Straight from the Heart

Written by: Haide Liz Septimo-Manuta

Kalahi-CIDSS Financial Analyst III


Ten years ago at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon while I was in the midst of selling bread in my sister's bakery, I received a text message informing me that I was hired as a bookkeeper by the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Kapit-Bisig Laban Sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (DSWD Kalahi-CIDSS).

The following day, I reported to the Department’s regional office in Tacloban City and joined the team immediately. In that fateful meeting, I was asked if I would be willing to be assigned anywhere in the region. Without any hesitation, I said “yes”.

It was my first job. I told myself I would work in the sky with the clouds if I had to just so I can fit my role. Little did I know I would be assigned in an area that was close to that, as Jipapad, Eastern Samar was up the mountains, practically meeting the skies. I remember an old friend who told me, “Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.”

Needless to say, I went to the municipality where I was assigned to, and had the most exciting roller coaster ride of my life (note: I hate riding roller coasters). For three years I lived and survived in Jipapad, where there was no electricity, no network signal for cellular phones, and no water supply.

I never knew such place existed. All my life, I’ve been surrounded by switches for electricity, water faucets, and cellular and landline phones. I had none of these in Jipapad.

Those were not the only things missing in Jipapad. Being in that place almost broke my heart into pieces. I saw how siblings, mostly children, inside the bahay kubo (nipa hut) they called their home fighting over a piece of kamote (sweet potato) and some buko (coconut) for lunch.

I witnessed people scrambling for the roofs of their houses whenever a typhoon hits the place, as the town would surely be flooded. My heart broke when the man whom I considered the perfect barangay leader, the man who would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning just to see us to the pier to go back home and would shed a tear whenever we left, was shot and killed in the middle of a barangay assembly, either a case of mistaken identity or a stray bullet that led to his death. I ached to see the townsfolk with their eyes hungry and aching, hoping that the government will help them answer their poverty issues.

I was emotionally burdened with all these domestic problems. I found myself wishing a thousand times I could do more than just teach the villagers how to manage project funds. My experience in Jipapad hardened my heart, washed away my ideals, and slapped me with the reality of poverty. Despite this, in the three years I was assigned there, we were able to implement several water systems and school buildings. We transformed their dirt barangay roads into concrete. We constructed a hanging bridge. We were even the first government agency to reach the area and implement an ambitious electrification sub-project.

Above: A closer look of Ms. Haide Liz Septimo-Manuta (center, in white) in between representatives from developmental partner organizations; Below: Dialogue with the community volunteers in Hernani, Eastern Samar during the World Bank-MCC-KC Implementation Support Mission. Manuta joining the group as Financial Analyst and at the same time an interpreter.

What made the Project even more striking was that almost all of these were made by the hands of the residents. In Kalahi -CIDSS, it is the people within the community who handles everything, from planning, budgeting, up to implementation. All these allowed me to look back through those years with proud smile. I could say that my roller coaster ride was not so bad after all. It was in 2006 that I joined the regional team as the Assistant Regional Financial Analyst. During that time, I said “Wow!” – a reaction that many of us involved in the Project could certainly relate to. I may have been a mess during that time, experiencing culture shock at every corner, but I learned a lot.

I learned to stay calm, to just smile, even if I could no longer hear myself as I talk because my heart pounded harder, dominating all the sounds around me due to nervousness.

I learned to stay ready and prepared, and be responsible for everything that I do.

I learned to develop myself through the guidance of our leaders and mentors who stayed with us during our struggle to reach the top. Special mention goes to our former Regional Program Manager for the project. Thank you, Ma’am. I will never be the same again. I became braver and better. For the past 10 years, I maintained a good relationship with my better half. Long distance relationship was hard, especially since there was no way for us to communicate regularly. While I was working with the clouds, he was definitely not in Cloud Nine! Even so, he understood and my job was never was a problem. Not once did he give up on me. We survived the challenge, got married, and are now blessed with our angel Alizandro.

Just recently, a friend asked me, “Why are you still stuck with that kind of work? It’s very unstable. There is no security”. Now, I tell you, “Friend, I’m not stuck. I am working with the community that really needs us, exercising the profession that my parents worked hard in so I could stay in the industry in the future. Indeed, I have landed a good job, where I could serve the community with hard work, commitment and passion. These are the things that linger in my mind, every time I am asked why I stay as a MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) worker.

“So if you say I’m stuck, I say, yes I am. But happily stuck working with the government’s project which is empowering the community, recognizing convergence efforts with the local governments and strengthening their capacity for local governance and addresses local poverty issues. That is Kalahi-CIDSS.”

Kalahi-CIDSS project uses the community-driven development strategy in addressing local poverty issues.