“As internally displaced persons, we have seen that the most challenging part in recovery and rehabilitation is the sustained support in enhancing the skills of the people, access to financial and market opportunities, and the need to improve creativity and innovation to fuel the positive change. Many have aspired to change their situation but there is no enabling environment for them to grow.
And yet, we grew up listening to the stories of the glorious period of our forefathers. Amidst century-old conflicts, natural disaster and other man-made crisis, the bangsamoro and indigenous people are peace-lovers, caretakers of nature, artists, musicians, singers, dancers, people with good foods and appetite, and successful entrepreneurs.”
This is the stark contrast of Maguindanao, a predominantly Muslim province in southern Philippines, today and how it was generations before; as described by Selahuddin Yu Hashim, Chair and Executive Director of The Moropreneur.
Google the word “Maguindanao” now, and it would most likely be followed by the word “massacre” in the search results. The tragic 2009 event that left 58 journalists and civilians killed not only shook the local and international news then, but has tainted the province’s image since.
Together with other individuals who believe in building a better Maguindanao, Hashim aims to change the narrative of his province marred with conflict, calamities, and poverty. And he does not want to do it through aid or charity, but by empowering and investing in Maguindanao’s most valuable resource – its people.
Complex challenges in Maguindanao
In 2015, they established The Moropreneur, Inc. (TMI) with the goal to “enable the tri-people (Bangsamoro, Indigenous People and Settler) communities especially women, youth and people with disability to become productive citizen of this country.”
The organization’s name, a play on the words moro and entrepreneur. “Moro” refers to Bangsamoro, which refers to the Muslim population of the Philippines. “Entrepreneur” aims to highlight the innate entrepreneurial skills of the Bangsamoro and Indigenous People. “We believe that the Moro’s skills as traders and their peculiarity to help one another needs to be cultivated to create more positive networks of social entrepreneurs.”
Not an easy task for a province that is one of the poorest in the country, and with one of the lowest labor force participation rate.
It is not just armed conflict that has hindered the province’s development, but the complex layers of conflict, recurring natural disasters, and political turmoil. “These result in serious damages to the welfare and development of communities,” Hashim says.
Oftentimes, children and youth are forced to skip schooling and families live in fragile shelters. Persons with disabilities experience further depressing conditions, and women, youth and children become more vulnerable to protection issues. And even if they return, many have difficulty restoring their lives because of the lost and limited opportunities.
Innovative solutions through The Moropreneur
TMI aims to fulfill the organization’s mission by collaborating with key stakeholders in providing comprehensive capacity building, establish or strengthen climate-resilient and community-based micro-enterprises, and creating positive and innovative networks of communities promoting positive values, unity, social and economic wellness and well-being.
“We believe that economically empowered families will have the ability to address their needs such as health and nutrition, education, environmental protection, cultural preservation and participation in the fashioning of a sustainably peaceful and developed communities,” says Hashim.
Lifting each other and rising together
One of TMI’s most recent initiatives is the All-iNclusive Growth Activities Towards Development And Poverty AlleviaTion, or ANGAT-DAPAT for short. Translated in Filipino, it could also mean “we must rise” (angat, meaning “rise”, and dapat, meaning “must”).
True enough, the program aims to help people rise and break free from the cycle of indigence, through capacity building. They began with the poorest communities, those who are more prone to falling deeper into poverty if not given the proper support and intervention.
“Whatever little resources they possess (i.e parcel of land, farm) have been reduced further either by conflict or by encroachment of the marsh into their communities,” explains Hashim.
Thus, TMI takes a multiple approach in ensuring these vulnerable communities are secured. Aside from capacity building, they also provide a voice for the people and help strengthen local government and agencies to support these communities.
TMI also chose to focus on capacitating women, who have fewer opportunities in the province. Only four in every 10 women are employed. TMI believes this is key in making the program sustainable. “As they say, improving the lives of the women will make a better family. And improved families will make a better, peaceful and progressive society.”
Maguindanao is a part of Mindanao, one of the three main islands of the Philippines. It hosts five of the 10 poorest provinces in the country. Yet, because of its land proportion and rich natural resources, Mindanao greatly contributes to the country’s overall development. By empowering the local industry, TMI does more than servicing the poor communities, but contributes to Maguindanao’s role in nation building.
Building on the gifts and talents of the local people
To date, TMI has engaged with 10 communities through baseline study and skills assessment, and skills-based training. And their initial output is reflective of the bright days ahead for the programme.
From apparel made of water hyacinth, to rice-based food products; mats and decorative items made of pandan (a tropical plant normally used for cooking), to products based on coconuts and corn; farming of hyrdophonic vegetables, to production of inaul or traditional hand-woven fabric. Each item builds on the unique strength of the community – proof of the diverse natural resources and innate talents of Maguindanao’s people.
Throughout the entire program, the community remains central and involved – from consultation, organizing, capacity building, planning, participation. “This is critical to the success of the project as it instils ownership and sustainability of the program by the community,” Hashim explains.
With the help of different government agencies, more production and management training will be conducted to improve and enhance these products. TMI also partners with different business chambers to help market the products. “We will also be creating innovative platforms that will create a demand in the market through tapping hospitality industry, specialty stores, and global markets.”
Better and brighter Maguindanao
TMI invites groups or individuals who want to support the ANGAT-DAPAT program, to visit the communities. Those unable to visit can still help through the following means:
- providing or sponsoring training
- providing platforms that would connect the communities to a larger market
- helping to share stories so more will be inspired and moved to action
Hashim shares his personal view of the future of his people. “I have always dreamed that a better Maguindanao is not just about ending poverty and conflict but seeing every family and individuals living a life with dignity, participating in community-building, and promoting co-existence which allows everyone to be empowered, responsible and caring for one another.”
It would take years to fully understand the intertwined socio, political, and economic issues of Maguindanao, and even more years to fully address them. The Moropreneur remains positive. By carefully weaving the natural gifts of the people and the region’s rich culture, with interventions anchored on empowering communities, and the common aspiration to uplift the lives of one another, a better Maguindanao is possible.
For more information on the program and how you can support, visit www.themoropreneur.org or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All pictures taken from The Moropreneur Facebook page.