Pilar, Surigao del Norte – Patriarchal societies usually found in developing countries like the African nations and the Philippines – though imperceptibly challenged by modernism – is still very much eminent. Newspaper dailies and research studies abound such stories of power struggle and women and children disenfranchisement.

But a sleepy, remote fifth class municipality in Siargao Island will strongly exclude themselves from this reality.

Such is the position of the people in Brgy. Katipunan, home to 456 households, that when one asks if the village exists where women acquiesce to whatever men desire them to do, a blank expression on the face followed by a cold stare will surely welcome the innocent and the clueless.

“Times have really changed. Men here don’t just give orders to women lest they find themselves hit with canoe paddles,” Manuel Blase, 58, a community volunteer kids.

In this community where men outnumber women, it is surprising to see women leading an assembly of volunteers, making their imprints in decision-making and management of stately affairs and men recognizes this like any other truths in life – a woman is just about as efficient as men in anything that she pursues.

Among these women who stand above them all are three women volunteers who for four years have been assuming the roles of co-implementers of the government’s flagship poverty alleviation project, Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services).

Flora S. Forcadilla, 48, the first woman barangay captain of the village says “Kalahi-CIDSS ushered a kind of developmental intervention we never received from other projects of the government and I am not only talking about building bridges and other infrastructures but changing our way of life here.”

Forcadilla, also a sari-sari store vendor came to know Kalahi-CIDSS during her first term as barangay captain and thought that the project was just another government effort to somehow address poverty and nothing more. “At first, we thought that the local government unit here would implement the project for us as they usually did. But we were surprised when the DSWD staff told us that we would be implementing it with support from the LGU. We were mum about it since the process involved very complicated steps that we found intimidating and in no way a mere fisherman could comprehend,” she shares.

Implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development since 2003 with funding assistance from the World Bank, Kalahi-CIDSS builds on the social technology called community-driven development (CDD) wherein the local people are given control to key development decisions and responsibility to their identified sub-projects that will address the community’s felt needs and problems.

The project carries three objectives, namely: improving local governance, empowering communities and consequently reducing poverty. It is in these objectives that the project has become what it is today – serving as the learning laboratory for other developmental projects throughout Southeast Asia is the honor that it holds.

Kalahi-CIDSS has not only been connecting far-flung barangays to basic social services but it invests heavily on the human capital empowering children, youth, women, senior citizens and everyone else. Forcadilla prides herself in this, “Kalahi-CIDSS does not give people power for they already have it in them, but it helped us cultivate a sense of empowerment. And today I am thankful that the project’s objectives eased my work as a leader in the community.”

Embedded within the Community Empowerment Activity Cycle (CEAC) or simply a guide for implementation is a five-stage multi-activity process consolidated in one year designed to systematically mobilize the capacity of local people to prioritize their development needs.

The views and gratitude that Forcadilla feels are mirrored by her barangay clerk who was elected as the project’s Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee (BSPMC) chairperson, Corazon Penera Blase saying that “Kalahi-CIDSS has taught me a lot of things. It allowed me to mobilize my community easily during barangay assemblies – since our first sub-project was realized back in 2007, the volunteers saw their dreams came true and the passion among them was magnified for they were the ones who put the seawall into realization.”

The Kalahi-CIDSS framework assures that those considered “grassroots” or those who belong to the poorest segment of the society are given a voice in the implementation process. Blase, a mother of four, says that working as a volunteer for the project feels like working for the whole country, a role she says is very daunting given that they are likened to armies fighting a war on poverty. For her, poverty can not be eradicated overnight and we must slowly grapple our way towards development.

“It is a win-win situation for us and we could never be more thankful to the government – we learned things that was far-fetched for most of the volunteers in the village who only attained primary education and did not have much to offer,” Blase shares.

She added that “we think that we are very fortunate that the trainings and seminars that we got from the project had benefited us all and was not put into waste. At the end of the day, all the planning and analysis of our issues were leaned towards identifying the appropriate sub-projects for our barangay through active participation in all activities.”

By empowering local communities, volunteers like Forcadilla and Blase are given roles in propelling development in their community. They are given not just a chance but a room to freely exercise their right to decide on issues affecting their own development.

“I remember there was a time in one of our barangay assemblies that we didn’t reach the quorum that I had to go to each house in the village to invite even a member of the household. There’s another instance that the barangay captain and I scheduled the barangay assembly on a Sunday where each household was complete and gathered them in a ‘salo-salo’ luncheon to enjoin them in the discussion,” Blase shares.

People’s participation being the project’s core requirement, is necessary to the success of all project activities and interventions. Participation will ensure that people are informed on the physical and financial status of the sub-projects and consultations on community issues or problems promotes responsibility and accountability.

“Things like these a volunteer will go the extra mile to ensure transparency of the project as what we were taught. And this mechanism still proved to be reliable and so far, no one has blamed someone nor impugned the project’s process,” she adds bragging that through these efforts, the barangay has maintained a 95% participatory rate in all activities since the first cycle of Kalahi-CIDSS.

Maintaining a high participation rate exposes other constituents as young as Judy Ann to the demands and processes of the project. When she was three years old, Juday had already witnessed what it’s like to be rubbing shoulders with leaders and volunteers alike.

Her mother, the BSPMC chairperson Blase always carried Juday to every activity of Kalahi-CIDSS. Blase wouldn’t let her child be alone in the house given that Juday was still a baby.

Being a child that she is, Juday however loved her excursion to the barangay hall everytime there is an activity for she says that “aside from I enjoy watching my mother speak in front, who wouldn’t enjoy a complete meal in a day with snacks served free?”

Juday, now seven years old, has grown fond of Kalahi-CIDSS that she has become the youngest volunteer in their barangay. She’s been elevated as the unofficial “errand girl” of the BSPMC her mother chairs that is, when time permits of her schedule at school. Sometimes she helps in mixing sand and gravel in making the concrete for their sub-projects.

She may still have no voice in decision-making that comprises much of the meetings conducted but what she lacks for in speech she makes up for in her acting skills. In fact, she is quite the celebrity in her village. Her status is attributable to winning the three sub-projects that were funded by Kalahi-CIDSS during the prioritization of each barangay’s proposed sub-project through dramatization of the barangay’s issue. And just recently, she again captured the hearts and minds of people when their proposed sub-project, rainwater collectors, placed third.

Thanks to her grown-up performance as a lady fetching water from a well, the municipal mayor was moved that he awarded Juday with a prize. Talk about assuming mature roles.

But this star remains humble despite her celebrity status and coyly explains that “my volunteer work is nothing compared to those who really do the planning and those who are always looking for ways to improve the quality of life in our village.”

These women volunteers have truly come a long way in engaging themselves in developmental interventions and giving a voice for others. For them Kalahi-CIDSS has taught them that volunteerism means selflessly disposing whatever there is of help from them and the sensibility to rouse the strength and capacity that are already within them.

Times really have changed. In getting ahead of time, one must get started and these women have shown that standing for everyone in order for their community to steer towards development needs no bright minds or charisma but a voice for the world to hear.

“Our men here may delight in their innate strengths and their decree of ensnaring us with housekeeping but they listen,” Blase concluded.### (Social Marketing Unit)