All Hands Together Against Poverty

Its First-Year Achievements Accelerate ZABIDA’s 4-Year Dash to Win Real Social Justice

“The goal is to overcome poverty, which is systemic and not just economic a problem.”

IT may not win a Nobel Peace Prize as Grameen Bank micro-lending’s founder Yunus did last year, but Nagdilaab Foundation’s small loans program may yet win the struggle against poverty – and ultimately armed conflict, too – in Basilan province. Nagdilaab has fused the best and most applicable features of Grameen and another Bangladeshi grassroot livelihood financing program called ASA (vernacular acronym for “Hope for the Women”), to come up with what it calls “GRASA”.

From March to December last year, Nagdilaab has released some P1,049,000 in
business loans to 208 borrowers throughout the island province. Hundreds of other borrowers will avail a total of over P6-million in the next three years of the program that is funded by a grant from the Spanish NGO Manos Unidas and the Spanish government.

The mother program, nicknamed Convenio, has adopted an integrated approach that would attack communal poverty using a broad-spectrum or multi-dimensional paradigm – and this is how Nagdilaab’s micro-lending may eventually prove more successful than other garden varieties. Parenthetically, a recent analysis of Grameen shows that overall poverty level in Bangladesh has not been substantially reduced even after years of Yunus’ assistance program.

The paradigm or “Convenio method”, as Fr. Angel Calvo is beginning to call it, tackles comprehensively the basic, inter-related and unique problems inherent or endemic to the target beneficiaries’ communities. The goal is to overcome poverty, which is systemic and not just economic a problem. Fr. Calvo chairs the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA), which is comprised of Nagdilaab and three other NGOs based in Zamboanga City. These are Katilingban Para sa Kalambuan, Inc. (KKI), Reach Out for Others Foundation (ROOF, affiliated with Western Mindanao State University [WMSU]), and Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ). ZABIDA is implementor of Convenio’s programs.

Thus, Nagdilaab’s thrusts in severely-troubled Basilan ensures that its beneficiaries or more appropriately called partners receive not only loaning assistance, but also such services as health, sustainable agriculture or fishery, good governance, community organizing and capability building, and environmental conservation or enhancement. Good governance, for example, starts with the efficient management of the women’s livelihood circles. But, it unravels and networks upwardly to eventually include Nagdilaab’s own praxis and onwards to bridging with and bringing in local government, military and other sectoral leaders into the communities’ struggles, says foundation program director Espie Hupida and executive director Dedeth Suacito. Both are veteran and persevering community development workers of Basilan.

In a recent project visit, MU country manager Carmen Valdez wondered why or how the military in Basilan is able to cooperate closely with Nagdilaab, which going by her personal experience in other countries is very rare. Fr. Calvo replied that the close relationship is a product of years of peace-building outreach by Nagdilaab and PAZ, which has trained Armed Forces soldiers there in conflict management in past years. Hupida added that the military has come to realize, too, that guns and bullets will not solve local insurgencies and rebellion; community assistance, like Nagdilaab’s, is the only “silver bullet”.

ZABIDA‘s other NGOs are also equipped with similar experiences and implementation processes that substantially translate into the “Convenio method”. ROOF, which hatched from WMSU’s Center for Peace and Development, is implementing an Integrated Organic Farming System (IOFS) in Barangay Bunguiao. IOFS is basically an alternative sustainable agriculture, but similarly utilizes a comprehensive approach like Nagdilaab’s.

KKI currently manages and assists at least 15 urban poor communities and three functioning low-cost housing settlements with a total of 600 units built out of low-interest loans. Its flagship housing program is supported by other services like reproductive and family health, women’s livelihood, and paralegal, enterpreneurship and other capability training.

PAZ is mainly into peace-making advocacy and education, particularly interfaith relations. Its growing exposures in individual, critical communities and organizations also leads it into developmental work in tandem with its ZABIDA partners.

The highlights of ZABIDA’s accomplishments in its first year in 2007 include:

– For KKI –

  1. micro-financing services were provided to 82 individuals and four group partners amounting to P1,229,000. They are implementing micro-enterprise activities vending (fish, balut, salted eggs, barter goods); sari-sari store; food production (meat, egg noodles); hog raising; garments-related activities; health products (herbal ointment). 91 % of the borrowers are regularly repaying their loan amortizations; enhanced knowledge and skills in preparing business proposals, bookkeeping, good manufacturing practices, managing enterprises, marketing strategies;
  2. Specific issues and concerns affecting the associations were presented to local government officials and personnel. Some of the issues already acted upon include improvement of road network, provision of water, provision of health services (through visits of health worker and conduct of feeding program);

– For ROOF –

  1. Fully functional and productive demo-resource and learning facilities; IOFS now operational in Sitio Udjung and Sitio Waray-Waray where the farmers’ respective associations have been registered with the Department of Labor and Employment for further future assistance; facilitated the opening of marketing channels and outlets of the organic farm products; exposed the public to an ecological setting that demonstrates the advantages of organic farming; 30 percent increase of farmer households engaged in integrated organic farming; 30 percent increase in organically grown agricultural products; 15 percent decrease of farmers using inorganic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides); 10 percent increase of farmers planting native varieties of food crops; 20 percent increase of farmers producing and using organic fertilizers; 30 percent of farmers engaged in diversified farming; and, an increase of 10 percent on the monthly farm income of every farm household.

-For Nagdilaab, covering 24 barangays in six municipalities and Isabela City –

  1. stakeholders were organized, level-off expectations identified, finalized target communities, participants, partners, and key people to participate in the project; a Memorandum of Agreement between Nagdilaab and DILG was forged; barangay officials/participants developed self awareness on their roles and functions as public officials; developed skills in development planning, participatory research, bridging leadership; 28% of the target communities formulated their barangay profile; 21 barangay action plans were developed; 63 participants developed into community facilitators and training managers; youths were formed into facilitators for voters education; motivated the youth to seek elective positions and 30% were elected; conducted one semi annual assessment and evaluation with community partners;
  2. in health, to include developed skills and awareness on reflexology, diseases, balanced diet, nutrition, exercise, filariasis; dveloped skills and awareness in herbal production and established seven community herbal gardens; produced 180 container yerbalsta maria ointment, 180 packs Lagundi granules, 46 packs turmeric granules, 148 containers macapuno ointment; individuals improved health condition of which 180 had joints pains, gas pain, 3 of whom are pregnant, 180 with asthma and cough, 46 with chest pain/ breast pain, and 148 with scabies; served 480 IDP’s children in supplemental feeding and 700 IDP relief goods, 2 immunization for KOT and 3 launching for National Filariasis Elimination program.
  3. 320 fruit/forest trees planted around the 3 watersheds; conducted 4 basic orientations on environment and ecosystem; planted 10,000 Mangrove seedlings in 10 hectares; produced billboards for advocacy on mangrove rehabilitation.
  4. 21 barangay training teams and peace advocates organized; 21 communities, seven batches of paramilitary, seven barangay peace and order councils, seven municipal/city youth associations developed peace action plans;

– For PAZ –

celebration of Mindanao Week of Peace with the theme “Building Bridges of Peace”; various activities principally arranging the regular meetings and other activities of the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRMSP); peace camps for children and youth; conduct of culture of peace and peace journalism seminars; production advocacy materials including a special calendar; publication of a monthly magazine (this PeaceWorks) and creation and maintenance of the ZABIDA website (

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