A letter to a friend:
Hi there! I would like to congratulate you for taking this challenge of working with the disadvantaged citizens, especially women, in your place. I am congratulating you because this is a noble, but a difficult path you have taken, a path very few have taken. Don’t be frightened because I tell you, it’s a very rewarding job.
I am a late bloomer in development work. Prior to this, for a long time, since I was 19 years old, I have been working with big corporate companies – those that have been exploiting the masses, capitalizing on their sweat and blood to make the big bucks to benefit a few I should say. At that time, I did not see it that way. I thought that having been educated well coupled with skills and right working ethics was a ticket to be better at life, no matter what the cost to other people would be.
However, with the twist of fate, at 40 years old, 21 years ago, I found myself working alongside development workers, as an administration staff. I did not consider myself as a development worker then because I thought that since I was working with logistics and finance, it was not related much to development work.
However, as time went by, I found myself working with the poor in the urban communities, then with marginalized children and later on with lumad1 communities in the far flung areas – living in their midst. In these works, my eyes were opened to the realities of life – things that were never taught in the universities. In the past, I thought that the poor remained poor because they were lazy. I was wrong. Media was wrong. The disparity between the rich and the poor was a result of the oppressive system of the haves against the have nots. I realized early on in my work as a development worker that I have to give back from the privileged life I lead.
From this realization, I did not just become a development worker but a rights defender, starting with children. Teaching them their rights and how to realize these and to demand from the duty bearers their responsibility towards the marginalized and disadvantaged children most especially. Working with children taught me to be patient and to enjoy what life has to offer. I learned of their resiliency and their capacity to contribute to bettering lives and not just be a recipient of adults’ ideas and efforts. From children’s works, I was given the opportunity to expand my experiences to working with women and then with the indigenous peoples (IP)/lumad.
Working with the lumad was definitely a different terrain for me. Living in a beautiful setting where air was fresh and mountain water was used for drinking, the stream was our bathing area and our food were mostly fresh. I worked with the literacy/education program of the lumads in our region in Mindanao.
However, organizing and working with the lumad has a price to pay. I am not speaking about the physical aspect of it. I loved trekking for hours and hours, crossing rivers, hills, mountains and forests just to reach the communities we serve. We were tagged as reds, leftists or outrightly rebels. Our teachers were interrogated and harassed and even threatened to be killed by government soldiers, who were supposed to protect the lives and safety of those they have been harassing.
At the onset of these human rights violations in 2011, our team became the target. We did not have security measures in place and since I was not in the area at this time. We launched a campaign to counter these harassment and I became the spokesperson. Hence. I became one of the targets. After receiving threats, and our office was target of intelligence surveillance, there was a must to come up with a comprehensive policy on security. Personally, as one of the members of the management, it was imperative to ensure that our staff followed the policies that have been set – for some it was difficult to follow. Regular assessments of the situations and the implementations were important. New skills had to be learned not just for me but for my colleagues as well. The policies we had identified was not just for the team or organization but for the community as well.
There were many hurdles, difficulties and tears. Trumped up charges were even filed against us. But when the storm was over, the outpouring love and concern by the lumad community is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
A grandma fighting for the rights, wellness and welfare of lumad, children and women.