By Camcer Imam
OPOL, Misamis Oriental – Community leaders from Marawi, Lanao del Sur, and Lanao del Norte showcased their projects funded by the US Embassy in the Philippines worth PhP18.5 million in the #ForMindanao Summit in Misamis Oriental.
With this funding, community leaders have assisted approximately 43,000 Mindanaoans affected by the Marawi crisis.
The event showcased 14 #ForMindanao projects being implemented by Naawan HELPS Communities, Inc, a Mindanao-based NGO focused on building educational and economic opportunity for at-risk communities.
Alumni of US government-sponsored exchanges and programs, including madrasa and public school teachers, university students, and women entrepreneurs, designed and implemented the projects with support from Naawan HELPS and alumni mentors.
The #ForMindanao campaign includes 31 projects on improved peace and stability, enhanced access to quality education, promote inclusive and broad-based economic growth, and provide psycho-social services to conflict-affected communities in Mindanao.
At the summit, US Embassy Public Affairs Counselor Philip Roskamp said, “The #ForMindanao campaign is founded on the premise that local leaders are best positioned to address the needs of communities affected by the conflict in Marawi.”
One of the #ForMindanao projects celebrated at the summit, Peace Crops, has followed this approach by building deep partnerships with local, provincial, and regional government and civil society organizations to train 100 out-of-school youths from Lanao del Sur to establish agro-enterprises.
These youths are now cultivating nine hectares of carrots, corn, and tomatoes for sale to local and regional markets, with plans to plow their profits back into their next crop.
“There is surging interest from various groups (that) have taken notice of our engagements in Lanao del Sur,” said Peace Crops project director Robert dela Serna.
“We have been visited by barangay and provincial government officials with strong interest to adopt the Peace Crops model as part of their livelihood and peace-building program,” he added.
The team behind #ForMindanao campaign believes that addressing the needs of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao requires a confluence of local and civil society initiatives that encourage engagement from local communities. From these local initiatives, #ForMindanao hopes to spread stories of hope, resilience, and unity.
One of projects that was acknowledged for its contribution to community improvement is the “Palapa sa Lumba,” a livelihood enterprise of 30 out-of-school youths and mothers of Barangay Bacolod II in Lumba-Bayabao, Lanao del Sur. Their group is identified as “Super Lumba.”
Jalilah Hadji Sapiin, Palapa sa Lumba project head, said they were given P80,000 by the organizers as grant to kickstart the project. From that amount, the group bought equipment such as grinder and grater.
Another P20,000 was awarded to the group during the first pitching of its product.
Sapiin, a community development officer in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said they envision Lanao del Sur to be known for spices production and plantation prompting the group to go into palapa-making.
Since the palapa is a product of the Maranaos, she said it should be owned by the Maranao. Promoting it is one way of getting that recognition, she added.
For his part, US Embassy Public Affairs Counselor Philip Roskamp said the American government gave P8.5 million to bankroll the locally-initiated #ForMindanao projects in response to the request of the Filipino alumni of the various United States-sponsored exchange programs.
Roskamp said the US government just provided the funding but it was the communities who conceptualized the projects.
He said the amount the American government has granted to #ForMindanao was “not enough,” but Roskamp said there was a sense of satisfaction on the part of the US government on the success of the projects that it helped realize.
The #ForMindanao campaign is part of the US government’s support to improve peace and stability in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
Through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US government has contributed nearly PhP3.2 billion to help those affected by the Marawi crisis.