International Ministries

Leadership Training in the Philippines Offers Life-Changing Experiences

Leadership Training in the Philippines Offers Life-Changing Experiences
The workshop planning team included United Methodist deaconesses and other women of faith.

Leadership training can be an intense experience. This was especially true for the women who attended a seven-day program in the Philippines and immersed themselves in local communities to see their struggles up close. But no matter what difficulties they encountered, the participants felt they had not only an educational, but also a life-changing experience.

The seven-day leadership development workshop — The Ecumenical Women’s Forum Leadership Development and Capacity Building for Gender and Ecological Justice — took place on May 22-27, 2017,  in Sarangani City in Southern Mindanao in the Philippines. The interfaith workshop, organized by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines Women’s Desk in partnership with United Methodist Women, brought together 30 women participants, including indigenous Lumads, Muslims and Christians, and focused on achieving ecological justice  to economically empower women.

In addition to attending advocacy trainings and panel discussions, the delegates spent two days living with local Muslim and Lumad communities who are facing environmental destruction and a loss of land, tradition and livelihood.

Greetings

The workshop attendants were greeted with an interfaith ritual followed by an introduction to the program from Carmencita Karagdag of the Ecumenical Women’s Forum. She spoke about the goals of the workshop: to empower church women and women from farming, fishing and mining communities to effectively address the inextricably linked issues of gender and ecological justice.

Next to speak was Mercedes Perez-Alonzo of GABRIELA Mindanao, who talked about the ecological challenges in Mindanao, including destructive coal mining operations, illegal deforestation and the land-grabbing of Muslim and Lumad ancestral lands.

Community Visits

The delegates began their two days of community visits by spending a day with a local Muslim community in Palimbang. They attended a meeting, led by village leaders and tribal chieftains, to discuss major issues and challenges faced by the community: militarization, land-grabbing, and massive floods caused by waste from coal-mining operations. Another issue was the lack of electricity and safe water in the village. The meeting was interrupted by local government officials who intimated that some of the delegates were members of an armed resistance group. After the gathering, the workshop participants were invited to spend the night with local Muslim families.

The next day, the delegates travelled by foot to a Lumad village. After a warm welcome, community members shared some of their own problems, including increasing floods and droughts, threats to their culture, and the loss of their ancestral land to intrusive banana plantations and illegal logging operations. The Lumad women also lamented poor sanitation and lack of health facilities as well as education for their children, who had limited access to public services. They were grateful to organizations like In-Peace Mindanao, which had established a community school called CLANS in the area. Again, government officials interrupted the meeting to inquire about delegation members.

Before returning to the workshop site, the participants reflected on their visits. For many, the  first-hand experience of the travails suffered by the Moros and the other tribes had been life-changing. Furthermore, the delegates felt it was especially important to aid the local communities who, in defending their ancestral land from corporate takeover, now also face militarization and human rights violations.

On their return trip, the group was shocked to learn that President Duterte had declared martial law in Mindanao. At a navy checkpoint, the delegates were subjected to two hours of questioning.

Panels and Workshops

Once back in Sarangani, the next three days were filled with discussions, personal narratives and hands-on workshops. Panels addressed topics like the interconnection of feminism and ecology, and the history of women in Mindanao. There were workshops on effective advocacy, as well as personal stories told by women leaders.

Speakers included Bai Jocelyn of the Tinduga organization, who told of her organization’s deadly struggle to reclaim ancestral land that had been legally returned to them. Merceditas “Dedeth” Ali recalled the severe droughts suffered by the community in North Cotabato, and the government’s refusal to give promised financial assistance. And Ka Rebecca of Tagum City recounted women’s role in the struggle to recover ancestral land in Davao that had been grabbed by the Lapanday Plantation and Foods Corporation. Finally, during an open forum, Nanay Ipang added a moving testimony recounting the gruesome death of her own father and brother during Marcos’ martial rule.

The week ended with the adoption of a statement that recalled the experiences during the delegates’ visit to Moro and Lumad communities, and which underscored the need for women to organize, strengthen their ranks and mobilize others to fight for human rights, women’s rights and environmental rights. The delegates found their two days among indigenous and local communities especially meaningful. They felt the various panels, conversations and workshops were informative, thought-provoking and inspiring. Everyone underscored the need to continue this type of workshop at the local and national levels, to empower women to lead the call for environmental and economic justice. 

Posted or updated: 8/8/2017 12:00:00 AM
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