MANILA, Philippines – Google “Maguindanao,” and the word “massacre” would appear in the search results. The tragic 2009 incident that left 58 journalists and civilians killed, dubbed as the worst case of election-related violence in the country, has tainted the province’s image since.
Together with other individuals who believe in building a better Maguindanao, Selahuddin Yu Hashim, chair and executive director of The Moropreneur, Incorporated (TMI), 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.
Hashim illustrates the stark contrast between Maguindanao today and the predominatly Muslim province generations ago.
"As internally displaced persons, we have seen that the most challenging part of 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," he said.
"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," Hashim added.
Complex challenges in Maguindanao
In 2015, Hashim and other like-minded individuals established 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 is a play on the words "Moro" – for Bangsamoro or the Muslim population of the Philippines – and "entrepreneur" 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," Hashim said.
This is not an easy task for a province ranked among the poorest in the country, and with one of the lowest labor force participation rate.
It is not just armed conflict that has hindered Maguindanao's development, but the layers of conflict, recurring natural disasters, and political turmoil. “These result in serious damages to the welfare and development of communities,” Hashim said.
Oftentimes, children and youth are forced to skip school while and families have no choice but to live in fragile shelters. Persons with disabilities experience even more depressing conditions while women, youth, and children become more vulnerable. And even if they return to their communities, many have difficulty restoring their lives because of the cost and limited opportunities.
Innovative solution through the Moropreneur
TMI aims to fulfill the organization’s mission by collaborating with key stakeholders to provide comprehensive capacity building, establish or strengthen climate-resilient and community-based micro-enterprises, and create 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 sustainably peaceful and developed communities,” said 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 (ANGAT-DAPAT). In English, it means, "We must rise."
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 whose residents 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,” explained Hashim.
TMI takes a multiple approach in ensuring that these vulnerable communities are secured. Aside from capacity building, TMI also provides a voice for the people and helps strengthen local government and agencies to support these communities.
TMI also chose to focus on capacitating women, who have fewer opportunities in the province, where only 4 in 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.”
Mindanao, where Maguindanao is locted, hosts 5 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 local industries, TMI does more than servicing the poor communities but contributes to Maguindanao’s role in nation building.
Building on gifts, talents of locals
To date, TMI has engaged with 10 communities through baseline study and skills assessment, and skills-based training. The initial output is promising.
The products range from apparel made of water hyacinth, rice-based food products, mats and decorative items made of pandan, products made from coconuts and corn, hydrophonic vegetables, and 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, and participation. “This is critical to the success of the project as it instils ownership and sustainability of the program by the community,” Hashim said.
With the help of different government agencies, more production and management training will be held 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," Hashim said.
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:
- Provide or sponsor training
- Provide platforms that would connect the communities to a larger market
- Help share stories so more will be inspired and moved to action
Hashim shared 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 coexistence which allows everyone to be empowered, responsible and caring for one another.”
It would take years to fully understand the intertwined social, political, and economic issues of Maguindanao, and even more years to fully address them. TMI remains positive. By carefully weaving together the natural gifts of the people and the region’s rich culture, interventions anchored on empowering communities, and the common aspiration to uplift the lives, a better Maguindanao is possible. – Rappler.com
Roanne Duran is a former writer of ABS-CBN. She is now working at Unilab Foundation. This article was also published in The Good Movement website.