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Hacienda Estrellas

April, 2003

Minda, Ester & Elaine.
1. Minda, Ester & Elaine
The road to Hacienda Estrellas.
2. The road to
Hacienda Estrellas
Taking the goats to graze.
3. Morning goats
Jamie, Ester & Cha-cha.
4. Jamie, Ester & Cha-cha

During the last week of March, we traveled to northern Negros Occidental to visit our friend Ester Estrellas. The Estrellas family once owned a sugar hacienda near the town of Cadiz which covered 500 hectares (about 1,250 acres). Mismanagement, particularly by Ester's grandfather, resulted in debts that could only be paid by selling off pieces of the land. Over the years, the entire hacienda was sold. None of it now belongs to the Estrellas family. They still live here and work the land, but it is owned by others. The area is still known as Hacienda Estrellas.

Ester now lives on Panglao Island with her husband Adrian, and daughter Elaine. Twice a year, Ester and Elaine visit Ester's Mother, Minda (thumbnail photo #1, at left). We arranged to visit Minda during Ester's regular visit home.

The people who work in the sugar cane fields are very poor. Men work hard all day for 50 pesos (about US$ 1). They often cannot afford to provide good food for their children. Although we did not see signs of extreme malnutrition, most of the children were small and thin. They do not generally receive milk to drink or much fresh fruit or vegetables. They often eat only rice and dried fish. Lack of effective birth control, cheap alcohol, and employers who refuse to pay them their meager wages add to the people's problems. Ester tries to help out by providing some extra food for her nieces when she visits. She has been hoping to get Minda a refrigerator to keep milk for the kids and left-over food, but it will be another year or two before she can afford it.

Minda lives in a house that Ester bought for her, and that she is improving as she can. The house is located in the midst of the sugar cane fields (photo #2). It is made of concrete and steel, unlike the native style houses we saw throughout the area. Minda has a cistern which collects rainwater from the metal roof, so she no longer has to walk to the community well for water. Other residents walk considerable distances to wash clothing and collect drinking water. Even quite young children have heavy work to do.

This is a very rural, agricultural area. The rhythm of daily life is largely determined by the needs of the crops and animals. Each morning, Minda feeds the chickens and takes the cow out to graze. Elaine and Majesty took the goats (photo #3) out. Ester and Minda prepared really good meals for us, all in a simple outdoor kitchen with a homemade hearth over a wood fire. It was really impressive what they could do with these very simple tools.

The houses here are often surrounded by a row of banana trees, which provide some additional food. (In fact, you can often tell where houses once stood by the row of banana trees surrounding an empty space.) We also saw a number of kapok trees. These trees produce seed pods filled with fine fibers. The people collect the fibers, dry them in the sun, and use them for stuffing pillows and mattresses. Minda's bed, where we slept, has a kapok-filled mattress and pillows. It wasn't all that comfortable. (We needed the mosquito net to protect us from dengue fever.)

We took some long walks with Ester and Cha-Cha to see the places where Ester worked and played as a child (photo #4). One day, we walked to the beach where Cha-Cha and Jamie played in the ocean, and the fishermen worked on their nets. Our walks were informative and interesting, and a little sad. The poverty really affected us. But, in spite of the poverty, the people here still manage to enjoy themselves. We saw half a dozen boys playing with homemade tops. They were having a great time, and were quite pleased to show off their skills. We also saw an area in a small village set up for a disco. They play the music incredibly loud; it is hard to imagine that everyone isn't completely deaf.

We only spent 3 days with Ester and Minda. We were enjoying ourselves a great deal, but we felt a bit guilty sleeping in Minda's bed (she slept on the floor with Ester and the kids) and eating the food she and Ester prepared especially for us. We felt as if we were taking the food out of her mouth. We brought along some t-shirts, which Ester handed out to members of the extended family, but we still felt like free-loaders. We learned a great deal. We especially learned to appreciate just how good we have had things all of our lives. Seen through the eyes of the families of Hacienda Estrellas, we are rich beyond imagining. And, in truth, we are rich, as we have the resources to live the life we want to live in comfort and security. And to travel the world aboard Razzle Dazzle. We couldn't ask for anything more.

Ester traveled with us in a tricycle to Cadiz City to catch our bus. She didn't know it, but we had decided to contribute 5,400 pesos (US$ 100) to the purchase of a refrigerator. Once in Cadiz, we stopped at an appliance store. As expected, the refrigerators were too expensive for Ester to buy on her own. But with our contribution she could afford it. The store even provided free delivery, so Minda now can give her grandchildren milk to drink. Ester was very happy, and we were pleased to be able to help. And, to be honest, we will never miss the money.

(To read more about this part of the Philippines, see our Sugar Cane article.)

— return to the 2003 Journal Archive

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Created 4/2003. All photos are © 2003 Jim Richter.