Arlyn Mandia, a barangay health worker and a Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiary, and her family engage in backyard gardening to augment their income and share their harvests with the community.
Arlyn Mandia, a barangay health worker and a Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiary, and her family engage in backyard gardening to augment their income and share their harvests with the community.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a barangay health worker (BHW) and a municipal link (ML) of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the MIMAROPA Region risk their lives and safety to be of service to others.

The two women symbolized courageous and empowered individuals who keep on serving others in the midst of the pandemic, an apt reflection of this year’s National Women’s Month theme, “Juana, Laban sa Pandemya, Kaya!”.

Arlyn Mandia or Arlyn to her friends, 53, has been working as a BHW in Agot, Baco, Marinduque for more than 10 years, assisting in community-based health activities, such as immunization for children and birthing services. She also acts as a health educator within their community where she promotes family planning, maternal and child health, and proper nutrition.

Arlyn is always willing to help her community, especially her fellow 4Ps beneficiaries. She also strives to improve her skills by attending basic training programs so she may provide primary care services to the local residents. Moreover, Arlyn is also helping their barangay health center which lacks funds, by networking with different medical institutions and organizations.

She believes that helping others has no price tag. She recalled the time when as a BHW, earning a meager P1,800 monthly allowance, she was able to help a fellow 4Ps beneficiary with cancer get the proper medical attention by connecting her with various organizations. She never asked for anything in return for her service.

Sharing what she has

Given her small monthly allowance, providing for her eight children and the medical expenses of her husband Leodegario, who suffered a stroke in 2018 is tough. To augment her income, Arlyn and her family engage in backyard gardening planting vegetables.  A good harvest enables them to earn P500 per day from selling their produce.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, her job as a BHW became more challenging. “Takot po ang maraming tao. Takot po silang magpunta sa ospital. Nahirapan po ako na hikayatin silang magpa-check up. Lalong lalo na po ‘yung mga tatlong araw na ang lagnat” (A lot of people are afraid to go to the hospital. I found it difficult to convince them to go for check up, especially those who have fever for three days), she narrated.

Arlyn also observed how the community quarantine imposed by the government to curb the spread of the virus impacted the lives of the residents in their barangay.  Many lost their jobs. She also got worried about the health and nutrition of their community, especially the children. Thus, without any second thoughts, her family shared their harvests with the community.

Since the lockdown started, Arlyn always ensured that she has enough vegetables ready for sharing with her community. “Sa bawat limang tali po ng gulay, dalawa po ‘dun itinatabi ko na. Hirap din kami sa buhay. Hindi kami makakapag-ambag ng pera pero yung oras at konting pagtulong na ilalaan mo, sa tingin ko, malaking bagay na ‘yun” (I reserve two from every five bundles of vegetables we harvest. We are also poor and we cannot give financial help, but I think that the time and little help that we could offer is already a big thing), Arlyn expounded.

Her family is grateful for the 4Ps Family Development Sessions (FDS), where they learned backyard organic gardening planting leafy vegetables and other crops such as mustard, lettuce, ampalaya, string beans, eggplant, upo, squash, and corn. Aside from having a source of nutritious food and additional income, they were also able to share their produce to their community. She encouraged other 4Ps beneficiaries to engage in organic farming that requires no commercial fertilizers.

FDS is the psycho-social, psycho-educational intervention of the 4Ps program to encourage positive family values, strengthen marital relationships, and promote involvement, participation, volunteerism, and leadership for strengthened individual and community empowerment.

Arlyn believes that kindness is innate to everyone and empowerment must start within us. “Tayo kasi ay magkakatuwang. Ako nga, kahit babae ako, kaya ko” (We are all partners, even if I am a woman, I can cope and help others), she said.

She also mentioned her intention to voluntarily exit from 4Ps once one of her children gets a permanent job, so that another needy family could take their place. She believes that once you help a person, he/she will be inspired to help other people too, until such time that it becomes a cycle of helping others.

Serving with a brave heart

Meanwhile, a courageous social worker from Brooke’s Point, Palawan has proven that the COVID 19 virus cannot stop one who is committed to serve. Instead, it further ignited her desire to give back to her community. With a brave heart, she has continued serving the people even in the midst of the pandemic.

Marecar Gayamo works as ML (Project Development Officer II) at the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the Municipal Operations Office in Bataraza, Palawan. As ML her tasks include coordination with key partner-stakeholders to ensure efficient, relevant, and timely delivery of services for the 800 household-beneficiaries in Bataraza. She is also in charge of monitoring the compliance of the households with the conditions set by the program, and ensuring that proper interventions are given to the household-beneficiaries to improve their well-being.

When the pandemic started, Marecar felt the need that she must go beyond what is required of her as ML.  “Ang dami pong nawalan ng trabaho, lalo na sa mga benepisyaryo po natin. Madami po ang nangangamba kung paano na sila. Sinimulan ko po ang pagkilos, sumunod po sila. Kahit natatakot, kailangan kumilos” (Several people have lost their jobs, especially among the program’s beneficiaries, and many are apprehensive how they will get by. I started to get things going, and they followed suit. We have to do something even if we are scared), she related.

For the 40-year old social worker, helping the 4Ps beneficiaries is more than a job she needs to perform every day. With or without the pandemic, Marecar is determined to continue what she has started as she wants to give back to her community, since their family was also a program beneficiary before.

A test of courage and determination

Prior to becoming 4Ps beneficiaries, Marecar recalled how difficult it was for her and her husband to put food on the table. Marecar and her husband Oliver were not able to finish school, hence, it was hard to look for a stable job that will be enough to financially support their four children. Her husband worked as a commission-based tricycle driver, and needed to pay a fixed P350 daily boundary (rent) for using the vehicle, sometimes earning only P50 from a whole day of driving. There were times when they only ate rice topped with soy sauce and cooking oil.

Hindi ko po lubos maisip kung paano namin nairaraos noon. ‘Man-toy’ nga ang favorite ng mga anak ko. Mantika at toyo, saka tubig at asin na ulam” (I could not imagine how we were able to survive then. My children’s favorite food was man-toy, cooking oil and soy sauce, water and salt), Marecar recalled.

In 2011, Marecar’s family became a 4Ps beneficiary  and she started attending FDS, which she claimed fueled her desire to pursue her education and be like the municipal link  who handles them. 

“Noong benepisyaryo pa po kami, may mga pagkakataon na pinaghihinaan ako ng loob. Pero kapag umattend po ako ng FDS, nagpapalakas sakin ito. Kahit sa asawa ko po malaking tulong ang bawat topic. Napakahalaga ng FDS. Kaysa magmukmok at intindihin ko ang problema, kailangang kumilos” (When we were still beneficiaries, there were times when I felt discouraged, but every time I attended the FDS, I felt stronger. The sessions were so important and each topic was a big help, even to my husband. So, instead of feeling sorry for myself and focusing on problems, I had to move on), she continued.

Marecar firmly believes that education can change her family’s life for the better, thus even if they were unsure on how they can financially support her education, she pursued college.

13 years akong nahinto sa pag-aaral, 30 years old na po ako nung nag-aral ng college. Nag-enroll ako sa BS Social Work” (I stopped schooling for 13 years and I was already 30 years old when I enrolled in BS Social Work), she shared.

The couple knew that they must not rely on what they receive from the program, so they worked hard to support their family’s needs. Her husband worked from 3 in the morning and went home at 11 pm. Marecar narrated that she laundered her classmate’s clothes when there were no classes, and did other chores. Life back then was difficult, but she was determined to finish school. In 2015, she finished her Bachelor of Science in Social Work, and passed the licensure examination in the same year.

“Napatunayan ko po na ang pag-aaral ay hindi binabase sa edad ng tao. Kahit 35 na po ako grumaduate…kung may pangarap ka, kikilos ka” (I have proven that getting an education is not based on age, since I was 35 years old when I graduated from college), she stated.

For Marecar, ‘man-toy’ (Mantika-Toyo), which used to be their family’s daily fare, remains a reminder to the challenges which may come along her way but with courage and determination, nothing will stop her in achieving her dreams for her family.

Inspiring stories

The inspiring stories of Arlyn and Marecar show that women are in the forefront of the battle against the pandemic, the former  continuing to help others despite her limited resources as a BHW and a member of their community, and the latter risking her health and safety in the performance of her sworn duties to 4Ps beneficiaries.

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program currently serves more than 4.3 million active households, utilizing more than P49 billion funds in 2020.

4Ps was enacted into law in April of 2019 making it the government’s national poverty reduction strategy investing in health, nutrition, and education of poor eligible households. These, alongside with the psychosocial and psycho-educational component provided through the FDS, lead the beneficiaries to an improved and sustained well-being. ###