Network Member Interview: Kimberly Alvarez, KAISAHAN

Kimberly – or simply “Kim” – Alvarez has been working directly with communities for more than 10 years. Kim shares her journey and what inspires her, along with the important work KAISAHAN in The Philippines does in the field of land and environmental justice.

What experience or individual inspired you to join the fight for land and environmental justice?

Kim Alvarez, Project Manager at KAISAHAN

My background is in conservation work, and [at first] I really wanted to work in the academe for personal growth. After my studies, somehow, my first job was in the private sector, and then at a private NGO. It was through a friend that I got to know KAISAHAN (Solidarity Towards Agrarian Reform and Rural Development), and although the nature of KAISAHAN (and development work in general) was new to me, I gave it a try.

KAISAHAN places heavy emphasis on paralegal formation – the idea is to form, train, and capacitate smallholder farmers and community leaders, and that they will know what to do without a lawyer. We train paralegals in knowing the law as they are the first line of information givers to communities.

As my role concerns policy advocacy work, I was engaging policy makers in specific laws. It was during this time that I realized that some sectors heavily engage with local and national agencies – most notably, farmers, fisherfolk, the urban poor, and women. These sectors have many faces, but ultimately they are a collective front. The journey from the individual, to being part of peoples’ organizations, to being leaders is inspiring. I realized that I was having this kind of growth and fulfillment in myself as well.


Was there a turning point or particular moment in your life that shaped you or had a lasting impact on your journey?


It was in 2013 that the National Land Use Act (NaLUA) was progressing as a law. However, at the last minute, Filipino policymakers in the Senate prevented the passage of the proposed NaLUA and returned the approval to the Second Reading from Third Reading – one step back from being passed. For context, the NaLUA is almost three decades old. KAISAHAN, along with other networks and partners, have been pushing for this Act for the longest time. After that drawback, I felt emotionally drained and tired, because here in the Philippines, advocating for laws takes at least three (3) years to see some sort of progress. And then Typhoon Haiyan struck. Typhoon Haiyan is one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded globally. I went out of policy work and concentrated on land rights and displacement.



“We saw communities forcibly displaced because of Typhoon Haiyan, and we went into that work to make sure that communities can re-acquire their documents – land titles most importantly.”


We also had several cases in Eastern Samar, a province in the Philippines, where there was very limited legal assistance for farmers until KAISAHAN came, and other development partners came post-Typhoon Haiyan. In these cases, we found out that the leaseholders (most of whom were farmers) were actually the land owners of the land they were working on. For a time, they were paying a 50% leasehold to the assumed “not real” landowner.


We then intervened through community organizing, paralegal formation, validation of documents, and dialogues with government agencies. It was a long process – some community members were still shy or weren’t comfortable in actually being landowners. We had to shift their mindset from renter to owner. For others, it was easy, but some still can’t shake the culture of being indebted to a landlord. 


This work can be challenging and difficult. What inspires you and helps you keep going?

KAISAHAN with local partners.


Seeing a community’s journey to leadership is what keeps me going. It really starts when a community member or leader seeks help and assistance, and letting them grow and navigate through legal processes that KAISAHAN’s formations provides. Realizing that what you do has a concrete impact is something that helps me keep going.

It is also very helpful to have colleagues who share the same vision as you. It makes you feel that you work in a healthy and supportive environment. In KAISAHAN, since we come from different backgrounds, we ask each other for technical expertise, and in this sense, you are not stuck in a ‘role’. In this organization and field as a whole, there’s a lot of mentors to learn from.

Within myself, I also set boundaries. Rest and recreation should be regular, and most often in the nonprofit sector, we cannot help but be burdened as well. Being in this kind of work can be draining sometimes, and I make it a point to find and do something other than work, since the issues we work on really linger. This is how I stay inspired and motivated. 

March 21, 2024 | Dominique Calañas