Juan dela Cruz is in shackles.

Teetering on the brink of hopelessness and survival, he spends life in apparent hardship. Problems are pebbles he needs to step on as he journeys every day; only that they seem endless. With these waves of vulnerabilities – not enough food on plate, scarce family financial resource, unequal job opportunities, and even lack of empowerment in communities – he despondently looks on the chains that have been very difficult to break. However, Juan does not stop on hoping and dreaming that the pebbles of problems will one day become a foundation of change. Even with the shackles on, Juan continues to fight the battle.

He knows he does not fight the battle alone.

Juan is a face of millions of Filipinos who are victims of the cruelty of unjust life opportunities. A lot of them are merely living without being certain of the next day. They are crippled by the horrors of poverty which are sadly passed on to the next generations. With this scenario, it can be seen how these Juans need prompt and caring social services that not only give them temporary ease but in the long run would breed transformation and change.

For 68 years now, the Department of Social Welfare and Development continues to live on its mandate to help the poor and vulnerable sectors in the society and alleviate the living conditions of the poor. From basic protective services of providing assistance to abused women and children, victims of disasters and individuals in crisis situation, DSWD’s brand of service has expanded to programs with long-term transformative goals.

The emergence of the three core programs – Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Sustainable Livelihood Program, and Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) – alongside the protective programs and services, promises not just a band-aid solution to problems but a more humanistic approach to poverty.

Focusing on ushering positive change, DSWD emphasizes that these individuals and families can make valuable contributions to the community they belong. A proactive member of the society is empowered when he or she is provided with an opportunity to take part in household and community decision-making and when his or her potentials are recognized and acknowledged. As a partner for change, the Department provides the platform to them so that instead of simply easing their pains, they can be empowered to find ways on how to deal with and heal these pains.

DSWD provides a key to the shackles but what the hands do outside the shackles are only results of the assistance the department provides. It does not only target freedom from poverty and vulnerability but most importantly to provide guidance on what to do on that freedom; so that a single Juan may also be an agent of freeing others from the chains he once was in.

This is why the vulnerable are educated through Pantawid Pamilya’s learning development sessions, rehabilitated through the youth centers, provided income-generating livelihoods through SLP, engaged in community decision-making through the Kalahi-CIDSS, and trained through different learning sessions for women and persons with disability. This is the heart of DSWD’s service – transformation.

Juan dela Cruz used to be in shackles.

He used to journey life with apparent hardship. Each pebble he stepped onto was a manifestation of poverty and vulnerability. But he still stood up and reached out.

Today, the shackles are gone. And with transformative change, he learned through others’ “maagap at mapagkalingang serbisyo,” he too now becomes a “katuwang sa pagbabago.”

Because he knows battles should not be fought alone, with DSWD, he will not let another Juan fight the battle alone.

(Note: This essay won as first place on an intra-agency essay writing competition during DSWD-Caraga’s 68th anniversary celebration.)###