Leonida Pacheco got pregnant with her first child in 2010. She was just 17 years old.
She ended up dropping out of college to focus on motherhood and was never able to return to her studies after having a total of five children.
According to her, family planning never crossed their minds.
“My husband wanted to have a son. That is why we never used contraceptives in the hope that we could finally have a boy,” said Leonida, who lives with her family in Cagwait, Surigao del Norte.
When Oxfam Pilipinas, through Sibog Katawhan Alang sa Paglambo (SIKAP) implemented the Global Affairs Canada-funded Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) project in Cagwait in 2019, Leonida became one of its many participants.
“When one of the nurses of our Rural Health Unit (RHU) approached me to attend a SHE project session, I decided to join. I did not have any idea what it was about but I still participated out of curiosity,” she said.
Since joining, Leonida has learned how to care for her reproductive health.
“We are learning about contraceptives. They provided us with pills and I am using them until now. I am still expecting to learn more and to benefit from this,” she said.
Through the SHE project, residents of Cagwait have been receiving educational lectures about sexual reproductive health and rights, as well as free contraceptives for family planning.
After attending the Family Planning Service Provision Outreach, Leonida encouraged her husband to attend “Usapang Maginoo,” a facilitated group discussion on men’s role when it comes to responsible parenthood and reproductive health. She hoped the discussions would help enlighten her husband. She was surprised that it did more than that.
“Because of the project, my husband is now knowledgeable about the family planning method. Now, he’s the one reminding me to take my pills regularly,” Leonida recalled. Her husband even stopped wanting additional children just to have a son.
“The SHE project enlightened us. It helped not only me but it also changed the perception of my husband. He told me that he is already content with what the Lord has given us – our five daughters,” Leonida said.
FROM UNDERSTANDING TO EMPOWERMENT
Fellow Cagwait resident Emelyn Pelarios was also able to avail of the SHE Project services. When she was still pregnant, she attended a seminar on Usapang Buntis (Pregnancy Talks), which educated mothers about the essentials of a healthy pregnancy and family planning.
“Through SIKAP, I was able to learn how significant family planning is. I’ve seen the benefits of family planning one of which is that we are now economically stable. Even if my husband only earns a small amount of money from fishing, with the burden of the pandemic on top of that, we can still eat thrice a day and we were able to purchase furniture and fixtures for our home,” she said.
Emelyn said they were able to discuss as a couple their plans as a family, including using the right contraceptives and proper birth spacing.
“When we came out of the hospital after giving birth to my first child, I immediately went to the health center because I knew that there are implants available there and it’s for free. I volunteered without hesitation. I know what I am doing and how it would benefit my family,” she added
Emelyn said that she and her husband agreed to have only two kids, which is why they are both in favor of family planning.
Emelyn hopes that if possible, the SHE project will stay permanently in their community.
“There are still other women in our community who have not yet attended the sessions. It would be nice if the SHE project would be here always so that if in the future they have queries, someone could help answer those,” she said.
Christine Ampon, Executive Director of SIKAP pointed out that the Usapang Serye (Discussion Series) is not just for women but also involves men who are taught about how to build a family using appropriate family planning methods.
The Usapang Serye (Discussion Series) is a carefully structured process to facilitate discussion to improve knowledge and awareness of sexual reproductive health and rights. It also strengthens health systems and community structures to deliver rights-based comprehensive Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) information and services.
According to SIKAP, the SHE project gathered a total of 1,260 project participants — of which 937 are females and 323 are males — in Cagwait alone for the Usapang Serye (Discussion Series) since it started in 2018.
Now, Leonida and Emelyn are among those championing family planning in their community.
Leonida, who now works as a barangay health worker, would invite teenage mothers to attend Usapang Buntis (Pregnancy Talks) sessions. Meanwhile, Emelyn continues to encourage neighbors and friends to recognize their own rights as women and to follow the appropriate family planning method.
Both hope that their stories would resonate with other women who are also on their way to discovering sexual reproductive health rights and women empowerment. #