Four women give face to dev't of a poor village in Masbate

San Pascual, Masbate - Teresita Talisic, Elizabeth Marquez, Mary Jane Bani, and Gregoria Rudina are no strangers to poverty.

They are residents of Laurente, one of the 22 barangays of this town.

Laurente is a community rich in natural resources, but provides limited opportunities for residents already steeped in poverty.

Living in the coastal part of  Laurente, Teresita makes money as a fish vendor going around and outside her village.

Lack of access path

Oftentimes, her hard work does not yield profitable results. She said that it was difficult to sell fish because she had to traverse an unpaved, muddy path in the village.

“Dati po, naga-buy and sell po ako.  Sus na sakit. May surusuknong ako na balde. Pag mahalnas, nadudulas po ako.Tirigaya! Purot ko naman su mga sira. Ilaog ko naman sa balde (I used to buy and sell fish. It was difficult as I had to carry a pail full of fish. I often slipped and stumbled because the path was slippery. I should then pick up the fish I dropped and put these back in the bucket),” she narrated gesturing how she tripped when passing through the rough road.

Teresita was embarrassed to sell her fish because these were mud-spattered. As a result, she ended up earning little for all her hard work.

Her problem was common to the other fish vendors as bringing their goods to the market was difficult owing to the lack of a proper access path.

Fish buyers would usually go to Laurente to haggle, and would often get lower prices for the products, always citing the difficulty in transporting the goods as their leverage.

As a result, the vendors would agree to lower prices having little choice over the matter. For them, even the little money is better than nothing.

The farmers of the village also had the same problem, peddling their produce for very low prices.

The absence of an access path to and from the village also proved difficult for mothers and pregnant women, especially in going to the already dilapidated health center.

Elizabeth, a community health worker and a mother herself, felt for the women, as she saw how difficult it was for them to travel by foot just to get basic medical attention. She added that their small health center aggravates the problem.

“Pagkasadit-sadit kang samuyang health center. Masikip talaga siya (Our health center is very small. It’s really crowded),” she described.

The lack of a proper access way has long plagued the residents of Laurente.

Mary Jane was one of the women in the community who had to suffer from this problem.

At a young age, she had experienced to be away from her family just to finish high school back in the 1990s.

She left home and stayed in a boarding house near San Pascual National High School as the school is too far from their place. She endured one and a half hour of travel by foot for four years during weekends, so she could go home to her family.

Mary Jane was one of the lucky ones who was able to get her high school diploma. Most parents were not able to send their children to high school because they either could not afford to do so, or because of the distance of the nearest school to their community.

Dream infrastructures

Such was the longtime problem of the rural community that when the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) introduced the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), the villagers gave their full support.

Through Kalahi-CIDSS with funding support of the Spanish Government’s Agencia Espanola de Cooperacion Internacional para el Desarollo (AECID), and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP),  Laurente now has its dream infrastructures – a health center and a concrete pathway.

Kalahi-CIDSS is a unique, community-driven development program which utilizes people’s participation and community empowerment as its core strategies.

At present, an additional 210-meter path walk is being constructed, through OPAPP’s Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program.

The access road in Laurente has greatly eased the lives of the villagers, as their travel time has been cut from almost two hours to 30 minutes.

Light vehicles such as motorcycles and tricycles are now able to transport passengers. Children are now also able to go to school more easily.

Fisherfolks and farmers also now have a better chance of generating more income, as they can bring their products to the market at no additional cost and without price cuts.

Faces of volunteerism

The success of Kalahi-CIDSS in Laurente can be attributed to the active participation of the residents throughout the process of project implementation.

Wanting to improve their community, Teresita, Elizabeth, Mary Jane, and Gregoria, found themselves leading the volunteers for the construction of the concrete pathway.

“Dae matatapos ang proyekto kung dae kami nagkasararo (The project will not be completed unless we come together),”  Mary Jane said.

The women readily took up their new roles when they were elected by their fellow villagers as the leaders in the implementation of their projects, even if they knew that there would be no monetary compensation. Their motivation was simple – to help change their community for the better.

As mothers, they knew that the work they do will eventually benefit their children and the succeeding generations.

“Magadan man ako, marurumduman ninda si mama palan nagtabang diyan (Even if I die, my children will remember that I helped here),” Gregoria said.

They also learned about the other aspects of project implementation such as procurement and documentation.  In the process, they, too, empowered themselves.

Gregoria was responsible for accomplishing the documents needed for the project.  She, together with her children, rendered a four-day free labor service during the construction of their pathway back in 2013.

“Ining pathway, kung maagi ako, marumduman ko na saro ako jan sa nagtabang, pati mga aki ko (Every time I walk on this pathway, I will remember how my children and I extended our assistance to our village),” she added.

Like in any project, there were also setbacks in implementation, such as the negative reactions of their fellow residents.

According to Elizabeth, they focused not on the problems, but on the brighter side of their situation. They  look for solutions to resolve problems that may delay the implementation of their project. They even used these opportunities to learn more about themselves and how they deal with other people.

“Natuto ako magdara ning tawo na may iba ibang attitude (I learned to handle people with different attitudes),” said Gregoria.

Unexpected opportunities

Another opportunity which came to Laurente is the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the conditional cash transfer program implemented by DSWD.

Pantawid Pamilya invests in the health and education of poor households, particularly children aged 0-18, by way of providing conditional cash grants to compliant beneficiaries.

Teresita and Gregoria’s families are among the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries in Laurente. They have since learned to become more responsible parents to their children through the program’s Family Development Sessions (FDS), which are learning sessions for the parents to be responsible caretakers of their children.

“Naaraman ko po kung malnourished ang aki ko ta regular kami magpa-checkup (I will be able to monitor if my child is malnourished because we go to the center for regular checkups),” Teresita said.

“Grabe samuya ang tabang ki Pantawid Pamilya. Natugunan ang sa health, edukasyon asin dakol nabago sa sakuyang sa sadiri dahil sa FDS (Pantawid Pamilya greatly helped us. Health and educational needs are met. I have changed in many ways because of FDS)”, Gregoria said.

She also mentioned that she was able to replace the tattered clothes of her children with decent ones, as well as buy them black shoes and school supplies through the cash grant of Pantawid Pamilya.

Movers of development

These DSWD programs brought the much-needed development of Laurente.

More importantly, the projects gave confidence and skills to the residents, especially to  Teresita, Mary Jane, Gregoria, and Elizabeth.

The transformation of these women represents the onset of development in their community. Before, they only know poverty.

But now, they know development.  In fact, they had become  movers of development, taking the lead in improving their community

“Kayang-kaya na ning Brgy. Laurente na magtindog bilang sarong komunidad para ipadagos ang paguswag (Brgy. Laurente can now stand on its own  to continue the progress),” Mary Jane said, her voice brimming with confidence. ###