Young Maguindanaons learn livelihood skills, find hope for peace

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 21 November) — At 14, she was married through parental arrangement, became a third wife, and stopped schooling. At 15, she was taking care of seven children from the marriage of her husband to his first wife who passed away. At 17, she gave birth to her first born, a girl. At 18, her husband took a fourth wife. At 20, she graduated from a dressmaking course and received level two national certifications (NCII) from the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education-Technical Education and Skills Development (MBHTE-TESD).

Meet Norhata P. Orencia, 20, second wife, mother of one, stepmother of 10 children, and now a nationally certified dressmaker.

Norhata P. Orencia of Maguindanao married at 14. At 20, she hopes to establish a dressmaking shop to earn a living and save for her daughter’s college education “so that she does not have to marry early.” MindaNews photo by JULES L. BENITEZ

Orencia is one of 166 scholars of the who graduated from various vocational courses on November 18. As part of the scholarship, Orencia received a starter kit in dressmaking, which included one set of materials to produce clothing that she can sell. She and her 23 classmates also received five sewing machines as a commonly owned equipment among them.

The almost two-month course on dressmaking gave Orencia a new experience that she is grateful for. “Mula nang ikasal ako, ngayon lang ako uli nakalabas ng bahay at nakahalubilo ang kapwa kong mga kabataan (Since my marriage, this is the first time that I am able to socialize outside of the house with fellow youth.),” the young mother said.

Orencia hopes to sew dresses and sell them so that she can have money for her little girl. With an income, she can send her child to finish a degree and need not become a child bride like her

Mas gusto ko po na makapagtapos ng pag-aaral ang aking anak kaysa ipa-asawa ng maaga (I would rather that my daughter finishes her education than give her away to an early marriage.),” Orencia said.

Sharaffy’s Struggles

Like Norhata, Datunot M. Makasasa, 22, Maguindanaon, and resident of barangay Talibadok in Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, is thankful of the second chance that the MBHTE-IRW Philippines scholarship gave him. Makasasa was already on his 3rd year in college, taking Bachelor of Science in Community Development, when he forcibly dropped out of Mindanao State University-Maguindanao. He was bullied.

Recounting his experience in Tagalog, Makasasa said: “One night, I made a mistake of passing through the unlighted street on my way to a friend’s dormitory. Three young men, whom I cannot identify, accosted and mauled me black and blue. I fell down and they dragged my body like a dead sack. I passed out and woke up in a hospital.”

Datunot M. Makasasa, 22, a Maguindanaon, bullied for being gay was forced to drop out of school. With a TESDA degree in cake and pastry production, he plans to establish a small bakeshop. MindaNews photo by JULES L. BENITEZ

He surmised that the motive for the assault was homophobia. He said, “I have always been effeminate in my physical movements and voice, but I do not cross-dress nor wear make-up.”

Bakla man ako, wala akong ginawang masama (Even if I am gay, I have not done anything wrong.),” Makasasa said.

Added to the physical assault, Makasasa also suffered discrimination in the hands of one of his professors who was also known to be homophobic. “I studied hard to pass all his quizzes and exams and never failed to attend his class. However, one day, the teacher asked me to seek sexual favor for him from one of my lady friends. I refused. Then when the grades came, he gave me a failing mark,” he recalled.

Back then, Makasasa did not have the courage to assert his identity and rights. He decided to drop out of school.

Earning a NCII on Bread and Pastry, Makasasa who is now known to friends as Sharaffy, plans to set-up a small bakeshop and sell cinnamon bread and cakes. “Sa wakas, may maipapakita na akong graduation certificate sa aking mga magulang (At last I have a graduation certificate to show to my parents.),” Makasasa said.

Like the graduates of the dressmaking course, Makasasa also received starter kit to help him start his bakeshop enterprise. This includes cooking utensils and cooking ingredients to for a first round of bread and pastry production. He and his 24 classmates also received three gas stove ovens, which they collectively share and own.

Pahima’s Race

Because of her stunted growth, Pahima Umal Naib, 20, resident of Labulabu-1 barangay of Datu Hoffer Ampatuan town, was also bullied in school like Sharaffy. However, unlike him, Naib chose to fight back.

Naib is suffering from the condition of dwarfism. Medical literature defines dwarfism as a genetic or medical condition resulting to stunted growth. Adults with dwarfism condition generally has a height of 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimeters) or less. Naib is less than four feet tall.

When she was in the elementary grades, her mother could not bear the bullying that her child suffered in school so she decided to let Naib drop out of school. Her mother died when she was 11 years old and was left under the care of her oldest brother who encouraged her to resume her studies. She did and was able to graduate from high school.

Pahima Umal Naib, 20 receives her Certificate in Plant Crop Production. She plans to produce root crops and save her earning to pursue a degree in information communication technology. MindaNews photo by JULES L. BENITEZ

While in school, she overcame bullying by participating in sports activities organized for persons with disabilities, the Paralympics. She excelled in track and field events. Twice she became regional champion in the 100-meter dash race.

Naib intends to finish a college degree in information communications technology. However, with the Covid19 pandemic and economic difficulties, she had to put her plans on hold. In the meantime, she decided to accept the vocational course scholarship of MBHTE-IRW Philippines and enrolled and graduated in plant crop production.

Magtatanim ako ng ube  at iipunin ko ang aking kita para sa aking pag-aaral (I will plant root crops and save my income for my studies.),” she said.

Naib’s vocational scholarship also came with production individual starter kits, including farm implements, tools and vegetable seed. As a group, her class of 77 individuals is given support in the establishment of organic fertilizer production facility and land lease for a short period of time.

“Hindi hadlang sa tagumpay ng isang tao ang kapansanan (Physical disability is not a hindrance to a person’s success.),” she said. With a smile, she added that when she shall have successfully finished a college degree, she will be ready to have a family of her own. For now, she decides to pace her race towards her future. “Parang tumatakbo lang ako sa Paralympics (It is just like running the race in the Paralympics.),” she said.

Joemar’s Options 

At 29, Joemar O. Bakal, Maguindanao, and resident of barangay Damabalas in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao, chose to postpone marriage in order to send his youngest brother, 17,  to college. Two years ago, his father died and he was left to head the family, as his mother had left them much earlier. He supports his three siblings planting rice and corn on a one-fourth hectare land that his father left them with.

Joemar O. Bakal, 29, postponed his marriage in order to support his siblings to college. He recently earned a level two national certification on organic farming. MindaNews photo by JULES L. BENITEZ

Choosing to not to marry just yet is not the only hard decision that Bakal had to make. After his graduation in high school, lack of finances made him accept a scholarship in Islamic Studies in a school in Cotabato City. However, one year into the course, Bakal noticed that what was being taught in his course ran counter to what he believed Islam to be. He opted to drop out.

Walang kinabukasan sa (There is no future in) extremism at sa gyera (and in war),” Bakal said.

His advice to the youth is to join programs and trainings in order to expand their knowledge and perspective of the world. He added, “pakitang gilas lang ang terorismo (terrorism is merely a show-off).”

Bakal is filled with gratitude at the opportunity given to him by the scholarship of MBHTE and IRW-Philippines. Earning a level two national certification on organic farming, he said, “ay nagpalawak sa pwede kong makamit sa buhay (expanded my options in life),” he said.

Kauyagan sa Kalilintad

The collaboration of the MBHTE and IRW Philippines on providing vocational course scholarship specifically targeted the disadvantaged youth. This is a peacebuilding strategy being implemented in order to provide economic opportunities for the youth and young women.

“It is hoped that with economic opportunities, the grievances of the youth are addressed, which in turn will reduce their susceptibility to recruitment by violent extremist groups,” said Joy Daman, livelihood development officer of IRW-Philippines.

The scholarship and livelihood development project, dubbed as Kauyagan sa Kalilintad, a Maguindanao phrase for “Livelihood for Peace” is part of the three-year program “Addressing the Imbalance – Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding in Fragile Contexts,” which is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

The peacebuilding program is in support of the peace stabilization process of the Bangsamoro Autonmomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“It is about giving the youth opportunities and giving peace a chance,” Daman said.

Apart from the mentioned courses, 24 scholars received their certificates as graduates of professional driving and 20 more in carpentry.

Ruby Andong, Regional Director of the MBHTE-TESD, said that technical vocational courses for the youth is key to giving the youth the opportunity to overcome the difficulties they face in their lives. “Ang kursong natapos ninyo ay magiging daan sa progresibong pamumuhay (The course that you completed will be your way towards a progressive life.),” Andong told the graduates during the graduation ceremony on November 18 held in the covered court of Datu Saudi Ampatuan Municipality in Maguindanao province.

As of November 2020, Andong estimated that about 5,250 out-of-school youth were enrolled in technical vocational courses of TESD in the BARMM. The Director added that the funding for these courses mainly came from the BARMM government as the national TESDA allocation for the region remain unreleased because the funds were prioritized for COVID19 pandemic response.

In 2021, the MBHTE targets to enlist 14,000 scholars for the TESD courses. 

(Jules L. Benitez is the Peacebuilding Project Manager of IRW-Philippines and is a contributor to MindaNews)