Our eventful trip started early and it was getting close to the middle of our first day. That meant it was almost my favorite time of day – chow time! But for some odd reason, I wasn’t feeling too hungry. Maybe because I was already filled with so much food for thought from the first few activities? Whatever it was, I let everything digest as we left the barangay hall of Pahinga Sur, and went off to our next location – their community garden.
FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR. I’m a firm believer of the saying “no hardwork goes unrewarded.” As long as it is pure, consistent, and with good motive, in time you will only find yourself with nothing but positive results.
With the sun shining bright, it was a perfect time to soak up some Vitamin D, and we got to do that while we had a short walk to Brgy. Pahinga Sur’s community garden, owned and maintained by the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries themselves.
The beneficiaries can proudly say that their well-kept garden is a product of what they learned during their FDS on Bio-Intensive Gardening.
“We learned how to maintain this garden. We chose what to plant. We do the harvesting. And then we can choose to either sell our produce or we can use it for our own household needs.” – Anna Umandap
This to me, along with the testimonies of some of the other beneficiaries back at the barangay hall, is evidence that the FDS are not only successful, but the beneficiaries are really striving for development to sustain their livelihood.
That brings me to one of the other core programs of DSWD, the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). It invests in building the capacity of people in a community to engage in socio-economic activities, so they can stand on their own. The SLP gives employment facilitation by teaching technical skills, giving occupational guidance and job refferals. For the aspiring entrepreneurs and businessmen, there’s the micro-enterprise development where a capital is given to help start small businesses.
The Project Development Officer of SLPs in Brgy. Pahinga Sur, Kson Lee Piedad, explained how they determined what programs best fit their community and how it has improved their livelihood.
“Actually, yesterday the training for security guards finished. That’s guaranteed employment. They just have to wait three weeks, then our partner agencies will absorb them. When I first started here, we conducted a survey asking what kind of training the majority of them are interested in; if they want to start a business. From there, we formulated possible projects we can do. In 2015, we identified that food and beverages services and security guard training are what they wanted. Only recently, the security guard training materialized. For the food and beverages services, majority want to become waiters. We already have 50 graduates from the food and beverages trainees. The difference is, we don’t force them to enter the agencies offering jobs. We tell them it’s their free will to choose if that’s really what they want, or not. 5-10 out of the 50 entered that industry, while the rest chose other industries, like manufacturing.” – Kson Lee Piedad
Walking back to our van, it was reassuring to know and see that with the guidance of DSWD, the beneficiaries are now able to reap the fruits of their labor on their own two feet.
Like our first stop in Dolores, we were then off to visit another successful project funded by DSWD under the Kalahi-CIDSS program. A two-classroom school building at Macasaet National High School in Brgy. Pahinga Norte, Candelaria.
FROM THE GROUND UP. To get to the top, you must start from the bottom. The pursuit to even just progress can be the most challenging, but when things get tough making you feel like giving up, the most important thing is to remember why you started.
Entering the gate of the school, I immediately sensed that typical rowdy school environment. There were students running around, playing games, while some were in class with their teachers trying to get back their attention, as some students were distracted by us visiting. Students waved at us from the windows of their classroom. I waved back with a smile, thinking how great it is for them to have a place to study, even in one of the poorest and most typhoon-affected areas nationwide.
As told by Anna Umandap, a 4Ps beneficiary who also accommodated us at the garden, the two-classroom building was literally the result of blood, sweat and tears. Especially for Anna, who introduced herself as the barangay-elected Project Preparation Team Head.
“Our community chose between building an open canal, an evacuation center, or this – classrooms. We chose the classrooms for the school… All of the work goes through me. I run and assist. I do the paperwork. I’m the secretary for the barangay… with everything that happens here, I’m the one accountable for.”
Though everyone from the barangay who helped make this project successful, are volunteers, that didn’t mean they don’t get anything in return. As they told us more about what they went through to build the classrooms from scratch, you can tell by the tone of their voice and faces, that it was definitely a test of strength, patience, and will power to continue on.
“To tell you the truth, there were times we wanted to give up. But we thought of all the help [funds and training] given to us. We started it, so we should finish it. No matter what. So that we’ll know that all the hardwork we put in is worth it in the end, all for the future of our children.”
They found out that if they were able to accomplish building those classrooms from the ground up, they are willing to do it again, and more, knowing that everything they do for the community will benefit them in the longrun, even if it isn’t financial support.
Like Mario Gonzalez from the FDS visit at Brgy. Pahinga Sur, education remains the top priority for their entire community. That’s why they prioritized this project: to accommodate more students – their children – in hopes that they too, learn the value of education and perseverance to get them on top of their dreams.
It was now goodbye Candelaria, and hello Lucena City. We went on to Barangay Dalahican where we got to meet a Sama-Bajau community during one of their beadmaking skills training. This is in line with another project, currently being pilot-tested by DSWD.
ONE AND THE SAME. Tall or short. Black or white. Single or married. Rich or poor. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we are all humans wanting the same thing: to live a happy, purposeful life with the ones we love. They say that you should always be nice because everyone is fighting a battle you don’t know about, and I believe that to be true. This however can be difficult to do, especially when you come across a stranger that is different – an outcast from the rest.
I remember riding a filled jeep one day in Makati City. We stopped at a red light. Suddenly, an unruly juvenile climbed on and hung from the back of the jeep. As he made his way inside the jeep, he left small crumpled envelopes on each of our laps. The jeep driver kept telling him to get off, but he wouldn’t listen. The boy had dark-brown messy hair, streaked with what looked like black car oil. There was dirt all over his body like he’s been getting smoked by vehicles on the road all day. With his barefeet, wearing a wornout oversized shirt, and ragged basketball shorts, he sat down waiting at the back of the jeep while murmuring words I couldn’t comprehend. I saw him start to collect his envelopes, so I quickly put my spare change in and gave it back. The person beside me however, didn’t even touch the envelope so it fell on the floor. The youngster got quite upset upon seeing it, and ended up spitting on the man, slapping his face, while yelling words I couldn’t understand again. With everyone shocked and scared, the kid jumped off the jeep and ran away.
With a negative connotation, they said he was “just another Bajau”.
Though I’ve had similar experiences in my hometown, this particular incident stuck in my mind. I was bothered. Because I knew what happened that day, was just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the actions of that young boy, is a much deeper story waiting to be heard… That’s why I was a bit hesitant arriving at the Little Haus Community Center, where unexpectedly, I was greeted by a group of Bajaus passionately hard at work making bead accessories.
“The government did an assessment. Though it is their [Bajaus] personal choice if they want to go back to their rightful provinces, as much as possible, our advocacy is to welcome them with open arms by providing livelihood programs and interventions.” – Analiza Dano
What our resource person, Ms. Analiza was talking about, is the Comprehensive Program for Sama-Bajau. Its aim is to reduce their vulnerabilities, give access to basic services, eliminate their practice of begging on the streets, and at the same time nurture their rich culture. The beadmaking is just one of the skill trainings being provided. They are also included in the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) program that holds monthly FDS teaching them values, importance of health and education, and strengthening family relations.
Contrary to what many believe, the Sama-Bajau are actually very peace-loving, and highly skilled nomads, particularly in fishing. Hence their tribal name, “Bajau”, which translates to “man of the seas” or “sea gypsies”. Did you know they have a different name, everytime they move to a new area? One of the main reasons why they leave the land they originated from and constantly travel from one place to another is because of pirate attacks. When conflict arises, they do whatever to stay away from it.
“There was a man who was killed and they [pirates] stole his boat. It happened to us. We used to live on our boat. After fishing, we came back to land and they were waiting for us so they can steal our fish and boat. They killed our father. One of our other siblings were killed too. That’s why we left Zamboanga. We were only kids back then, but I still remember it all. We don’t want to go back there…”
That’s what one of the beneficiaries, Magdalena Rosali spoke up about. Their lives depended on a life on the sea. When you take that away, you basically take away their home, their livelihood, and are left with nothing but fear. If these traumatic events are what commonly happens to the Bajaus, it’s no wonder they end up on the streets begging and doing whatever they can just to meet their basic needs.
So how have their lives changed since being under the Comprehensive Sama-Bajau program? Magdalena’s sister Nolima Rosali spoke in behalf of all of the Sama-Bajau there, and said:
“The change wasn’t hard. We learned how to live a better life like everyone here with their support. Just like now, we learned how to make these [bead accessories]. We can sell these and now we have money for our needs. They taught us how to write our names…”
Ms. Analiza shared that before, all of the Sama-Bajau beneficiary’s documents were filled with thumbprints, instead of their names and signatures. Now with the help of DSWD, they have certified documents with their permanent names.
“We learned how to respect other people… We felt a big change in our lives. We used to beg for money all day long and get about P200 daily. Our mother would scavenge. I would use some of the money for my studies. When DSWD helped us, we were given a home so we can study. With your help, my two children are now in school and we don’t beg anymore. Even until now. We’re occupied with what we’re doing here now. That’s why we’re grateful. We’re thankful for all of you.” – Nolima Rosali
It was enlightening knowing that these people are now in good hands. After hearing the Rosali sister’s stories, my negative perspective on the Bajau community changed tremendously. I can say that Bajau’s are all just misunderstood. They are vibrant, colorful personalities – just like their sense of style (as seen with Nolima). They are passionate, hard-working, and just love life.
Aside from the beadmaking, the program also trains them to make rugs and rags, rosaries (which are being sold abroad), and bags. Did you know Bajau’s are also known to be naturally effective sales-talkers? It goes hand-in-hand with the crafts they’ve learned to make.
There’s one more Bajau I was able to talk to and I was really moved by what she had to say. Her name is Jasmin. Together with her cute son, she told her story about how hesitant she was to go to school when she had the chance to, with DSWD’s help. She had a hard time because she was teased by other students because of the way she looked, the way she talked… but she was determined to learn. Though she was only able to finish grade 5 in elementary school, she said she’s still thankful for the help she got and would continue studying if she had the chance again. But for now, she chose to stop her schooling to raise and earn money for her son. From being another beggar on the streets, she is now happy with where she is now, being supported by DSWD. The last thing she said was this:
“We slowly learned to stop begging on the streets, because we now know that it’s wrong. We are thankful that we were welcomed here. We just wanted to be accepted. We were accepted here. And we [Bajaus] accept all of you too.”
Before leaving, the Rosali sisters were teaching us some words from their native tongue, Sinama (the language of Sama-Bajaus) and welcomed us back to their “home”. I made sure to buy something they made, just as a small help for them. I bought this rosary that I saw was made by Magdalena. So I showed it to her and her sister Nolima on my way out. They joyfully laughed and said, “magsukul (thank you)!”
Photo courtesy of Godly Camitan.