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Empowerment for Social Change in the Philippines

All eyes are on her as she stands up. Her impassioned voice is a magnet, pulling people’s attention. Her tone is resolute and confident, almost like a political candidate campaigning to get votes.

The woman, however, is not a politician, although the work she is doing is also for the good of her locality. Rather, she is a community volunteer of Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan; Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services), the community-driven development (CDD) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the Philippines.

Putting aside that alphabet soup, Kalahi-CIDSS’ name already provides a clue as to its purpose. “Kapit-bisig laban sa kahirapan” means “linking arms against poverty,” and it's what the program seeks to achieve: combat poverty by training people so they themselves serve as key players in development. The program has identified at least 4.6 million poor families to help them access opportunities so they can become self-sufficient by 2022.

In Kalahi-CIDSS, people are given the right to identify, implement, and maintain small-scale community projects – which is usually funded by pooling resources from the program and local government units – that would help address gaps in their access to basic services. More than this, however, Kalahi-CIDSS’ main project is to empower people to become active agents of social change, at least for development in their communities.

What is tricky about empowerment is that it is a concept not that easy to define, at least quantitatively, but it can be understood by the way it manifests itself.

 It is seen in a woman who, despite having little educational background and being occupied with being a housewife, is nonetheless able to express her community’s problems because she has found her voice in volunteering.

Or in a man who, despite having only one leg, is able to find the strength to serve as a construction worker, not only so he will be able to earn some money, but also because he sees how his participation can help improve his village’s condition, despite the fact that he is a person with disability.

It is seen in a group of people who, tired of being continually affected by flooding in their area, choose and implement a small-scale disaster risk reduction facility that doubles as an evacuation center to ensure that they, along with the other residents, will have a better chance of surviving future disasters.
 It is also seen in another group which, having caught a local government official trying to re-channel funds or supplies for their community project, has the courage to report the anomalies to the proper authorities, regardless of the possible problems they might encounter while challenging a politician.

Similar – and real – accounts like these have happened, are happening, and will happen across the Philippines enabled by CDD programs like Kalahi-CIDSS. The project has been recently scaled up to cover more areas, especially those hit by typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

For some people, these stories might seem minor and insignificant; for those who are actually living these lives, what they are doing through the program is far from small. Their volunteerism not only results in their empowerment, but it leads to improvement in their respective communities as a result of their hard work.

These are only mid-term effects. One long-term effect we hope that will happen – and is already seen in some areas – is to have citizens become agents of change taking the lead in social development, even without Kalahi-CIDSS in the picture.

We are optimistic because there are now many people, men and women alike, who started their involvement in the program in much the same way as the woman with the impassioned voice, and remain active in their community involvement within and outside of Kalahi-CIDSS.