Even with the challenge of working under various limitations because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the ADRA & HI team was not hindered from kicking off the EMPOWER project. With a mission geared towards strengthening community resilience through encouraging the inclusion of civil society organizations (CSOs) in governance, the project is set to officially launch in Itogon, Benguet on July 22, 2020.
Before launch, the EMPOWER team made rounds to the nine barangays of Itogon to conduct mini Project Inceptions for the DRR-focused EMPOWER project. Headed by their captains, the partner barangays warmly welcomed the project team in their areas. Members of the barangay councils and representatives of CSOs expressed their utmost interest and enthusiasm as the details of the project were presented.
Barangay Captain Albert of Brgy. Poblacion even remarked that the implementation of the project may be a good approach to shift the minds of the people from time to time to thinking about things other than the issues brought by the pandemic.
However, with a project that focuses on the development of communities through capacity building activities, there are still reservations from the partners with regards to the success of its implementation. As testified by some barangay officials and leaders of organizations, most community members only participate in projects and activities when there are tangible benefits for them.
Despite this, there was still the undeniable role of the community members that is recognized by the government. In fact, during the baseline survey conducted in the project areas, the Secretary of Brgy. Ampucao said that CSOs have very significant roles in governance and contribution to the barangay because, as representatives of their own sectors, they are the ones who truly know the situation of their communities. In times of disaster, CSOs are often the most effective in responding to the needs of the community members.
In a discussion with a group of women in Brgy. Ucab during one of the mini inceptions, Nanay Milagros, a Purok Leader, stated “Noon, wala talaga kaming pakialam sa mga nangyayari dito sa barangay, lalo pa’t tingin namin kaya naman kahit kanya-kanya. Pero ngayong miyembro na kami ng council at mga asosasyon, naisip namin na may magagawa pala kami para sa barangay”. (translation: In the past, we really didn’t care about what was happening in our barangay, especially since we could survive by ourselves without help from others. But now that we are members of the (barangay) council and other associations, we have realized that we could actually do something for our barangay.)
In that sense, more involvement in the community, through representation in LGU (Local Government Unit) or CSOs, stripped off their indifference in community affairs.
As of now, there is still a long way towards attaining the meaningful participation from the community that is envisioned by the EMPOWER Project. Nevertheless, the project hopes that gradually, there will be more community members with similar perception as Nanay Milagros. When the voices of all people are heard and they realize their roles and capacity to contribute for the community and to governance, there is empowerment. When the community is empowered, they become stronger and more resilient towards any challenges and calamities that they may face.
Note: EMPOWER Project is a 30-month joint project of Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA) and Humanity & Inclusion (HI) through the funding support of European Union (EU).
*EMPOWER – Empowering Municipalities, barangays, CSOs and People’s Organizations through Working together to Enhance disaster and climate Risk governance (EMPOWER) focusing on Civil Society and Local Government in Benguet and Kalinga.