ROUNDTRIP: BANSALAN – HOLLAND: Mindanawons’ transnational engagement

Sometimes called “transnationalism,” diaspora philanthropy is defined as the process by which immigrants from the same region form a group and pool their resources together to help their hometown as their way of maintaining links with their place of origin.

There are also groups which do not necessarily help communities where they come from but according to where they think their contribution is needed most. This happens especially when natural calamities occur and during economic crisis.

Today, some of the donations and development projects initiated by migrant Filipinos have begun to make a difference in small towns and cities in the Philippines.

In 2006, overseas Filipinos sent through official channel a total amount of US$12.8 billion in the form of remittances to support their nuclear and extended families. These remittances, equivalent to 10-percent of the gross national product, became the top source of foreign exchange for the country. In fact, the amount dwarfed the total foreign development investments (reported at US$2 billion for the same period) and official development aid (an annual average of US$1.5 billion).

“Over a 13-year period,” said Jeremaiah Opiniano of the Manila-based Institute for Migration and Development Issues (IMDI), “the Link to the Philippine Development of the government-run Commission on Filipinos Overseas has received about 1.3 billion pesos from overseas Filipinos to underwrite projects in education, disaster relief, health, infrastructure, and livelihood generation.”  

Not included are those undocumented initiatives, in which the collective remittances go straight from the donors to their local partners.  “There are 46 countries around the world we have identified as sources of Filipino diaspora philanthropy,” Opiniano reported.  “This includes the Faroe Islands which is located just above Scotland and in between Iceland and Norway.”

Like many other Filipinos in diaspora, Mindanawons – or those coming from Mindanao — also remain connected with their homelands despite the distance and long absence.

For instance, the Damayang Pilipino sa Nederland (DAMAYAN) and Association of Bansaleňos Worldwide (ABW) launched a joint-fund raising drive in the Netherlands to assist poor children in the provinces of Davao del Sur, North and South Cotabato. DAMAYAN was established in 1986 to collectively respond to countrymen in distress both here and back home and ABW is a virtual hometown association of former Bansalan residents who now live abroad and other parts of the Philippines. Some members of Damayan originally came from different provinces of Mindanao.

The project, dubbed as “Gintong Aral,” aims to support poor elementary school children. It also encourages children to get involve in environmental program by maintaining school vegetable backyard through EcoKids Club.

Most of the recipients are children from the indigenous, Christian and Moslem communities in the area. These children come from poverty-stricken families who, despite free elementary education in the Philippines, could not afford to buy uniforms, books, and school supplies and pay some contributions to the school.

This school year 2007-08, DAMAYAN and ABW (through its own “Give Back Campaign”) are sending a total of 140 poor but deserving children in four villages in Bansalan (Davao del Sur), Paquibato (Davao City), Lake Sebu (South Cotabato), and Dugong (Matalam, North Cotabato).  In Bansalan alone, ABW supports 84 children including two high school students.

DAMAYAN and ABW work in tandem with teachers and parents in implementing the projects with support from the local governments. Take the case in Dugong Elementary School.  The barangay council agreed to match the 56 children supported by DAMAYAN by supporting another 56 pupils. All in all, there are already 112 poor children in this school alone supported by this initiative.

DAMAYAN calls it “1×1 program.”  This means that for every one child sponsored by DAMAYAN, the barangay will also sponsor another one. The name is patterned after Mexico’s “Tres por Uno program” where every dollar invested by Mexican migrant for development project in their hometown, the local, state and the federal  government matches another dollar each. The program started in 1986 when newly elected governor of the Mexican State Zacatecas decided to travel to Los Angeles to meet the migrant workers from Zacatecas living in California. This invitation gave rise to a programme with two objectives: Supporting associations of Zacatecanos (natives of Zacatecas) living in California and the funding of local development projects in Zacatecas in the regions of origin of those concerned. The program later developed into 3 x 1 program when the local and the federal governments joined the program.

Aside from tapping support from the Filipino community, DAMAYAN and ABW also work hard to find sponsors from various Dutch schools, friends, and other sponsors. Locally, the management of the project has always been in the hands of the school principals. There are also focal persons for every school whose primarily role is to liaise with the school principals. A project coordinator oversees the proper implementation of the project and maintains good contacts with the school and various focal persons.

“The financial support to poor students has great impact on the children and motivates teachers to work harder,” says the project coordinator.  In fact, inspired by the program, some teachers also decided to adopt and support some pupils not covered by “Gintong Aral”. Last school year, Dugong Elementary School topped the different Achievement Tests (NAT) in the division with 100% of the graduates passing the NAT. Some of the scholars received high honors.

The scholars become automatically members of EcoKids Club. In Dugong, the school set aside a portion of the land at the back of the school for vegetable gardens. Children are taught how to plant different kinds of vegetables. Tree planting is also part of the program.

“We have just an election and we now have new sets of officers of our EcoKids Club,” informed Cyrel Defensor, principal of Dugong Elementary School. He also said that different activities of the EcoKids Club will be given top priority and will be integrated in the environmental awareness program in the teaching of Health and Science. DAMAYAN and ABW hopes that this laudable program can be replicated in other schools.

Aside from these initiatives, DAMAYAN and ABW are joining efforts to address poverty of the parents. In separate programs, DAMAYAN members also support the construction of a market place and the renovation of a school in Misamis Oriental. The idea is to provide mothers with start-up capitals so they can set up small micro-enterprises. In doing so, families could little by little build up their household income and eventually be able to send their children to school. Meanwhile, ABW is planning to explore cooperation with the municipal government for future projects.

The literacy project is also part of the over-all goal of DAMAYAN and ABW to assist in building empowered and sustainable local communities in Mindanao.

The combined efforts of the Mindanaoans enabled them to raise a total amount of Euro 3,510 (Ph 210,000) which was matched by The Wild Geese Foundation in the Netherlands. This enable Damayan to and ABW to increase the number of scholars.

“It is heartening to see that we can support some pupils but at the same time I feel so sad to note that there are more children who need our help but we simply can’t do so because of our limited resources,” said Doris Alfafara, a former Davao City resident and DAMAYAN member and now based in the Netherlands.  She made the observation after her recent field visit in Dugong and Paquibato.

The help maybe small but, as one Spanish adage puts it, “whatever we do, no matter how small, it will always be more than nothing.”

Remittances and diaspora philanthropy are the human side of migration.  But then, both are among the main reasons why Filipinos still dream to work abroad despite the negative consequences such as family separation, danger, abuse and exploitation.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews' effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries, the countries they're presently working in, their growing up years or homecomings in Mindanao, their hopes and dreams and suggestions for Our Mindanao. Leila (Lalay) Rispens-Noel, a native of Bansalan, Davao del Sur, left for the Netherlands in 1979. She was former staff member of Mindanao-Sulu Secretariat for Social Action (MISSA). Aside from being a wife a mother of two grown up sons, she works as programme officer in a Dutch development agency. She devotes here free time in supporting small development projects in Mindanao. Her passion is to encourage fellow migrants to harness the development potential of migration and to harness their skills, resources and talents for the development of the local areas. Visit her blogs:  and You can contact her at