A village transformation
“Please put on your vest,” the boatman reminded the people on board. Vests in striking orange rested on the wooden benches; adults and children took one while they continued chattering with their seatmates and checking their Facebook accounts.
The ride was smooth. The early morning the sun wasn’t harsh, and its reflection bounced off the blue sea. From afar, the mountain silhouettes guarded the horizon. After a 30-minute ride, a long streak of island began to appear. Small and big motorized boats docked on the pier. Passengers removed their orange safety vests and started to queue towards the front deck.
They arrived in a quaint village in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It can be reached by a 30-minute boat ride or a 45-minute land transport by van. “There were no vans before. We only ride boats and dared the sea waves,” explained Eliza Pekitpekit, 44, World Vision community leader.
Many of the villagers are fishermen, though some are rice and corn farmers. Housewives stay home to care for their children.
“When we came here there were more cogon grass than houses. Now that our village has become a resettlement site, the population has grown. You cannot see cogon but rough roads where tricycles pass by every now and then and students walk in groups in the morning and afternoon. So much has changed here,” said Eliza.
Around this time, about 20 years ago, World Vision and Ligaya ng Buhay Foundation, a World Vision partner community organisation, came to the village, the first NGOs the villagers have known.
44-year-old Nerlyn was then a community volunteer. “I was encouraged to join World Vision and Ligaya. At first, they said I would be in charge of the education projects in our village. After some time, I noticed that almost all activity, from livelihood to education to health, became something I had to oversee,” she said, laughing. “But I enjoyed it all. I learned a lot, mostly on proper care for the children. I used to spank my children, but I mellowed after I got involved in World Vision and Ligaya.”
A World Vision and Ligaya community volunteers are usually tasked to monitor sponsored children’s education and health, and report child abuses and issues in the families that may affect children’s well-being. Volunteers undergo child protection and care trainings.
“Before, I didn’t care when the children were playing on top of the trees or swimming in the port. But now, whenever I see kids swinging on tree branches or skipping classes to swim at the port, I would rush to tell them to get down from the tree and go home. I have so much concern for them now,” she shared.
As volunteers, Eliza and Nerly do not receive any monetary compensation for all the hard work they do. Nerly had been with World Vision for 20 years and even was on the Board of Trustees, a governing body of Ligaya ng Buhay Foundation. Nerly has retired and spends her time as a village volunteer.
Eliza, on the other hand, has been an active volunteer for more than 15 years. “I love doing volunteer work for World Vision. I can’t explain the happiness I feel when I do my job for World Vision and Ligaya. I get to look after the welfare of children not my own, despite the fact that some children are stubborn,” she jested. Eliza is a Fishery course graduate but never pursued her profession because, as she puts it, she fell in love with volunteer work.
Good to give back
Mercedes Mandawae, 32, proudly showed her new Php40,000 worth of house. “This is from CoMSCA,” she says.
CoMSCA or Community-Managed Savings and Credit Association is a World Vision intervention in the community to help parents acquire the discipline of savings. Poor communities either have no savings or become victims of loan sharks, who charge families high interest rates.
Mercedes’ husband, Jeffrey, 34, is a fisherman earning between Php2,000 to Php10,000 in a week or month. Mercedes admitted the income has to last for months until her husband goes out to the sea again and get a good catch. “On regular fishing days, he would be in the sea from 3PM until 7AM. He sleeps in the morning. On big fishing days, like when they catch yellow fin tuna, they have to spend a week out in the sea. He only comes home only when they have a catch,” she explained.
With two daughters going to school and house bills to pay, the family’s income from fishing is not enough to support the basic needs of the family. “I tried to save money but often I had to spend to meet the daily needs of the family. I never really saved much until I became part of CoMSCA.”
Mercedes joined two CoMSCA groups in her community where she deposits Php100 to Php250 every week as part of her savings. Last December, her savings grew to as much as Php6,000 from the first group and Php10,000 from the second group. She was ecstatic.
“Every Christmas we go home to my parents’ house in the town of Aborlan. Earlier we had money enough only for the bus fare. Now, we are in a position to buy additional food for Noche Buena. It’s feels good that I’m able to give back now,” Mercedes shared. Aborlan is nearly two hours away from Puerto Princesa City.
There are currently 20 CoMSCA groups in the village, with millions of pesos in savings. In Puerto Princesa, Palawan, the village holds the largest formed group record in all World Vision areas.
No more termites
A new and young teacher arrived in her classroom, an open space surround by grasses and illuminated by the sun. She wrote her name on a small portion of the blackboard, infested and ruined by termites. When it rained, they needed to stop and take cover in one of the nice rooms.
“These were my first experiences as a teacher,” says 29-year-old Jem Obligana. Jemima is a Grade 1 teacher in the only elementary school in the village.
World Vision saw the dilapidated condition of the elementary students and helped built a two-room building that is being occupied by Grade 1 students. The community is happy to have a new school building, the villagers volunteered to construct the building. “It is our way of thanking the people who helped us. Now, we’re safe inside our classroom, even when it rains. I don’t have to write on a termite-infested blackboard anymore,” says Jemima with a smile on her face.
To mark the “bayanihan” spirit of the villagers, local government officials, Department of Education, World Vision and Ligaya ng Buhay, posted a silver marker on the building, thanking everyone who helped finish the building in December 2009.
Not an easy goodbye
“World Vision and Ligaya Foundation has done many interventions in our village and even invested in building up the community leaders. I’ve learned a lot from volunteering. We have good memories doing our job. To say goodbye is not easy because we’ve been together for years. But we understand. It’s time to help others,” Eliza said.
World Vision will be ending its community program in Puerto Princesa, Palawan this year.World Vision/May 11, 2017