Due to higher school enrollment and increased material fees in the Philippines, an estimated 20-50 percent of students were without classroom desks in 2003.
To alleviate this problem, Dole Packaged Foods (Dolefil) in the Philippines joined the Chairs-for-Trees (CFT) Program. For nearly a decade, Dole and the program have worked to increase the numbers of desk-and-chair sets, as well as provide both active and responsive assistance to Southern Mindanao communities in the Socsargen region. Dolefil’s partnerships with the community and two private cooperatives has enabled CFT to address vital issues, such as education, environment (recycling and reforestation), livelihood generation and organizational development. Each partner plays a specific role in the construction and distribution of CFT products. The process begins with Dolefil, which donates wooden pallets from its imported raw materials. Next, Mahintana Foundation ships the pallets to a local cooperative that recycles and converts them into school desk-chair combinations (valued at P263.67), kiddies’ tables and chairs, and church pews. Once complete, the products are delivered to pre-identified beneficiary public schools, churches, day-care centers and other institutions via local transportation services. Since the launch of the CFT program in 2003, Dolefil and the Mahintana Foundation have donated almost 30,000 desk-chair combinations, kiddies’ tables and chairs and church pews, benefiting 481 schools and numerous organizations in the South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos areas (SOCSARGEN). This project has been incredibly helpful for the public education system, most notably in Mindanao. With a chair to student ratio of 1:3, this region still suffers from poorly equipped schools; however, it can now begin to improve its learning environment. To reciprocate the kindness and show their support for the environment, the beneficiaries plant a tree for every P10.00 worth of assistance received. The seedlings used are provided by Dolefil and sourced from another local cooperative that consists entirely of women. Everyday, these women are responsible for propagating the seedlings so they are ready for use in plant nurseries and greenhouses throughout the community. At least 615,000 seedlings of various forest and fruit trees have been planted and grown by beneficiaries in the SOCSARGEN area under the Chairs-for-Trees program. The thousands of donations and seedlings propagated for the reforestation component of the project have been a steady source of livelihood for members of the cooperatives, both of which have evolved into viable business partners for the community. The benefits brought about by the program to the environment, education system, cooperatives and community have earned the CFT program a special citation by the World Bank as one of the “Most Innovative Projects” in the country. The program was rewarding with woodworking equipment worth P800,000.00, given by the Japanese Embassy. Dolefil is committed to continue its support for the Chairs-for-Trees Program in order to carry on contributing to quality education, greener forests, and livelihood for cooperatives.