Pool of Trained Indigenous Young Humanitarian Volunteers by Scherz Indigenous Creations
Barangays Artuz, Roxas, and Tabon in Tapaz, Capiz
Mary Scheree Lynn Herrera (Team Lead), Loreto Divinagracia, Jr. (Community Focal Person); Sheila Marie Firmeza (Finance Officer)
Marrying the indigenous knowledge of the Tumandok tribe and the modern practices towards disaster preparedness and putting it into modules so that other communities can replicate the good practices.
We hope that indigenous peoples communities across the Philippines would be better prepared for disasters, with the young people playing an important role in the process.
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The team is looking for partners from the local government units (LGUs), government agencies, private organizations, and the academe. The team, with the youth volunteers, also offers their technical expertise, and is very much interested in opportunities where they can share their innovation process.
I didn’t know I could leave, I didn’t know that there were options. I just went with whatever the elders decided for me.
During the time of Yolanda (IN: Haiyan), the youth in these upland barangays weren’t immediately served by NGOs and government relief efforts. At the same time, in spite of their existing cultural DRRM practices, their knowledge and their capacity in these areas needs strengthening to up their resilience and decrease their vulnerability
Indigenous People (IP) have long suffered the lack of inclusivity in several areas, but most of all in disaster risk reduction and management, where their beliefs and specific customs are rarely taken into consideration. The Pool of Trained Indigenous Young Humanitarian Volunteers bridge the gap between newer practices and revered customs through a program that highlights cultural sensitivity in tackling areas of psychosocial support, child protection and prevention of gender based violence, first aid and lifesaving relief and social entrepreneurship that can be deployed to respond in times of emergencies and achieve meaningful participation of IP communities towards resilience.
When one speaks of indigenous cultural communities (ICC), few look to Visayas. 61% of the ICCs are found in Mindanao and 33% in Northern Luzon, which makes the 6% in Visayas a little less visible. Of this 6%, secluded mountainous areas of Tapaz, Capiz, there rests the Panay-Bukidnon community. This community is rich with revered practices bearing deep cultural significance to them and those they live with, practices not all commonly understood by those that surround them.
This divide in understanding creates a sort of isolation between a community steeped in age-old customs and those with knowledge in modern advancement designed to improve the quality of life, even if neither are nor should be mutually exclusive. 58 year-old IP Merlyn Galagate recounts her lack of agency for most of her early life, saying, “When men would come to the house to come see my parents, I had to go to my room and hide. I didn’t know that later on I would be able to talk to anyone I wanted to—male, female, young, or old, and that it wouldn’t matter.” Despite this limited interaction, Galagate found herself in the midst of an arranged marriage at the age of 14, to a man 13 years her senior, and whose qualifications to her knowledge were that “it gave my father someone to drink with.” Instilled in many women and youth in ICCs is a culture of silence, where because they don’t or have no knowledge of how to contest the decisions their elders make for them, their reticence is taken as consent. Galagate says, “I didn’t know I could leave, I didn’t know that there were options. I just went with whatever the elders decided for me.” Galagate’s lack of education about her basic rights is not uncommon among females in this community, which leaves women like her as well as girl children and young women vulnerable to gender-based violence and other forms of abuse, especially in times of calamity.
In times of disasters, the Panay-Bukidnon’s areas of residence—some of which are barangays Roxas, Artuz, Tabon, and Tacayan—are difficult to reach for those providing medical assistance, dispersal of relief goods, and even sometimes rescue. The terrain is quite steep and can become muddy and dangerous, requiring specific vehicles for the journey. The physical location is part of what isolates them not only from both emergency response and from acquiring basic needs and services. This also leaves them highly vulnerable to exploitation and violence, specifically, in the middle where physical isolation, lack of support and a lack of education meet. More often than not, these instances of conflict and neglect especially in times of disaster relief have the greatest impact on children and young people, especially girls and young women.
Further complicating the issue is that any previous attempt to educate the ICCs on advances in first aid or any other manner of support in disaster situations has looked down upon the things to which ICCs have given cultural priority, deeming them less than what modern advancement can provide. Some cultural practices of the Panay-Bukidnon community deal with a vast familiarity with plants. The previous delivery system for this information didn’t take stock of what the ICCs already knew or had practices in place for; neither did it take the time to collaborate with the ICCs to find solutions that were more apt for their beliefs.
Tapaz Geographic Information System Consultant Jorge Abordo, who has spent time working with and learning about IPs since the early 90’s, explains it best: “If you lived in this area where it would take one to two days just to get to a hospital, you begin to understand their methods. Doctors scold the IP for bringing in patients whose open wounds are covered with unsterilized materials, because it’s more likely to cause infections. But to not cover them at all would be much more fatal, and it’s easier to treat an infection than it is to treat death.” He concludes, “Indigenous knowledge is different. Since time immemorial, they’ve used natural resources. How can we say that what we know is better, when they’ve survived on that knowledge for centuries? What we need is compromise.”
While there is an inherent cultural knowledge of using the surrounding environment for survival within the Panay-Bukidnon community, disaster situations often bring up situations where vulnerable individuals may need specific responses and support supplied by certain modern DRRM practices. Earlier methods of imparting knowledge regarding these responses have been largely culturally insensitive, as they have been likely crafted without the consultation of the ICCs themselves.
More gravely so, most measures of relief and recovery have disregarded the vulnerabilities of a significant sector: children and young people. Much of the mindset within these communities in times of disaster has been to simply wait for help to arrive, regardless of how long and how far off it may be. But because their geographical location is not entirely accessible, this wait and the lack of more proactive, life-saving measures can often mean the difference between life and death.
Scheree Herrera, team lead spent several years working in UNICEF specializing in gender-based violence and child protection. Part of this work in humanitarian aid and development brought her to the ICCs, during which she saw the gap between their existing survival tools and modern practices that, if integrated with cultural sensitivity, could further improve their quality of life. “During the time of Yolanda, the youth in these upland barangays weren’t immediately served by NGOs and government relief efforts. At the same time, in spite of their existing cultural DRRM practices, their knowledge and their capacity in these areas needs strengthening to up their resilience and decrease their vulnerability,” says Herrera. “One way to do that is to give them greater involvement. We can train them and mobilize them as community leaders, emergency responders, and as facilitators.”
In order to do so, Herrera and her team built what is essentially a training module. It is effectively split into five sections, each of which address specific needs:
- Disaster Risk Reduction and Management & Climate Change Adaptation
- Child Protection and Gender-based Violence in Emergencies
- Basic First Aid/Live Saving Skills
- Psychosocial Support Services and life skills development
- Social Entrepreneurship in Emergencies
The material used to discuss these sections was adapted from previously existing modules. Herrera explains, “Given [the community’s] understanding and capacity of learning, we tried to simplify the modules. We invited the region’s experts, specialists, and consultants in the different DRR thematic areas—those who initially created the modules—and had the youth within the communities give their input.”
These modules were then divided into two versions: a “mother” version and a “baby”. The “mother” is a much more technical approach to these five concepts, meant to be absorbed by those in training over a period of three to four full-day sessions. The ideal target for the “mother” version is a mix of both youth and elders within the ICCs, with the hopes that the participants will be enabled with the skills to become emergency responders and facilitators within their communities. This, essentially, is how the pool of trained youth is built.
On the other hand, the “baby” version is simplified and has a heavy focus on the use of the aforementioned games, as it is meant for youth facilitators to be used during community learning and sharing sessions discussing DRRM. The concepts are more broadly discussed, integrating IP materials and methods, and meant to be absorbed over the length of a full one-day session.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Because the nature of the innovation is based on a program rather than a tangible device, the communities involved become a direct component of the innovation. There are hardly any steps within the journey that did not involve consultation or working with the Panay-Bukidnon community.
“When I presented this concept [to Tuklas], I consulted the community as to whether this was relevant to their needs. And when they said that it was, we did the project proposal together. We consulted them regarding how we were going to choose which of their community’s youth would be trained, because I didn’t want to randomly pick members for them and find that those members felt like they were being forced into something they didn’t want to do. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that those community members were interested in the areas they’d be training for,” says Herrera. The community leaders defined the qualifications and responsibilities of those who would undergo training. The team was also invited to present this project to the community, where they were pleased to see the youth asking to be involved and signing up for training.
During the initial calibration of the modules, the volunteer youth were involved in the initial testing of that Herrera calls “capacity-building exercises.” The youth were invited to evaluate these exercises as well as the material being given to them, as to whether or not it was culture sensitive, gender responsive, and apt for the youth. After which, these volunteers were tasked with organizing community sharing sessions, during which Herrera’s team was able to assess how much of the module had been absorbed.
As the modules were being tested, the need for a “baby” version came to light, to further simplify the thematic concepts for those attending the IP youth facilitators’ sessions, at the suggestion of the trainers. Herrera explains that there wasn’t an intention to make a simplified module, but it was the youth themselves who developed it. They decided what concepts were important to include and they had a direct hand in creating the games through which the concepts would be communicated. Herrera adds, “We adapted these concepts to the ‘mother’ version, while maintaining its more technical aspect.”
Likewise, the training was initially meant only for members of each pilot barangay to roll out into their separate communities. But the experience of training together created an excitement and a kinship among the participants, and they themselves requested a cross-barangay roll out to both assist their neighbors and further flex their newly acquired skills.
Some of the most common but effective changes have been specifically in the area of first aid. For instance, usually, to transport the sick, it is a cultural practice to use a duyan, or a hammock made mobile by having it up on poles that other stronger volunteers in the community are meant to carry. They do this in most situations, but had not yet understood that in cases where the sick person in question is dealing with spinal damage, the means of transport could be detrimental. They learned about the use of a stretcher, which is extremely similar to the duyan, except that the body of the stretcher remains firm and straight.
Apart from the physical or methodological aspects, empowerment has been the key takeaway of this project for many of its participants. An IP boy named Meljune shares that he was born with a disability in his younger years, which made it difficult for him to walk. Experiences of being bullied outside the community and living with an abusive father created a thirst for him to fit in. He fell into a bad crowd, skipping school and going out to drink. His mother encouraged him to join the IP youth training, and while he initially resisted, he met members of the training staff who had been on a similar journey. This gave Meljune people to look up to, which ultimately helped him find his sense of purpose. “I learned that I could be of service to my community, from carrying whatever needs to be transported during relief, to help with clean-up, to assist others with trauma. I learned that it’s important for me to go to school so that I can better help my community and my country. I hope that even without Tuklas and this project, we’re able to use what we learned here.”
“I kept wanting to come back, to learn more. I felt like my mind was being woken up. I didn’t realize we had all these rights, that even my kids had their own right to speak up and be heard,” says community member Galagate. “It also taught me to turn away from a pattern of behavior that’s common in our community, wherein we only busy ourselves with what is ours. In times of disaster, we’d all run our separate ways and secure whatever was ours. I had no idea that there were so many other ways to help other people, and that we should be helping others when we can.”
Abordo explains that the role of the youth in ICCs has been to gather information beyond the community’s barriers, and that having information on disaster responses which prioritize their community’s cultural sensitivities and beliefs can only serve to empower the ICCs and enrich their quality of life before, during, and after disasters. Similarly, because the trained volunteers were initially approved by the ICCs’ Council Of Elders (COE), many of whom were young girls and women, their newfound expertise and knowledge gives them a more involved and active role in community decision-making. The project proven that the IP youth specially girls and young women have been part and given voice in community’s decision making as safe space for inclusive leadership, that traditional leadership limited to elders and men.
Scherz Indigenous Creations has plans to be registered as a youth-serving organization, as well as the registry of the Tapaz IP Youth Humanitarian Volunteers at the National Youth Commission. They are working towards the same volunteers’ recognition by the Tapaz Indigenous Peoples’ Organization, as well as further training with local government partners.
As a business model, their plan is to package the training module whose usage they hope other entities can adopt, specifically private partners, donors, and NGOs specializing in humanitarian efforts. There is also an intention to develop the sections within the module into online courses and to further integrate this track into an educational platform for wider accessibility.