In Maguindanao, internally displaced women are empowered through agri-entrepreneurship

In Maguindanao, internally displaced women are empowered through agri-entrepreneurship
Hasana Sampayan and other project participants listen to their barangay captain during a community assembly. —PHOTOS COURTESY OF HASANA SAMPAYAN

“I remember during Ramadan last year, at iftar—just as we were about to break our fast—suddenly we heard an explosion. We dropped and ran, carrying our food with us,” Salha Salik, who now lives in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, recalled in Tagalog during a phone interview.

“It’s unpredictable here,” said Salik, 35. “Ever since I was 4 years old, I remember, there have always been armed clashes, whether between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines or between clans (rido). We would wake up in the middle of the night because of gunfire; sometimes, we would flee as our houses burned.”

The constant “skirmishes” are what Hasana Sampayan, 33, who now lives in Guindulungan, remembers: “One day when I was in high school in Talayan, I got home to our barrio and found my family gone. They had to evacuate to another barangay. I told myself: ‘If this is how things will go, what about my education?’”

Sampayan said she knew that her family struggled financially to send her to school. “I decided that after high school graduation, I would work overseas so I could earn money to help my parents and save to go to college,” she said.

She flew to Qatar in 2008 and stayed there for six years. “During that period, I couldn’t go home because there were so many hostilities all over Mindanao,” she said.

Knowledge-sharing, training

Salik and Sampayan are just two of the more than 750,000 persons in Mindanao displaced between 2008 and 2009, according to Amnesty International. They are also among more than 1,500 internally displaced persons who have formed community-based organizations in their respective barangays as part of the Resilient Livelihoods for Women and Youth IDPs in Maguindanao, a project supported by the Australian government and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.

Displaced women in Maguindanao
Salha Salik and fellow members of their community-based organization learn banana chips processing. —PHOTO COURTESY OF SALHA SALIK

Since the project began in December 2022, its participants have undergone skills training programs including, among others, management of community-based organizations and financial literacy, climate-resilient farming, fried food and Bangsamoro condiments processing, food safety and good manufacturing practices. They have also learned about human rights, gender roles, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

According to Badria Ebad, 33, who now lives in Datu Odin Sinsuat, the project participants have been able to put nutritious meals for their families on the table, prepared with vegetables harvested from their backyard gardens.

Sampayan recounted how she and her cousins used to make banana chips that they sold just outside their house. After attending the training sessions, they learned how to make crispier chips and how to compute for pricing to allow them to make a profit.

Beyond business sense

But more than the skills they gained, Salik believes that the project adds value by fostering empowerment and a collaborative environment, helping them build and strengthen their sense of community. 

In Maguindanao
Hasana Sampayan addresses other women who have learned to rebuild their lives.

Salik said that while tending their gardens or preparing food to sell, or during meetings on organization management, “we also talk to each other about things that are happening in our homes and about how we feel.” She said the gatherings had become “comfort zones” for them.

“Socialization helps us, and helps make us comfortable with each other,” she said. “It helps fortify our relationships and make our organization stronger.”

According to Sampayan, the project has helped women who used to be limited to home and family care to find income-generating opportunities. She said their heightened awareness of gender roles and rights has empowered them to identify potential issues and to find support through Women-Friendly Spaces and VAW (violence against women) desks, if needed.

Today, Salik is president of the East Libutan Women’s and Youth Producer Association and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education in English. Sampayan is president of the Babay na Bangsamoro Association and is likewise pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education in social studies. Ebad is treasurer of the Kalilintad Bagoenged Producers Marketing Women’s Association.

“For someone who did not finish schooling, I learned many valuable things,” Ebad said of her participation in the project. “I learned to trust myself.”

She added: “Lack of education is not a hindrance to reaching your goals. I want to help other women who are in similar situations. I am incredibly grateful to the organizers of this project. We hope more people will benefit from it.”

Read more: Punlaan School provides fertile ground for women empowerment

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