Features

The doubts I used to harbour

By BIENVENIDO SANDAGAN

Kalahi-CIDSS Volunteer (Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee Chairperson)

Barangay Talinga, Leon B. Postigo, Zamboanga del Norte

 

It felt like there was a frog in my throat. I made notes for that day, but the funny thing was none of the words on the card made any sense to me. My knees were shaking, and I was drenched in cold sweat. I was in a nervous trance. Could I actually say something?

On that memorable January morning last year (2011), our community celebrated the inauguration of a much-needed facility – a new school building. I was tasked to give a simple speech of thanks. However, I was plagued with the same reservations I felt when I participated in Kalahi-CIDSS activities. I had doubts that I would actually be able to pull it off.

It all started more than two years ago. The project began with barangay assemblies. At that time, I was hesitant to participate, as with my fellow residents. Who can blame us? Projects simply came and went before. We didn’t even know what happened to them.

However, what went on in the Kalahi meetings was different from what we had experienced before. At the very start,  fellow volunteers and I threshed out our community’s problems in the PSA (Participatory Situational Analysis). There was a community facilitator assigned to us, but in essence, we did all the talking. We soon learned that the activity was to come up with a plan that will hopefully be able to address our community concerns in due time. This sort of thing never happened with the previous projects.

Still, I had my reservations. What would happen next? We were oriented on the Kalahi-CIDSS process, but did we have any assurance that our sacrifices, if we were to give them, would actually amount to something? It was difficult to say yes to that question back then. 

The more exciting part was of the process during the MIBF (Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum). It was like the elections all over again, except this time, we, the community volunteers instead of politicians, took center stage. This time, instead of campaigning for people to be elected into political offices, we advocated the prioritization of our community’s development project (since Kalahi-CIDSS funds are limited, only select barangays would be able to avail of these funds, although all barangays are eligible to apply in each of the three Kalahi-CIDSS cycles). Our barangay was fortunate enough to be included for prioritization.

I became the Barangay Sub-Project Management Team Committee Chairperson, the community’s project head. Once again, I doubted. Being in this position, I was tasked to sign checks worth many thousands of pesos.

I never expected that I would ever sign a single check in my lifetime, much more something worth as much as this. I do not even have a bank account of my own! I was overwhelmed. I was also afraid. I was responsible for issuing huge amounts of money. If ever there would be a problem with the disbursements, I would most likely be the one held accountable. I am a very simple person; I barely even completed my elementary education. I did not want to commit a single mistake, and there was definitely no room for one.

There were nights when I would find myself wondering about my tasks.  How did I end up in such a position? If they catch a mistake, would I end up in jail? Would I survive jail? Would I even survive the whole sub-project implementation and see the school building through its completion? Did I expect to get any amount for the services I rendered from all this? I just wanted to give up.

But I had to let go of my doubts and qualms. We have come so far with our sub-project, and there is so much to lose if I decided to turn back; seeing the construction materials being delivered, and seeing the building rise, was very reassuring.

I always prayed for guidance, and I guess the thing that kept me going was knowing that I was doing something voluntary, something good for the community. What we were doing was realizing our community’s longed-after dream for our children’s future.

I have grown to understand that the Kalahi process does not simply aim to provide communities with their own projects. Attending meetings, seminars and trainings made me realize that much was spent to give us adequate knowledge on seemingly complex concepts like procurement, engineering, and the like – things that we didn’t have the means to learn in ordinary circumstances.

The trainings were surprisingly simple.

I never expected the trainings to be that simple. Once you get the hang of it, especially the technical English terms, the process became very easy to understand. Because of those trainings, we volunteers were capacitated to implement this school building on our own. Because we did the project on our own, terms like “sub-standard materials”, “variation orders”, “detailed estimates” and much more became common to us. Kalahi-CIDSS, it seems, matured me and the other volunteers, both in knowledge and personality.

I used to be a very shy person. I had difficulty speaking in front of even just a handful of people. When I spoke, the words that came out from my lips were often not the words that I had intended. I felt like it was better to remain silent than to embarrass myself in front of people.

When they told me that I was to give a speech in front of the mayor and several other government officials, I became a nervous wreck. Even though I was given ample time to prepare, each day leading up to the inauguration date dripped down on me like hot oil.

The day finally came. Before I knew it, I was already at the podium, facing a great number of people.

For a few moments, I was speechless. I simply stood there. But at that podium, the memories as a volunteer came rushing back. I remembered my sacrifices. I remembered my doubts. And I remembered how we successfully built a community’s thirteen-year-old dream – on our own.

What we had accomplished for our community was overpowering, beyond words.

I let out a nervous sigh, smiled a little, and heaping all the confidence that I could muster, I began my speech.