200 pesos ($5 to $10) to have his cow serviced by a seed bull. Artificial insemination, a government program, is free, and over time will improve the scrawny backyard cow most peasants raise and take to market.

That's the theory. In fact, less than 40 percent of impregnated cows conceive. The techniques that work in scientifically controlled agricultural experiment stations can not easily apply at the backyard level.

This is the story of development everywhere. Ohori's task is to observe, to follow through, to continue with the record-keeping begun by his predecessor, and thus help improve the program's success rate.

As for Mr. Maklang's cow, 21 days have passed since insemination. The farmer brings a pail of water and a bar of soap. Ohori dons a plastic glove and gently examines the cow. His verdict: The signs are hopeful, but it may be a bit too early to tell.

Maklang has sent his son to the village store to buy colas and sweet buns for his guests. Ohori sits down with Maklang and a couple of farmers who have come to pass the time of day. They have a list of requests. Could he spay a dog? Could he do something about an infestation of snails that is eating up their crops? The son goes into the paddies and comes back with a couple of snails - ugly, gray things that refuse to come out of their shells. Ohori can't offer much except sympathy, but the chitchat is an important part of his daily routine.

What does Maklang think about President Aquino's land reform program? Well, yes, he's heard about it, but doesn't know the details. He received his paddies under President Marcos's land reform program. His former landlord is still rich, he says, still has about 100 hectares (250 acres), and lives in a Manila suburb.

Maklang's four cows, it turns out, belong to his neighbors. When they are sold, he will get a percentage of the proceeds. A few years ago, Maklang's oldest son went to work in Saudi Arabia. The money he sends back is an important part of the family budget. Many people in the region, Ohori says, have sons in Saudi Arabia.

Ohori's next client is 122 miles down the road. ``I could never get around all the places I have to without this Honda,'' he says. Fililipino technicians with whom he works must depend on bicycles or buses. Their salaries are 600 pesos ($300) per month. Ohori's is 6,000 pesos - a princely sum in the area. ``I felt very bad about it at first, but gradually I've found useful things to do with the money I earn,'' he says. ``Of course I could easily spend it all on parties for the staff, but the problem is to find something that directly relates to the project. For instance, I help out with gasoline and other transportation costs.''

Ohori joined the overseas volunteers, he say, ``not really out of some grand desire to help others. I wanted to test my own capacities, to see what I could do in a context outside Japan.''

When he first came, he confesses, he thought he had some skills, some expertise, that he could hand on to his Filipino colleagues. But now he feels that the best he can do is to show his co-workers how he does things, and leave it up to them as to how much, or how little, they might want to absorb.

``If you just bring your Japanese attitudes here - insist on starting on time every day, sticking with your task for the day until it's done - you aren't going to get anywhere,'' said Ohori. ``You will succeed only to the extent that the people you work with want whatever it is that you have. We're like merchants displaying our samples and saying, `Do please take whatever you want, whatever you think will be useful to you.'''

``The greatest value in [the program] for me,'' he says, ``are the human relationships I feel I've established - the sense that we are co-workers, that we're all in the same boat.''

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