ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 28 August) — Jenny Sanguila was on her third year in Nursing, her second course, when she realized it was not for her. She had no idea then that her next stop would be in an office that would allow her to serve various sectors needing help, not just patients in hospitals or health centers as she would have done so had she become a nurse.
She joined Pakigdait Alang sa Pag-Amoma sa Kalinaw Incorporated (Pakigdait, Inc), an interfaith peacebuilding organization, in October 2009, as a volunteer doing general work and assisting the project officer in the documentation of activities. She was promoted to Project Coordinator after two years and Project Officer, and is now Project Manager, brimming with confidence in her presentations during conferences.
But the 43-year old Jenny, the second and only girl among three siblings, was not always like this. Jenny recalls that as a young girl, she was timid, especially in a group.
“I was a shy-type person, because I was not really exposed to people, I was being protected by my family.”
She said she avoided talking because she could not fully express herself. Within her clan, a woman is heralded as a treasure and must be protected. And for Jenny, this meant having difficulties sharing her thoughts and feelings on certain matters because it was discouraged. But this pushed her to find a new environment where she could grow and express herself confidently.
She found that in Pakigdait Inc, which was established on May 21, 2001 while was still in college.
Jenny took up BS Psychology at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology and graduated in 2004.
“I cannot describe the feeling, being given the opportunity to be one with the management team. It’s both an empowering and humbling experience. Being part of this team, I have found my voice,” she said.
According to her, being part of a decision-making body means “you have to decide on things–and I’m very grateful for Pakigdait for the trust that they have given me.”
Working with Pakigdait helped her develop new skills such as communicating with stakeholders.
As Program Manager, she oversees the delivery of the projects to the community, and leads in the facilitation, coordination, and conceptualization of other projects.
But this was before the pandemic came.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Pakigdait to uncharted territories in community development work. The dangers of face-to-face meetings — an integral part of community development work – and the restrictions imposed by the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19 made the operations of the organization very challenging.
Pakigdait, however, took on the challenge. Aware that the difficulties arising from the pandemic such as loss of livelihood could contribute to conflict, it made sure the adverse effects must be suppressed to a minimum, if not completely.
“I remember when the pandemic started last 2020, there was a redesigning of almost all of the activities and projects to adhere to the COVID-19 restrictions. Our actions were very limited,” she said.
Because of the restrictions, they had to be creative in delivering their services. She encouraged the team to think of different ways and means to reach out to their stakeholders.
In Iligan City, Pakigdait launched several waves of relief operations to those who were most affected, and even distributed bicycles to frontliners, vendors, security guards, even gardeners, and cleaners to allow them to do their work despite the pandemic.
Pakigdait provided services to the different communities of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), assisting in, and providing some means of livelihood, and psychosocial support to the communities.
“The work is fulfilling, despite being challenging. The team had come up with safer, creative ways to deliver the projects without changing the objectives, and in attaining the same outcomes. I am truly grateful for the team, and in their measures that make the delivery of our services easy–especially the younger, more technologically knowledgeable ones,” said Jenny.
Her message to the Bangsamoro women is to “explore the world filled with different opportunities.”
“Be it in school, grab the opportunities that would enhance your capabilities…if it offers a chance to improve your self-esteem, and your confidence. Do not stop learning. A diploma is not a warrant for you to stop learning. (Remember the teachings) in Islam that learning should be from the cradle to the grave.”
Jenny continues to serve the community through Pakigdait. Their projects have reached as far as the hinterland areas of Lanao del Sur, where they established schools for the underserved children of Butig, Sultan Domalondong, and Pagayawan, while continuing to serve the MILF communities of Lanao del Norte, in the transformation of their camps into sustainable communities.
Jenny says she wants smooth and safe delivery of what Pakigdait offers: “a sense of peace, one person at a time.”
(Bonita Ermac is a correspondent of Manila Bulletin covering the areas of Iligan City, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. She is also writing for The Post Publication, a local paper. Earlier she also served as a volunteer correspondent for The Mindanao Gold Star Daily)
This piece was produced through a story grant from UNESCO Multi-Donor Program on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists. The editorial process was left entirely to MindaNews.