To be honest with you, I’ve been non-stop brainstorming on how I could (or should) approach writing about my extraordinary “Learning Visit – Trip to Quezon Province” last June 29-30, spearheaded by DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development).
In my title for example, I struggled to use the word “poor” to describe the state of the communities we visited. Is it politically incorrect? I had to think hard about it. To some, it may be. But to me, it’s the best unfiltered description. Why should I minimize or sugar-coat it? That’s the truth. We all know that about half of the Philippines is still in poverty. And if reading any of that bothers you, or makes you uncomfortable in the slightest way, then the more I encourage you to continue reading.
I guess what I mean to say in starting this blog, is it overwhelms me that in a short span of two [eventful] days, I’m able to produce infinite things to share. You can’t blame a guy who has minimal knowledge and involvement in social welfare services, immersion in poor communities, and the like. But my fresh experiences, supplemented by inspiring stories of kind strangers from different walks of life led me to countless realizations and discoveries. Essentially, it gave me a change in perspective on myself as an individual, on people, the government, the world in general, and life as a whole.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds a bit much. It might sound funny or unusual, but allow me to enlighten you, just like how I was. So bear with me as I gather my scattered thoughts to come up with this: a different kind of article touching themes not regularly seen in my blog, yet I believe is important for anyone and everyone to open their minds and hearts to.
I’m not one to throw a bunch of hard facts, numbers, and statistics, that you can easily search on the web. Instead, I’ll be giving food for thought as I bridge out to you the intangible – moving stories of unique individuals supplemented by my personal highlights, to fill in the social gap formed by a lack of awareness and understanding. I’ll leave it to you to take away whatever deeper sense you can get from this.
*Quotations in this article are non-verbatim, english translations that embody the essence of the actual discourse.
With that said, let’s cut to the chase and get on to Day 1’s first stop: Barangay. Pinagdanlayan in Dolores. It is the home of the pilot project of one of DSWD’s programs, Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services). The program is a participatory approach aimed to empower residents through engagement in the development of their community.
HEALTH IS WEALTH. For the majority of us, health is top priority, just like for the community at Brgy. Pinagdanlayan. That’s why they chose to construct a health center with the generosity of DSWD funding the project back in 2003, and was successfully completed the year after.
I looked outside my window and got a glimpse of the health center as our van slowly came to a stop. My first impression was it didn’t look like much – just another piece of infrastructure. Little did I know, it was a lot more than just that.
In the blue, wearing that shy, yet endearing smile is Barangay Captain Francisca Deliso or better known as “Sally”. Before being elected as Barangay Captain, she was actually the Barangay Sub-project Management Committee (BSPMC) chair for Kalahi-CIDSS. She had plenty to share about how the entire project transpired, and that’s where I learned how immensely engaged the residents were. From addressing their top needs, planning, designing, to the actual implementation and maintenance of the health center – all for the betterment of their community.
“Actually, I originally wasn’t a volunteer. I’m an OFW. I had no idea that when I’d come back, this [health center project] would be in progress. I didn’t even know what Kalahi-CIDSS was. It was my former husband who was chosen (by the community) to volunteer and lead. The prioritized project was infrastructure. It was good that he was a construction worker, just like all of the other volunteers. But they didn’t expect the project to have an overwhelming amount of seminars, training, and paperwork. That’s where I came in. I became extremely dedicated. Lots of tears were shed. We had countless sleepless nights… But this project materialized to give service to our community’s health problems and we are very thankful for it and the help given to us by DSWD.” – Brgy. Captain Francisca
As she went more into detail of the process they went through, I was astonished by the amount of strength and will power they needed to muster and unite as one community to accomplish the task at hand successfully.
Juncel Reyes is the designated nurse for this particular health center. When asked, around how many people are served on a daily basis, he said that it depends.
“Some days we serve about ten. On other days, it depends. For example when we have recruit monitoring, we try to accommodate them all as much as possible, sometimes reaching about one-hundred kids. And in some cases, we are the ones who go to them.”
Alongside him is midwife volunteer Rovelyn Locus, trained to assist in other work at the health center. Other midwives like her are the volunteers who help with the maintenance and operations. When we asked about how far their service can extend for the community, they explained their limitations.
“The most common cases here are acute respiratory infections or loose bowel movement. When it’s the rainy season, that’s when more service is needed. Delivering a baby can actually be done here in our facility. However, as much as possible we try to bring them to the main health center, because medication and equipment is more complete there. We are on-call everyday. Our midwives give contact numbers to those expected to give birth within the expected month, so they can easily call and be prioritized at the main health center when the time comes.” – Nurse Juncel Reyes
The main health center is only a ten-minute ride away, according to Nurse Juncel. The fact that they are always on-call, goes to show how much they care about giving the best service to their community, without expecting anything in return.
Though again, it may not look like much, their health center has demonstrated its capability to go beyond its main purpose of serving numerous people in need of healthcare, and in time has evolved into a “safe haven”
for the community.
“I have six kids. They’re grown up now. My youngest is turning nine-years old… When my children aren’t feeling well, I know I can always bring them here. It’s here that I can trust and rely that they can find out what’s wrong when I can’t treat them myself.”
That’s what local resident Nancy Magpantay
testified when I chanced upon talking to her. She was with her friend and other local resident, Marites Brudente.
They, together with their husbands were part of the successful construction of the health center.
“We’re just grateful that this health center was built here – near to our place – because the old one is much farther and not easily accessible. It’s a great relief for us. We can always bring our kids here for their checkups. Sometimes we stop by here just to relieve ourselves of stress. I can talk to people here. It somehow gives us a sense of comfort and security.”
I later on found out that some of Nancy and Marites’ children are beneficiaries of DSWD’s social protection and human development program, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or “4Ps”. Basically, the program supports the health, nutrition, and education of children (zero to 18 y/o), with a monthly conditional cash grant to poor families. The conditions, including monthly health checkup of children, school attendance, and monthly Family Development Sessions, are all in the direction of helping alleviate poverty and improving their livelihood. (Click here for more information about the 4Ps.)
“Though sometimes, it really isn’t enough for our everyday needs, it’s still a big help from our government. It’s more than we can ask for and we are grateful for it.” – Marites Brudente
“The programs taught and pushed us to improve our livelihood. How to make a living for ourselves, to earn more, and meet our family’s everyday needs.” – Nancy Magpantay
Before saying goodbye to them, I asked them to look into the future, and the two agreed, “if the community were to have another project to materialize, a new high school closer to us would be great, especially for our kids.”
This community in Dolores may be considered as “poor”, but it seems to me that the resident’s healthy, happy, and genuine smiles prove otherwise. That to me, is true wealth.
Candelaria was our next stop, specifically the Barangay Pahinga Sur hall. We arrived just in time to witness one of the components of the 4Ps going on – Family Development Sessions (FDS). This happens once a month for the parent-grantees. They’re educated on several topics like budget management, responsible parenthood, children’s rights, disaster preparedness, etc.
THE VALUE OF EDUCATION. Truth be told, there are people who are fortunate enough to have a formal education, yet take it for granted. On the other hand, there are people starving for knowledge, but cannot even afford the basics of human needs – what more, a complete and proper education? I believe that we are always a student, whether inside the walls of a classroom, or outside, under the roof of a barangay hall, perhaps?
After observing their FDS, we were given the chance to ask the 4Ps beneficiaries about their thoughts and experiences on their monthly sessions as a parent-grantee and how it has affected their family households.
“It’s been five years since I’ve been attending these FDS. Personally, I attend for the added helpful knowledge they teach. One of my most significant learnings from the FDS is how to prevent child abuse, because I’ll admit, before I became a member of the [4Ps] program, I would sometimes result to physically hurting my children. But after, I learned it’s wrong and eventually I was able to prevent myself from doing it again. I noticed it made a positive effect on them because they became more obedient.” – Leah Manalo
Majority said the reason why they attend is to learn how to properly care for and nurture their families, to pass down their knowledge to their children so they can live better lives. They also mentioned what government agencies they learned about and can ask help from in times when they need it the most, like for healthcare, student scholarships, etc. Being under the 4Ps, their voices are heard. They’re able to get the medical attention they seek, even when they don’t have any money. Unlike before, they wouldn’t be accommodated at all. They became a priority, and that to them is one of the biggest help they’ve received from DSWD and its programs.
Amidst all the women participants of the FDS, was a “thorn among the roses”. He was a scruffy yet jolly looking man who immediately captured my attention with his positive aura. I decided to talk to him to get to know the story behind his big benevolent smile. His name is Mario G. Gonzales – a father of four who values his family and education more than anything.
“I’m here because my wife is an OFW. She’s a domestic helper in Singapore. Eversince we became part of the 4Ps, I’ve been the representative for our family here. We do what we can to help each other and our family. While she works abroad, I also try to make a living here as a tricycle driver. At the same time, I take care of our kids.”
If you think about it, Mario juggles three roles: being the father and mother figure of the family, while trying to make a living for himself as a tricycle driver. There’s no denying that he exceeds the embodiment of what a good parent should be. Because of the circumstances he is in and through the FDS, he learned what gender equality means.
“Just because I’m a man, doesn’t mean I can’t stay at home to raise my children or take care of our food for the day. The same goes for my wife. Even though she’s a woman, it doesn’t mean she can’t be the main breadwinner of our family. I confirmed that learning here.”
He went on and told me more about how their life changed from before being part of the 4Ps, until now.
“Our life was hard. I didn’t have my own tricycle. But I was determined to get one of my own. I needed to help support my children’s education. I knew they were intelligent kids and saw so much potential in them to excel in school. That’s why we work hard to try to get them all to finish school. My wife and I were unable to finish our education and only reached highschool. I remember, we got married at such a young age, with our first child who came when we were still in highschool. We tried working in Manila, where my wife is from. I worked as a guard. It didn’t workout for us so we moved back here. Fortunately we were part of the surveyed families who later became part of the 4Ps. That’s when my wife landed a job abroad, while I was able to learn about educational scholarships offered by the government. They knew we were struggling. That’s why I’m so proud of my kids for getting all three scholarships. Everyone here knows how proud I am. I knew it when I saw their potential.”
You can see it in his eyes, how genuinely happy he was with how far they’ve come, while he continued telling his story. He now boasts of his children’s academic achievements. His two youngest children are still in school. His second child will be graduating soon, while their first child now works as a public school teacher in their barangay. He constantly expressed his thankfulness for the help DSWD and the 4Ps has given them, but he also emphasized an important point, that became my main takeaway from his story.
“Determination and motivation to strive for more means you shouldn’t just rely on what’s being given to you. Don’t stop there. You can take the help being given – big or small – but continue to pursue your dreams. We should persevere. I always tell young ones to prioritize your education before anything, so you can make your dreams come true. My dream is for my kids to finish school and to create a better life for themselves – not relying on anyone. We’re getting old. All I want is for them to have a brighter future.”
I couldn’t leave the place without getting some sort of visual memory of this inspiring man, so I asked Mario if we could take a photo together. He thanked me and said he needed to go home to prepare lunch for his family. He waved goodbye with his signature warm smile, and drove off on what he now proudly calls his own “dream” tricycle – the result of his hardwork, tough love, and perseverance.
Photo above, courtesy of Godly Camitan. Click here to see her blogs from this trip.
And to think this was only half of what happened during the first day.
Like I said, I’m overwhelmed… yet, enlightened. – BOXFACE