Women in in the frontlines of Marawi recovery work
MARAWI– Millions of people around the world are trapped in humanitarian crises and often the difference between life and death is the humanitarian workers who serve them.
On August 19, the world marked the World Humanitarian Day to celebrate the men and women who work in some of the most volatile, remote, and fragile corners of the world to save the lives of those affected by emergencies, whether caused by armed conflict or natural disasters. This year’s celebration focuses on the power, the influence, and the perseverance of women humanitarians.
In battle-scarred Marawi City, some 800 miles from the capital Manila, two women who embody these qualities – an aid worker for the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) and a community leader – are leading the way in enabling communities champion post-conflict recovery.
Charlyn Pendang, community mobilizer, 40
A morning routine of lodging security clearances, afternoons filled with meetings, and evenings punctuated by phone calls are scenes that are no longer new to Charlyn Pendang who has grown accustomed to the rapid demands of an emergency response.
Charlyn, or Cha as her friends fondly call her, has been in the humanitarian aid sector for eight years now. She alludes to this as something of a calling, recounting from when she was a child, she already manifested a penchant for philanthropy.
“Growing up in an impoverished family, I’ve always had a soft heart for those in need. I remember whenever I had a classmate who needed help with something, I go out of my way and help them within my capacity. In this way, I was able to gain friends,” she said.
She is currently one of the community mobilizers for a shelter and livelihood
project with the UN-Habitat in Iligan City. These days she spends most of her time organizing displaced families into homeowner associations (HOAs) and making sure that rehabilitation efforts provided by aid workers like her are participatory and led by the communities themselves.
For one HOA member, Cha’s presence gives them a sense of security. “We know we are in the right hands. Aside from giving us guidance on how to do things, she attends to every concern of the members. One time we requested for her to conduct one of the trainings on a Saturday, and she accommodated us on that without hesitation,” said Abdul Jalil Madid in the vernacular.
Being a mother of three, she can’t help but see herself in women and mothers who still find time to attend various project meetings on top of their household chores.
“Everyday more and more women are participating in the project implementation and I find it particularly surprising and inspiring that in this Muslim community, women and mothers like me are very opinionated and could join in public fora,” she added.
Through Cha’s mobilization activities, women found a safe space for their voices to be heard.
Norhaifa Patarandang, community leader, 33
Norhaifa was already doing development work for a local NGO when she met her husband and decided to permanently stay in Marawi City two years earlier the siege, so it wasn’t much of a stretch when she accepted her position as a secretary of their HOA.
Born to Maranao parents who moved to Butuan City in the 80s, nothing could have prepared Norhaifa of the horrors she would experience from the bloody siege in Marawi back in 2017.
Everything happened in a blur and the next thing she knew, her family already spent 19 months moving from one town to another. It was seeing the plight of her children in the cramped room they rented that gave her the motivation to get involved in her community.
As a secretary, she records the minutes of all meetings and gives out notices to all members. But what she finds as the most rewarding part is her being recognized by the project. She is delighted that the project is providing Muslim women a space to speak their minds.
“In one of our consultation meetings, I was very pleased that the project engineers considered my concern on the construction of toilets. Even before the siege, most of the affected families didn’t have proper toilets. It was very tedious then for mothers like me to fill buckets of water from faucets outside our houses. I told the engineers to ensure that there should be toilets inside the house and so they included that in their plans. That made us very happy,” said Norhaifa.
Since then Norhaifa has been very active and always giving a piece of her mind. It’s not always easy for Maranao women like her to tell people how they feel and what is on their mind due to their culture. But Norhaifa is one of the few brave women in her community who are breaking the mold and inspiring other women members of the HOA to express themselves.
The work that becomes a therapy
Cha is swamped with capacity building activities as of late. She is closely working with 28 home partners as regards to construction management, financial management, and community contracting among many other trainings available for the community.
“Working in the humanitarian sector is indeed a very rewarding job and it gives me joy to see that our project places the community at the heart of their own development,” said Cha.
“When one finds the work she was born to do, it becomes more of a passion and a commitment to a career rather than a mere paid job. I will employ all that I know to assist in the restoration of peace in Marawi,” she added.
Meanwhile, preparing invitations and conducting house-to-house visits to HOA members are what’s keeping Norhaifa busy these days.
“Meeting IDPs like me and listening to their stories has helped me come to terms with my own plight and made me grateful for everything that I have right now,” said Norhaifa.
These two women humanitarians continue to engage their communities and drive their agenda to strengthen their resilience, shedding a light on the transformative power that empowered women can bring.
They are also mothers who are capitalizing on their inherent capacities to create a nurturing environment for both men and women; relentlessly beaming a ray of light in a corner obscured by the scars of war.