Julie Chenido could think of other important uses for her P25 but it’s an amount she’s willing to contribute to her community organization, especially since the money will be used to ensure the safety of her family and other residents of the island village of San Isidro, in Dolores, Eastern Samar.
San Isidro is a disaster-prone barangay separated from the mainland of Dolores by the massive Dolores River. During typhoons, the village is rendered isolated and without other sources of food or relief goods.
Julie, a 37-year old mother of two, is part of local women’s groups organized through the Strengthening Harmonized Action for Disaster Risk Reduction, Preparedness and Early Recovery (SHARPER) Project of Oxfam Pilipinas, Sentro Para Sa Ikauunlad Ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya Inc. (SIKAT) and partner organizations.
The SHARPER Project is a three-year initiative which aims to reduce the impact and suffering caused by small-scale disasters to at-risk communities in four countries in Asia which includes the countries of Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
In the Philippines, the initiatives are being carried out in Catanduanes in Bicol Region and in Eastern Samar in Eastern Visayas Region.
“When I heard that SIKAT will be organizing a women’s group here in San Isidro whose aim is to provide us livelihood and at the same time help us during disasters, I immediately signed up,” Julie recalled.
Members of the group would need to contribute P20 a week to help fund their livelihood projects. An additional P5 is also collected for their “calamity fund.”
The calamity fund, based on their agreement, will only be used if the village is devastated by a disaster or if any member is in dire financial need.
Julie’s husband Samvic, 38, works as a farmer and as a carpenter on the side. His income is barely enough to meet the daily needs of their young family.
But they consider Julie’s weekly contribution as an investment for their family and community.
Julie is part of the Marigold group, composed of 15 women from their village. They put up a small store in September this year to sell gasoline, diesel, and a local wine known as “tuba.” Their daily income is set aside and then equally divided among themselves at the end of the year.
The gasoline is essential for farmers who use tractors while the diesel is for the small sea crafts plying their village.
Members of the group started their now thriving business, the store would earn an average of P400 daily, mainly sourced from selling diesel.
Besides giving them a way to earn a living, Julie said the SHARPER Project also made them more knowledgeable about disaster preparedness.
“If God forbid, a disaster will hit our barangay, we are assured that we will have money to buy our necessities,” she said.
Cristina Carpeso, 58, shares Julie’s sentiments.
Cristina, who belong to another women’s group called “Mercjilad,” said that they are thankful to Oxfam and Sikat for choosing their village for the disaster-related program.
“Imagine, we are among the most isolated and remote villages of Dolores and yet they chose to come here and help us,” the mother to nine children said.
“Aside from helping us become financially empowered, we are also being taught to how to cope during a disaster situation,” she added.
Their group put up a store selling agri-vet (agrarian-veterinary) supplies for residents in San Isidro who tend to chickens and hogs.
Cristina said they have been able to set aside over P1,400 for their calamity fund since their store started in September.
Village chairperson Wilson Forteza, 52, said the training they received from the SHARPER Project was an “eye-opener.” It also significantly helped the women in their community.
“They are now capacitated and empowered,” he said.
The village official said that the calamity fund put up by the two women’s groups will help lessen the financial burden of the village whenever a disaster strikes San Isidro. The village, whose residents mainly depend on fishing and farming, has a budget of only P200,000 for calamities.
Riva Badanoy, a community organizer of Sikat, said it was remarkable to see the women of San Isidro exploring their other potentials as individuals.
These ‘self-help groups,’ she said, are not only meant to help the women achieve financial independence and leadership skills, they are also meant to serve as disaster preparedness networks.
“From being shy and unproductive, they transformed into productive and empowered women,” Riva said.
The groups practice rotational leadership that allow each member to become more responsible.
Riva said Sikat will eventually assist the groups in registering with government agencies so they can also avail of financial assistance programs.
Jenny Gacutno, Oxfam’s project lead for SHARPER, said the program is on a promising path towards making communities more disaster-ready.
“We hope that communities will develop the organizing capacity and assets to withstand a natural disaster with less suffering, less dependence on outside support, and with improved recovery rates,” she said.
“We believe that supporting women and women’s organizations using women’s rights-based and feminist approaches can lead to more holistic and gender-transformative humanitarian action,” said Jenny, who is also Oxfam’s resilience portfolio officer said.
For Julie and Cristina, being a part of the self-help groups had definitely given them not just the confidence and the knowledge but also the resources needed to face any storm. ###