Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mothers’ Woes Solved Through Convergence Of Efforts

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Motherhood is a challenging enough experience, and more so if you have limited resources.

That is exactly the situation that Alice Temulajasay, 53, and Fely Paglinawan, 44, found themselves in, being residents of Barangay Denuyan in Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte.

Despite their condition, Alice and Fely upheld the adage about mothers’ resourcefulness. They were able to come up with means to support their families, with support coming from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the local government unit, and other stakeholders.


 The plight of Siayan

“We are the poorest municipality in the Philippines”, said Siayan Mayor Flora Villarosa baldly, a claim that is consistent with the data of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), which ranked the municipality as the poorest in the country in 2003 and 2009 Small Area Estimates (SAE), at 97.5% and 79.9%, respectively. This means that about 8 out of 10 of its residents are poor.

Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte is located about 100 kilometers from Dipolog City. While farming remains as the main source of livelihood in the municipality, the lack of good access roads makes it difficult for farmers to bring their products to the markets. This, coupled with the difficult terrain of the area, given its hilly and mountainous topography, contributes to the poverty situation of the residents, most of whom belong to the Subanen tribe.

Lack of access to basic social services such as water and electricity, as well as their nutrition and sanitation problems, make the residents’ lives even more difficult.

To make matters even more challenging for those who live in Barangay Denuyan, the village is frequently affected by flooding, as it is situated along the river. The waters reach the roads and even the houses of the residents, endangering the safety of the villagers.

Fely shared, “There have been accidents. A lot of times, our livelihood, as well as the lives of the people and their livestock, is endangered… They get swept away by the waters. Their things are carried away by the flood.”

The challenge of motherhood

This was the situation that Siayan mothers, like Alice and Fely, faced on a daily basis. Although farming, fishing, and animal raising serve as primary sources of income of the residents, most of the time, the money they earn is almost always insufficient to support the families.

Fely stressed, “Our source of livelihood is through rubber production, which gives us little income. We sell it for P10 per kilo, which is cheap. We only earn P150 for each sale, which is not enough to support us.”

Fely’s husband, Pedrito, 46, went back to school, hoping that he would be able to earn more for his family after his schooling. They agreed that Pedrito would support himself to finish his schooling, while Fely will be the one to earn a livingto provide support for their three children, ages 9, 14, and 18.

What they did not anticipate was the difficulty that Fely would encounter in supporting their children.

“It was very hard, because I was the only one who attended to the needs of our children. I was the only one who worked. I was the one responsible for our survival, for our food”, she lamented.

To try to earn more money, she raised pigs, but the income she earned from this, as well as from the rubber production, was still not adequate to support her family.

Alice did not fare any better, despite her husband being a tribal leader. Although some of their 10 children have already left home, she and her spouse still had to raise those who are left in their care, which included one of their grandchildren.

“It is difficult to support the family, especially when it comes to food,” Alice said.

Even though she and her husband work together to earn, him with his buy-and-sell business and her with her crops, which she planted in her backyard, they still struggle to make both ends meet. Most of the time, they found themselves borrowing money just to help the education of their two children and a grandchild.

DSWD’s support

The entry of DSWD’s programs in Siayan proved to be the needed support that families in the municipality were looking for. The Department has three main poverty reduction programs-the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Pantawid Pamilya), the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), and the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS). These three make up the convergence of poverty reduction-related programs that were developed to generate greater impact on poverty reduction.

Alice shared that they no longer have to borrow money for the schooling of their children and their grandchild, as they now use the financial support they get from Pantawid Pamilya, the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the DSWD. This enabled them to use the money to pay off their debts, buy food, and purchase pigs for their small business. The money they saved also allowed them to buy medicines in case anyone in their family gets sick.

She noted that through Pantawid Pamilya, she was able to observe that households in the barangay are now taking better care of their children. Parents now appreciate the value of education by sending their children regularly to school.

Like Alice, Fely shared that the money she gets from Pantawid Pamilya has greatly helped in supporting her children. She uses the cash grants to pay for tuition, school uniforms, school supplies, and medicine.

Another thing that Fely is thankful for the DSWD is the loan she got through the Self-Employment Assistance-Kaunlaran (SEA-K), the predecessor of SLP. She used the loan she gets from the program as capital to buy livestock and crops.

“I make our livelihood by raising chickens and goats, and I now also have crops,” Fely said.

SLP now has 863 partner beneficiaries in Siayan. To date, a total of PhP 8,610,000.00 was allocated to them for capital assistance. Pantawid Pamilya, on the other hand, has 4,139 beneficiary households in Siayan. Of this number, 195 are from Barangay Denuyan.

The arrival of Kalahi-CIDSS, the community-driven development (CDD) program of the DSWD, has also significantly helped the villagers. Through the program, they were finally able to put up a flood control sub-project, which gave them protection during the rainy season.

Fely, who served as one of the Kalahi-CIDSS volunteers, said she felt happy when the flood control infrastructure was completed. Alice, whose husband also volunteered in Kalahi-CIDSS, was also ecstatic because of the flood control sub-project.

“The water used to rise. Our crops die because of the floods. The water no longer rises today,” she said with a smile.

The flood control community project, that was completed on August 31, 2012, has a total cost of PhP 2,826,348.00. A total of seven community projects amounting to PhP 13.13 million were built in Siayan through Kalahi-CIDSS in 2012, which benefited 2,062 households. Siayan has implemented 43 Kalahi-CIDSS community projects since 2005, including but not limited to the construction of roads, hanging bridges, water systems, school buildings, day care centers, and health stations.

A mayor’s support

One aspect that made the implementation of the three poverty reduction programs of DSWD so successful in the municipality was the amount of support poured in by the local government unit, led by Mayor Villarosa.

“My goal is to help Siayan cease being the poorest municipality in the country that is why I brought in innovations to help improve the lives of my constituents,” Mayor Villarosa pointed out.

Mayor Villarosa was responsible for bringing in an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) to Siayan. She shared how difficult it was for the residents in the past when they had to travel to the neighboring town just to get their cash grant.

“Before, they had to commute to Sindangan to withdraw their cash grants from the ATM with an added back-and-forth fare expense,” she narrated.

Realizing the problem, she arranged with bankers in Dipolog City and Sindangan to bring an ATM in Siayan. Eventually, one agreed, which is why Pantawid Pamilya partner-beneficiaries no longer need to spend time and money to get their cash grants, since they can now withdraw money from the newly installed ATM in their own town.

Another innovation she introduced was the hiring of Subanens as teachers of the Family Development Sessions (FDS) of Pantawid Pamilya. She explained that the Subanens have their own set of cultures and practices which they are adamant on preserving. By hiring Subanen teachers to teach in the FDS, not only are the households educated on the lessons espoused by Pantawid Pamilya, they are also able to learn more about and embrace their culture. The local government unit (LGU) also took the opportunity to use the FDS to make announcements on livelihood opportunities and give away vegetable seeds to the residents.

In terms of Kalahi-CIDSS program, Mayor Villarosa said that the program focused on empowing community folks.

She said, “The community owns the projects. It’s neither the barangay captain nor the councilors. It’s really the barangay people who are empowered to choose their community projects.”

She commended Kalahi-CIDSS, as the processes it used enabled Siayan to implement the Bottom-Up Budgeting (BUB) strategy of the national government without any difficulties.

“We do not have problems with BUB because we went through Kalahi-CIDSS. We have already merged with the communities, and they already identified what they want. I want to recognize Kalahi-CIDSS for that – it has greatly helped us in bottom-up planning,” she said.

Her faith in Kalahi-CIDSS is such that she shared how the LGU always includes a budget for the local counterpart contribution, a requirement of the program, in their annual investment plan [AIP].

She revealed, “We are hoping that we will always be part of Kalahi-CIDSS, so we never take out our set budget for that in our AIP. We always have an allotment for that, because we are always wishing and hoping that we will get another round under Kalahi-CIDSS".

In the beginning, however, Mayor Villarosa realized that one of the possible challenges that the program team may encounter is getting the people to participate, a key element in Kalahi-CIDSS, being a community-driven development program, given that citizens before were apathetic about their local situation.

“They did not care about their barangays in the past", she said wryly.

Knowing that teachers are influential in Siayan, she encouraged them to provide incentives to students and parents so they will attend barangay assemblies. The teachers thus provided opportunities to the residents, including scheduling mini-meetings during recess and offering quiz bonuses for those who will bring their parents to barangay assemblies.

The strategy worked.

“The attendance is almost at 100%”, Mayor Villarosa proudly said. The required attendance of Kalahi-CIDSS is 80%.

The strategy proved to be very successful such that even those who live in the far-off barangays actively participated in Kalahi-CIDSS.

As with her Pantawid Pamilya innovations, Mayor Villarosa also brought in Subanen elements to make the villagers become more responsive to Kalahi-CIDSS. The local government unit built up on barangay assemblies being an opportunity for magabet , a Subanen word that means discussions or sharing of stories, saying that the said gatherings will be an opportunity for the villagers to talk as a community on what their needs are.

Mayor Villarosa shared how they made the villagers connect their personal dreams with the community goals, so that all of them can come up with a common objective, which is embodied in the Kalahi-CIDSS sub-project.

In ordinary circumstances, not all of the proposed sub-projects of the barangays are funded at a given cycle in Kalahi-CIDSS, given limited funding. That is why, during the Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum (MIBF), each barangay within the municipality will need to present its proposed sub-project. Out of all of these proposals, residents will then need to vote which of these will be funded by the program.

Realizing that, and seeing the amount of effort put in by the villagers in preparing for the MIBF, Mayor Villarosa and the LGU committed to look for funding for the proposed subprojects that were not prioritized. As a result, even the non-prioritized barangays were able to get their community projects, as the LGU found funders in the likes of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Forging new alliances

The DSWD is not the only organization that provides support to Siayan. In fact, it is part of a coalition called Zamboanga Health Alliance (ZHA), which includes the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), the Department of Health (DOH), the Ateneo de Zamboanga (AdZU), PhilHealth, and the provincial local government units (LGUs).

The alliance was formed when ZFF showed keen interest in Kalahi-CIDSS, which led to the forming of a partnership between the former and the DSWD. The coalition, which started in 2010, was formed to improve the delivery of social services, education, and livelihood opportunities to the poorest municipalities in Zamboanga by way of convergence, through the combination and synergy of its members’ resources and knowledge.

In Siayan, some of the changes and innovations introduced by the ZHA include the construction and/or improvement of birthing facilities and health stations in the municipality, the expansion of basic health care services, and the conduct of monthly health and social welfare barangay caravans.

According to ZHA 2012 report, the collective impact that was generated through the convergence efforts of the Zamboanga Alliance resulted in a 68% reduction of survival level households, from 48,995 in 2011 to 15,565 in 2012. The incidence of hunger also decreased by 2.71%.

New hope for Siayan

All of the efforts poured into by the local government unit, the DSWD, and the supporting organizations and agencies have created a huge impact on the municipality of Siayan. From being a fourth-class municipality, it has now become a second-class municipality. More importantly, all of the efforts placed into by the DSWD and its partners, as well as the LGU, were not lost on the residents like Alice and Fely, who both said that they have greatly benefited from these.

Fely shared, “Our lives have now improved. Those of us who were able to avail of these programs are now able to send our children to school.” She thanked the DSWD for the help provided her saying, “I want to thank the programs of DSWD that have helped our barangay, as they supported us in our difficulties.”

Maybe it was due to Mayor Villarosa’s encouragement of having shared dreams, or perhaps it was because of their own unique circumstances, but both Fely and Alice have the same aspiration: to have their children finish schooling.

Alice said, “We want all our children to finish schooling, not like us who were not able to do so, were not able to reach high school. We want to ensure that our children will be able to finish their studies”.

When asked what Alice hopes the DSWD can improve on, she smiled shyly and said, “It would be better if we get more support”.

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