By Marivir R. Montebon
Most of the time, the petite Merly Christina Barrete Barlaan is thinking and doing things either for her children or newly established school. Whether in the kitchen preparing food for children Hyo Won, Shin Won, Jasmine, and Lily Rose, or in her basement office doing some writing work in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she simply excels.
The key, she said, is to put your heart at what you are doing. Motherhood is indeed a 24/7 job for Merly, but she is very much your global leader as well.
She manages to squeeze in a lot of time for her profession and passion during weekdays, being the administrative assistant of the Women’s Federation for World Peace International. The WFWPI is a non-government organization that represents concerns of women at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Last year, Merly, 40, bagged the most outstanding migrant award for Community Service by the DC-based Migrant Heritage Commission because of her long-term involvement with issues concerning women and her new school project which she built in her hometown village in Bohol in the Philippines.
Before she gave birth to her youngest child in 2011, Merly founded the Center for Wisdom and Character Excellence, a not-for-profit organization which she established in her hometown in Carmen, Bohol in 2010.
The CWACE is Merly’s fourth baby, which came about a year ahead of her youngest Lily, who was born to them in the sunny month of June.
Still in its formative stage, the CWACE has grown quite quickly in time. The school aims to provide high quality education to small rural children, with the philosophy of making them productive, dynamic and peace-loving global citizens.
The school kicked off with 20 young students, aged 4-6 years old, who were enrolled for free at the CWACE in 2010. Merly hired two teachers, who taught the kids the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The first batch of preschoolers graduated in 2011 and was readily admitted to the public school system in the village. The kids excelled much better than the others who did not go through preschool education.
“We owe it to the kids to give them a bright future. So this little school, which I hope will graduate itself to become a full elementary and high school will be my contribution to human development,” she beams.
Merly’s academic background Education from the University of Bohol may have prodded Merly to set up a school of her own. She also has a Certificate of Philanthropy and Fundraising from the New York University.
The rigors of putting up a school are tremendous. It took her a lot of guts and determination to raise funds from her network of friends and supportive business entities in the US through charitable dinners. She also sold fashion jewelry and used clothes at flea markets to be able to buy construction and education materials for the school.
In one year, the building which houses two classrooms and a public library has stood.
But the vision doesn’t just end there. The preschool is actually just a spring board to a larger integrated goal of developing local citizens. Now in the works is the project called Highway to Overcoming Poverty Everywhere which takes a local face in her own birthplace in Montesunting.
In this project, the men and women of the village engage in agricultural and entrepreneurial activities aimed at improving their financial and economic conditions.
“We start with the resources they have, like land and water, and development small manageable enterprises. I am particularly excited about the massive production of malunggay (Moringa olifiera) and raising of chickens. This means good health and more money for the families,” she said.
Merly’s husband, Mar, is 100 percent all out for Merly in this endeavor. He is CWACE’s co-founder and pitches in babysitting the four children each time Merly has to go out of the house of her social functions at the UN or elsewhere.
Appointed as an Ambassador for Peace of the Universal Peace Federation, Merly has worked extensively with the Unification Movement Asia as a Special Assistant to the Continental Director (1993-2008), a position which entails responsibilities that extends to extends to 20 Asian countries. She is also the first Secretary-General of the International Cultural and Educational Foundation (ICEF) and Co-creator of ICEF’s signature project “iLEAD Program” – ICEF’s leadership training program for the youth.
She co-chaired and organized the Civil Society Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Peace and Achieving the MDGs in the Philippines” on December 11, 2008 in Manila.
Her extensive experience in partnership collaboration and facilitating international conferences at the United Nations have motivated and inspired her to dedicate her time and resources to pursue humanitarian works in the areas of peace, education, and poverty eradication.
Merly looks back and attributes to three people who mentored her with the brand of leadership from the heart, two Asian women leaders Julia Kim and Motoko Sugiyama and Nora Spurgin, an American.
At the end of the day, Merly comes home tired but happily resumes to be mother and spouse. With her domestic and global roles, a peaceful sleep is simply a treat to herself.