DAVAO CITY — Pencils and notebooks made in Germany and Switzerland, durable umbrellas, raincoats as big as blankets because European sizes are almost twice as big as average Filipino sizes, used toys curiously making their way to the lumad communities in Mindanao.

Theresa Ladeli founder Monica Baumann beams when she learns that the assistance from her little shop in Switzerland has helped 40,000 people in Mindanao. After her first visit in the Philippines 16 years ago, she puts up her little shop in Switzerland to help friends here.

This was how Percinita Sanchez, executive director of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc (Misfi), described the goods that first arrived in the Philippines 16 years ago, when their friend Monica Baumann, first set up the little Swiss shop in the village of Jeggenstorf, 16 kilometers from Bern, Switzerland, auctioning unused items to send off to poor communities in the Philippines.

We used to receive huge Balikbayan boxes twice a year, Sanchez remembers with amusement.

Baumann, who founded women’s group Theresa Ladeli (ladeli is the Swiss term for “little shop”) in Switzerland after the shock of her first visit in the Philippines, believed that reaching out to people who are also helping other people will enable their limited assistance to last a long way.

Now, the little Swiss shop is already coursing its help through 35 nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and peoples’ groups, whose projects include health, medical, literacy, daycare, socio economic and institutional support services in Mindanao’s most depressed barangays.

Monica Baumann with Misfi and NGO workers during the updating of Theresa Ladeli projects in different parts of Mindanao

In her latest visit to the country, Baumann beamed when she learned that funds that Theresa Ladeli has been sending to the Philippines has already benefited 40,000 people in Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Davao, Sanchez said.

The numerous projects included cooperative sari-sari stores, school buildings, pre and post harvest facilities, like corn shellers, corn millers, a rice mill, and in some areas, hogs and cattle dispersal, projects that may appear small, at times, but are critical for small communities to survive.

“The bulk of the assistance in the last 16 years went to our schools for the lumads (indigenous peoples),” Sanchez said. The group has been running 10 lumad literacy schools for adults and preschoolers in different indigenous communities in Mindanao since 1993.

Monica Baumann with Misfi and NGO workers during the updating of Theresa Ladeli projects in different parts of Mindanao

In the beginning, Baumann’s “little shop” only collected donations in kind from people in Jegenstorf, by telling them to “bring what they want” and to give what they do not need. People would flock to the shop in Jegenstorf, bringing things they no longer need and then, picking up anything that they want from the shop displays.

Afterwards, the Swiss women would put the goods they collected in huge Balikbayan boxes and send them off to the Philippines. The boxes, containing used clothes and toys to kitchen utensils, Swiss knives and school supplies, make their way to the NGO communities assisting the lumads in Mindanao.

It was only much later, when goods had accumulated that Theresa Ladeli decided to auction some of the items and send the proceeds to the Philippines.

Last year, Baumann also put up a solidarity house in Indangan, funded by inheritance money from her father, Karl Mader, and another one in barangay Alabel in General Santos.

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