VSO Philippines country programme reopened in 2017, after having been closed since 2010.
VSO has had an active presence in the Philippines since the 1960s, and to this day continues to work with government agencies and non-government organisations on important development projects.
The Philippines is an archipelago made up of more than 7,000 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is one of the world’s great reservoirs of biodiversity with hundreds of native species.
It is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, but poverty and inequality continues to be a considerable challenge. It’s also incredibly diverse, with 19 recognised languages spoken across the Philippines making work to build and maintain community resilience and social cohesion of paramount importance.
- We’re helping people to heal from the trauma of the Marawi siege
- We’re involving women as peacemakers to combat extremism
- We’re protecting the coastlines that people rely on
The four-month Marawi siege in 2017 that forced 1.1 million civilians to flee their homes has left lasting physical and psychological scars on the people who experienced it.
We’re working to provide a safe space for the families affected to talk to each other again. They can discuss their experiences of the siege, as well as many other aspects of physical and mental health.
Volunteers step up in a crisis
In the aftermath of the Marawi siege, a grassroots organisation supported by VSO, the Maranao People Development Center (MARADECA), conducted a series of “Family Conversations”. These provided safe space for people to discuss mental, sexual, reproductive health status, protection of women and girls from violence and recovery and response for families affected by the siege.
Through the Family Conversations, the children and youth also had psycho-education sessions that provided them spaces to articulate and express their experiences in the siege and begin to heal.
- The activity has helped in easing the tension and anxiety that the people have felt during the Marawi siege. The results of the family conversations will be presented to policy makers for inclusion in the rehabilitation plans for Marawi.
- MARADECA has already engaged with the Municipal and City Local Government Unit (LGU) as member of the Local Development Council.
- The national volunteer assigned to MARADECA, Allen Molen, Enterprise Development Specialist, has supported MARADECA in the scoping studies for potential community-managed livelihoods projects of the IDPs.
The Philippines faces many challenges to inclusion and social cohesion within and between its communities.
Tension between Moro and non-Moro groups and the threat of religious radicalisation threaten social cohesion in the region. VSO Philippines is working with communities to help counter this.
Extremism and women as peacemakers
Inclusion is one of the most important elements in our peace-building programme. We have partnered with a women's group based in Zamboanga City called Nisa Ul Haqq, which uses Islamic teaching to empower both women and men. Together, we conducted a research on gender and extremism in an effort to better understand how we can embed gender into our peace-building work.
The study identified factors that both push and pull people to joining radical groups. People feel the pull of violent extremist groups offering a vision of an autonomous Islamic state that will address the failings (real or imagined) of the current government and promising money, jobs, scholarships and in general, a better life than what they currently have. And a feeling of government neglect, land conflict and a perception of religious persecution pushes them further towards these groups.
Emphasising women as peace-makers, the research focused on women from communities where there were reported recruitment by ISIS-affiliated groups, or are vulnerable to attacks by said groups. Part of the discussions was the exploration of the ways by which these women see their roles, if any, in preventing violent extremism in their communities.
VSO Philippines runs a number of programmes to build resilience in vulnerable communities. Much of this work has a basis in building the relationship between Moro and non-Moro communities, and emphasises the importance of community in the protection of livelihoods.
Coastal protection for an island nation
Livelihoods often rely on maximising the natural resources that surround a community. As an island-based nation, the state of the marine environment is crucial to the sustainability of many livelihoods in The Philippines.
A VSO national volunteer and marine biologist, has helped the build the capacity of community-based organisations (CBOs), municipal and barangay local government staff and officials, members of the local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, and national environmental agencies. Training used community-gathered scientific data to analyse the available resources of the community areas using a combination of simple yet powerful mobile phone tools.
As well as protecting the local environment and resources, the project provided an opportunity for Muslim and Christian communities to understand the importance of good and peaceful relations, peace and development issues, and situation in Mindanao. These activities, as well as the follow-up activities, have now encouraged Moro leaders, village chiefs, and other influential Moro people to participate more actively in the activities of LAFCCOD. The same is true for the non-Moro groups, who have now started integrating with their Moro counterparts, when in the past they have not done so. Hopefully, this closer interaction would continue and intensify in the months and years to come.
- The local government has expressed funding commitment in support of the programme that will be jointly managed by marginalized Moro and Non-Moro community members.
- The capacity building initiative has also provided good resources for policy advocacy work of LAFCCOD, which is important in the establishment of community-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) that will benefit the marginalised Moro and non-Moro fishers and households who greatly rely on these resources for their livelihood.
- The establishment of the MPAs will also contribute to the environmental rehabilitation and conservation efforts of our national government in addressing the climate change issues in the country.
- Equally important, it is a vital tool in building intra- and inter-ethnic peace amongst Moro and non-Moro communities who rely on the coastal resource for their livelihoods.
Celina Fong, Resourcing advisor, recruitment and selection, and resettlement
Michael Villena, Resourcing advisor, induction and onboarding
For more information or to enquire about partnership opportunities, please get in touch.
Unit 541, Regus Center, 5/F Gateway Tower,
Araneta Center Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines 1109
Phone: +63 2 790 4399
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