U.S. Jewish Group Provides $5,000 Grant to Group Representing Sugar Cane Workers in the Philippines

The American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the Boston-based international development organization, has provided a grant of $5,000 to a group representing sugar cane workers in the Philippines.

The grant was given to the National Federation of Sugar Workers, a non-governmental group formed several years ago in an effort to raise the standard of living of sugarcane workers, according to Laurence Simon, AJWS president.

Simon returned last week from a visit to the Philippines. He was accompanied by AJWS executive committee members Herbert Weiss, a Boston attorney, and Warren Eisenberg, director of the International Council of B’nai B’rith.

The grant to the Federation, based on the island of Negros, some 350 miles south of Manila, is to aid in a farm lot program designed to diversify crops in Negros.

According to Simon, sugar cane workers and their families suffer from poverty and malnutrition, and the farm lot program seeks to provide proper guidance for rice and corn crops to be developed during the months when sugar cane is not grown in Negros.

Simon and the delegation also met with Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who welcomed AJWS involvement in self-help rural programs that will assist farmers with seeds, tools and technical assistance to grow food to sustain their families and sell in the marketplace.

Simon told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that during the 10-day visit to the Philippines, the three person group also met with members of the Philippine Jewish community at a reception hosted by Israeli Ambassador Uri Gordan. There are an estimated 350 Philippine Jews.

In addition, Simon said one host of the AJWS trip to the Philippines was Minister of Agrarian Reform, Sonny Alvarez, a member of the Cabinet of the Aquino government. “We are finding great levels of cooperation from the government,” Simon said.

But Simon pointed out that the food lot program is merely a short-term solution to the problems facing sugar cane workers in Negros. He said there are substantial quantities of land — thousands of acres — that are now being foreclosed on by banks and ready for redistribution by the government.

Some of the land was left by owners who fled the country during the downfall of the former government of President Ferdinand Marcos. AJWS hopes to provide additional funds and agricultural assistance to persons with the newly acquired land. Simon said AJWS has been in contact with Israeli agricultural experts in an effort to have them provide assistance to the people of Negros.

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