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Losing her father at a very young age made Helen Sarmiento the tough woman that she is today. Her passion and dedication to be of service to others and her patience in overcoming any obstacle that comes her way is what makes her stand out as an agricultural extension worker (AEW) in the province of Zamboanga del Sur. Helen presently holds the position of Agriculturist II at the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist in Pagadian City. She is the ruralbased organization (RBO) focal person and is in charge of the search for outstanding farmer.

Surviving a Painful Past

Born on May 21, 1952, Helen grew up in a well-off family in Tuburan, Pagadian City in the province of Zamboanga del Sur. With a rice and corn mill business that her parents owned, the family has been doing well financially for several years until one unfortunate day, the family business was robbed and cost them her father's life.

Helen, then 14 years old, recalled how life changed for the family after her father's death. Business went down and financial crisis set on to the family. Her mother could no longer afford to send them all to school after she graduated high school since there were five siblings in the family.

Determined to finish her studies, Helen went to Ozamis City and enrolled at the Immaculate Conception College. She became a working student in a relative's apartment business just so she could live and eat for free. At daytime she goes to school and from 6pm to 10pm she washed the dishes and cleaned the whole apartment. This went on until she graduated college with the course Bachelor of Science in Education major in Home Economics. She also took a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Starting the Journey as AEW

She was employed at then Bureau of Agricultural Extension (BAEx) back in 1973 when the municipality of Zamboanga Sibugay was still part of the province of Zamboanga del Sur. When BAEx was devolved, she entered the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist. With the utmost desire to train and impart knowledge to the farmers, over the years, Helen spent most of her time in the field interacting with farmers even if it required spending many hours on the road just to be with them.

Married with two children, juggling family life with work wasn't easy for Helen. With the demands at work requiring her to travel a lot and being away from her children even when they are sick were among the struggles she had to deal with back then. Raising them and sending them to school wasn't easy also. According to her, one time she sold 17 of her piglets just to pay the tuition of her children.

Despite all of these, she remained dedicated to her work. She said that if it wasn't for her love of work, she would've gotten easily tired in serving the farmers and would've surrendered a long time ago. But she didn't, even if there were times that she needed to travel to areas or barangays that are risky.

Her Legacy

In her aim to really push through with the RBO projects, she patiently went her way to solicit, organize barangay activities, or any fund-raising activities. Until such time that she decided to set a meeting with the municipal mayors and agricultural officers (MAOs) to ask them to allot budget for the RBO projects. The meetings were a success. All of the mayors and MAOs agreed with Helen’s proposal and that was a major episode for her career.

Ever since she was appointed as Rural Youth Development Officer in BAEx in 1973, she received national awards every year up to the present. Helen is really hands-on with her search for an outstanding farmer and youth. So far she had already sent 18 4H Club members to the United States of America (USA) and five in Japan for the Youth Exchange Program. She herself patiently taught and trained them for three months so they would be able to answer properly and pass the series of interviews.

One memorable 4-H member whose story really remained with Helen is Gregorio Albutra Tisoro from Barangay Camalig, Dumalinao, Zamboanga del Sur. This was Helen's first assignment municipality. Gregorio, who only finished Grade 4, approached her and asked if he could join the 4-H program because he believed that it's the only chance he can get for him to see his father abroad. Since he only finished Grade 4, Helen advised him to take an exam for him to get accelerated to high school. She helped him study in her free time hoping that he will be accelerated to high school. The hard work paid off and Gregorio got accelerated.

When he reached Luzon for the series of interviews, he tried his best to locate his relatives on his father's side in Pangasinan. He asked his relatives for the complete addressof his father abroad so that he can visit him there once he will be sent to the USA. God answered their prayers, he was sent abroad and he was able to meet his father. Accordingto Helen, Gregorio is now married and living happily with his family abroad.

Living a Simple Dream

Retiring in two years’ time, Helen has this motherly advice to all extension workers; “Be humble, prayerful, work hard, and do your job with love and honesty.” She has the simplest dream in life, it is to live a happy and comfortable life with her family. Her main goal is to become a role model to everyone she comes in contact with and be a good example to other AEWs.

Story by: Glo Anne N. Darunday

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ATI Today

Extension services continue to evolve. With the challenges that extension workers and farmers face, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) continues to explore various strategies to improve its efforts as the extension and training arm of the Department of Agriculture. In over 30 years, the ATI has celebrated various successes and learned from the lessons during hard times. Nonetheless, we are proud to be standing the test of time through the support of our partners and the clientele themselves. This is the ATI Today, more committed to bring you extension services beyond boundaries.