International Women’s Month – Featured Leader
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – OSM! online magazine has gone a long way in promoting women leaders and achievers since it published its first article online on March 18, 2012. On the same account, its maiden feature, Merly Barrette Barlaan, has gone a long way in sustainable development and women empowerment at the grassroots level.
Never blinking or batting an eyelash, Merly has independently stirred the women’s movement in the Philippines with a vigor based on faith and political negotiations, almost at the speed of light. While she had ceaselessly said that transformation is a consciousness change, she has shown how decisive, thoughtful leadership is expressed by the simple, workable project for flowing water in her village that gave life and good health to children.
Such is the power of a dedicated, decisive woman leader.
In her own words, here is Merly giving us an inspiring update of her groundwork: realizing the true meaning of transformation of consciousness and quality life of ordinary yet exemplary womenfolk.
O: Hi Merly. Let us take a look back since you have begun your work seven yeas ago. What have been done since you returned to the Philippines to do direct development work and what is the current project you are doing for Montesunting?
MBB: With the vision and mission of creating a 10-year community development framework from the bottom up, we have been providing high quality educational programs combined with the proper training that nurtures the character and leadership qualities of children to become productive, dynamic and peace-loving global citizens.
These were implemented as part of the goals of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We partnered with local government units, education, religious, and business sector as well as international support from individual donors to NGOs.
Since 2010, we have implemented these projects:
The CWaCE Peace Library and Education Center which started in April 2010;
The Scholarship /Youth Global Leadership Training Program that started in June 2010 with youth from America and Europe;
The Village Running Water Delivery to Houses in Montesunting that started in March 2012;
The organizing of the Peace Village Movement: Mothers Raising Heroes for the Nation in October 2013;
The Children’s Farm and Playground in June 2016;
The Sustainable Village Incubator: Women’s Livelihood Training Center in July 2018;
The Village Drinking Water Station in May 2018;
The Pure Love Movement: 10,000 Heroes for Bohol “The Power to Change a Nation through Inculcating a Conscience-centered Leadership Paradigm in the Young People.” Our battle cry was – End of vote-buying and end of Unwanted Teenage-Pregnancy. This was in July 2018.
We also went into the construction of the Asia Pacific Peace Education Center (APPEC). This is a youth leadership Training Center, a home to raise 10,000 heroes of Bohol in Barangay Montevideo, in the town of Carmen.
APPEC is a partnership program of WFWP-Philippines, Family Federation for World Peace, and World Tong-il Moo Do Federation. This will also be the facility for our Zero-to-Hero Project, a one year holistic Martial Arts training program as well as the Peace Studies in partnership with World Tong-IL Moo Do Federation and International Peace Leadership College. We aim to educate and empower out-of-school-youth, and rehabilitate minor case drug-abuse victims into victors.
Our youth and young professionals enroll in a series of 120-day holistic leadership training program providing them with an altruist leadership paradigm while nurturing them in a holistically conducive environment to realize their fullest God-given potentials and become future leaders of heart and character who are principled, honorable, and incorruptible stewards of a peaceful nation.
2. Oh my. Do you ever sleep? Is there a benchmark to check on the improved life quality of the villagers?
Yes. Thirty percent of the families are now owners of small business enterprises in the community. We are seeing results of our efforts.
For example, 50 rural women participated in the Sustainable Village Incubator programs. A grant of $10,000 was awarded by Soroptimist International of the Americas launched in November 2017 in Montesunting.
The women have been trained entrepreneurial skills like cooking, wellness massage, fashion designing, and sewing through TESDA, a government agency.
In September 2018, a women’s producers cooperative was created. The La Monte Vida Producers Cooperative which is still in the formative stage. We are overcoming challenges of organizing as a group.
We also see the proliferation of Pure Love Youth Movement in the 47 towns of Bohol reaching out to 7,000 young people. The youth are crusaders in establishing the High Noon Lifestyle by fighting to end vote-buying, teenage pregnancy, pornography, and HIV-AIDS.
- What made your organizing seem so fast?
I network with schools and local government as partners. The Peace Village Movement and Family Empowerment programs were to be integrated in the policies and social protection programs of town and villages.
Right now, we have reached out to 36 town councilors and the Bohol Island State University.
- Aside from Bohol, is WFWP also engaged in other provinces or cities?
Yes. WFWP is officially accredited development partner with the Quezon City government through the Community Relations Office where we advocate for women and youth leadership, patriotism and peace building.
We also engaged partnerships with the town of Echague and Cauayan City in the town of Isabela.
In 2013, WFWP formulated four major programs to support bottom-up the national development agenda– starting with the education of women, youth, and family as the center and key stakeholders of nation-building.
We had the WFWP Peace Leadership Conference for Social Development, the Mothers’ Hearts Network all designed to educate and inspire women to be leaders and nation-builders.
The launch of the Global Women’s Peace Network in Manila Hotel was attended by 1,200 international women leaders 20 Asian countries. The event gave women the chance to share their experiences on world peace and decision-making roles.
The Mothers’ Hearts Network which kicked off in June 2014 gathered some 13,000 women leaders from 21 countries to clearly define their roles as mothers in raising responsible children.
It was an enriching event where women shared ideas and best practices as leaders and peace makers.
In 2017 and 2018, we were the lead convenor of the Quezon City Council of Sectoral Representatives. We were actively involved in the Women Leaders Summit representing 1,300 civil society organizations of Quezon City. These events were organized in partnership with Quezon City, attended by Vice President Leni Robredo, Senators Grace Poe, Cynthia VIllar, and key officials of the Gender and Development Council.
In 2019, WFWP will focus on strengthening partnership with women leaders in Quezon City and we hope to see more active engagement with our women lawmakers to empower women especially in implementing sustainable social protection systems nationwide.
- Do you think that the local interventions in Bohol could set as example for nation-building and cultural transformation? Yes, it already has – little by little.
In 2017, we launched our 20 million signature campaign in Bohol through our Mr. and Miss Pure Love Beauty Pageant to create an encouraging and inspiring message brand on abstinence before marriage with the objective of ending teenage pregnancy and preventing further spread of HIV-AIDS. Now the whole nation is collecting signatures. We are doing it in partnership with schools, non-government organizations, and faith-based organizations.
The APPEC Building which is currently being constructed is a training center /education facility that will provide leadership training and life-changing experiences for youth leaders from 41 countries in Asia Pacific and Oceania.
Our Mother’s Hearts Network is being replicated in Africa, and even in Quezon City.
The creation of a municipal ordinance in Clarin, Bohol to empower the families that came out as a result of WFWP’s high level conferences involving educators, legislators, and mayors, greatly inspired the international community. This can easily be replicated.
- Where does the hope for the Philippines lie? What should be done to brighten up the already bleak future?
The real hope is in the educated and transformed young people. However, it is important that the present leaders gather all their political will to provide a platform or an environment for these young people to develop to their fullest potentials.
It all starts with a vision, then every stakeholder must take ownership of the vision through partnership. Partnership between government, civil society, families, and the young people themselves. The vision can be achieved if all the stakeholders collectively unite centering on the vision.
I am confident that there is a bright hope for the Philippines, because based on my fighting spirit, I am determined to go all the way through, and as I look around, after seven years, I see other people beginning to see the silver lining – and it’s powerful.