PILAR, Surigao del Norte – When President Benigno S. Aquino, III took office in 2010, his declaration of a promise kayo ang boss ko (you are my boss) was met with glee and respite among the poor in the country and Corazon Blase, 37, of Brgy. Katipunan was all ears to what seemed to be a reading of a love letter that warmed her heart and filled her with hope.

Hailing from a family of fisher folks that has seen the many faces of poverty, Corazon, a mother of four (4), knew what it was like to be left alone with nothing. She has experienced many a time waking up abandoned in their house with an empty pot and scouring for leftovers from the night before as her parents leave for work.

That was a nightmare any mother wouldn’t want her children to experience.

Back in the early 2000s, Corazon worked as a barangay secretary earning PhP 1,200.00 per month in which she knew well an income that low is never enough to feed his family and put her children to a good school

Corazon’s husband, Alfredo had no permanent job and only earning a meager amount to purchase their basic needs, the family found it very difficult to support the educational and health needs of its members.

“We were living at the mercy of government assistance that time. We depended much on whatever the local government gave us as long as it’s free,” Corazon shared.

This is generally echoed by just about everyone else in far-flung areas in Caraga region and for the past decade, the region has seen itself ranked as the poorest in the country.

People like Corazon were attuned to the state of affairs being the local government unit solely implementing a program of any agency, with the beneficiaries becoming too dependent making it harder for these people to propel themselves up in the society.

It was only in 2007 that the perception of Corazon and the rest of the community in Brgy. Katipunan were changed for days to come.

 

Making the voice count

Corazon never would have imagined how big an impact her voice can change her community when she became a volunteer for an anti-poverty project of the government that takes heed of what people are thinking and generates the best solution in answering community issues.

“I was a lurker in barangay assemblies conducted by staff from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) back then. How could I not be? I have not finished my studies and yet these people came in our barangay teaching us these complicated steps in project implementation that we found very intimidating and in no way a mere fisherman could comprehend,” Corazon recounted.

But she had to join these meetings. She needed to.

She thought who then would have to make a move to bring development in their community as the project so promised them of having during these unfortunate times?

Corazon took a critical part in the implementation of the project as she performed duties as member of the audit and inventory (AIT) team. Along with other members, she was tasked in inspecting and monitoring materials delivered in the construction of the barangay’s seawall and that meant dealing with suppliers and providing report to the community during meetings.

The project, Kalahi-CIDSS or Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services, is the flagship community-driven development (CDD) project of the Philippines that invests greatly in the human capital by giving them the power to participate in local governance by identifying their own community needs, planning, implementing, and monitoring the project to address local poverty issues in the community.

When the seawall was finished within a month, Corazon could not believe it and said that her faith and confidence to a government project like Kalahi-CIDSS was restored.

“We were all shocked when the seawall was completed in less than a month. I never would have imagined that a housewife like me who didn’t even finish high school could take part in discussing the future of our barangay.” Corazon realized that one’s voice could really go a long way by making it heard and counted.

The once sleepy village of Brgy. Katipunan went on to receive five more rounds of implementing Kalahi-CIDSS with different funding sources and four more additional infrastructures, which kept them busy as bees, due to their successful implementation.

Corazon on the other hand never winked an eye and continued her pursuit that one day she will present her family a brighter future.

In the year that followed, Corazon was chosen as a leader of another program of DSWD due in part to her apparent zest and passion in serving the community.

 

Wealth in education and health

The inclusion of Corazon’s family in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in 2008 couldn’t have come sooner as she was already serving as chairperson of the Kalahi-CIDSS barangay sub-project management committee when she was delegated as parent leader.

Volunteering for her community was one thing she gladly took on though working for her children she says gets the job done easier.

“Before Kalahi-CIDSS and 4Ps, nanay was always around us at home when there’s not much work in the barangay hall. Waiting for tatay for his catch and hawking the fish in the village was always the order of the day but now both of them are always busy,” Corazon’s eldest daughter, Honey Grace who was still in freshman year in high school that year when she became a beneficiary of 4Ps, shared.

Judy Ann, 14, Corazon’s youngest said that her nanay is busy monitoring that the conditions of the program are always met so when it’s time to collect the family’s monthly cash grant of PhP 300 per child for education and PhP 500 for the entire household for health, Corazon can surely maximize the financial assistance to what is needed by her children in terms of their educational and health needs.

“Pantawid Pamilya helped our family especially in buying our things like medicines, bags, shoes, uniforms, notebooks, and other school supplies,” Judy Ann added.

The program aims to eradicate poverty in the Philippines by investing in health and education of children aged 0-14. It is a long term investment that Corazon sees as a pretty good investment that she is hoping will surely bring her children out of poverty.

“Our elementary school here has seen a surge in the number of enrollees since 4Ps was introduced. The program guarantees that as long as children are regularly attending classes and their health are taken care of, the mind is sound enough to learn and for the kid to have enough energy to ace his or her studies,” Corazon said.

Although the program was not all smooth with its share of stories off-putting some beneficiaries, yet having religiously attended and attentively listened to monthly family development sessions (FDS) that help build character to parents, Corazon aided in explaining to other members the fundamentals of the program.

Pantawid Pamilya implanted not only cash grants but life lessons to the beneficiaries. Lessons they can live by and pass on to their children. The program eliminated ignorance and empowered not only Corazon but the rest of the beneficiaries through their regular attendance to the family development sessions.

If you ask Corazon’s youngest who she wants to become when she grows older, Judy Ann says that she sees herself teaching elementary students in her alma mater in the future.

 

Financial stability

However, life in the island is as unpredictable as the weather where typhoons ravage this part of the region frequently and consequently affects the livelihood of the people.

Like most of the family here that subsists daily on fishing, Alfredo finds it difficult to fish at night when a storm signal is in place. This means that the family has to scrimp for whatever food they saved for the week.

“The grant that we receive from 4Ps is used entirely for the education and health needs of my children so in the past, when a typhoon stays for a week, we really don’t have much left to buy for food,” Corazon said.

The typhoon season that lasts for five months starting in July has made the people of Katipunan more responsive in this situation and fortunately for Corazon, the DSWD has provided a sustainability scheme for set one Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries or those beneficiaries nearing graduation from the program.

The sustainable livelihood program of the DSWD through the Self-Employment Assistance para sa Kaunlaran (SEA-K) allowed beneficiaries to have opportunities to small-scale businesses. Along with nineteen other Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, they formed an association called Swine Saver Association receiving PhP 10,000 for each member to venture in microenterprise.

“Before we received the loan, we underwent a series of financial literacy and sustainability trainings for six months to prepare us in our individual projects. I proposed a new banca and fishing nets for Alfredo to boost our income,” Corazon said.

Corazon sometimes think that she’s very lucky as good fortune has been on her side these past years. Presently, aside from increasing their income, the Blase family has a two-hectare coconut plantation that was leased to them. They harvest an abundant supply of copra that translates to an income of PhP 4,000 quarterly.

“The only thing certain to me right now is that as long as I live, I will continue to provide for my family,” Corazon said.

“I am not ashamed of my past living in destitute condition. The education that was denied of me has never stopped me learning from the trainings and workshops I received from Kalahi-CIDSS, Pantawid Pamilya, and SEA-K,” she added.

Corazon proudly shared that she is now a better mother in terms of managing finances for the family. In fact, she has saved enough money to pay the capital seed fund that was given to her by DSWD. She also now sends Hope Grace to a decent college in Davao City – her biggest accomplishment to date.

She now serves as a ‘talking head’ for the convergence strategy of DSWD that aims to complement the social protection programs of the government and maximize the services that the poor can benefit from.

Asked if she ever gets tired of her multiple tasks in the community in addition to her role as a mother and wife, Corazon quips, “Did you know that Corazon in Spanish means heart? A work never becomes a work when you put your heart in it.” ### (Camille Stacy L. Apura and Keneath John O. Bolisay/Social Marketing Unit – DSWD Caraga)