Photo: Saripa Sangkopan (L) and Mimi Mikunug(R) of OBAERA
As the soft winds carry the cool breeze across sun kissed rice fields on this sunny Sunday morning, the quaint Barangay of Dimapatoy in the municipality of Bubong in Lanao del Sur, is fertile ground to grow vegetables line the areas behind the row of village houses.
Amid this idyllic scene the gentle Maranao people carry about their duties and the lone community drug store is open.
In it we find Arasmiyah Mikunug, or Mimi, a diminutive Maranao woman nearing middle age, with a big heart containing a love for her community broadened by years of engaging with a non government organization called the Maranao People Development Center or MARADECA, which provided microcredit programs, small agriculture projects and a community drug store.
"We started by joining a program called OBAERA," she explains in the local language, which stands for Ompongan sa Bae sa Ranao. It began as a small credit program for Maranao women living in various towns in Lanao del Sur.
Another OBAERA member Saripa Sangkopan explained the history of the program, starting with the community bank and lending program.
"Nagsimula kami sa pautang. Nag contribute kami lahat para makabuo ng pondo para makabili kami ng bigas para mabenta sa mga miyembro. Noong wala pa ang OBAERA sa ibang tao sila umuutang kaya mahirap. Malaki ang naitulong MARADECAcommunity bank na nakatulong para makabili ng refrigerator para makabenta ng inumin sa mga tao (we began with lending, contributing funds so that we can buy rice to resell to members. Before OBAERA, we had to borrow from others which was difficult, which is why this MARADECA Community banking program helped us a lot, and allowed me to purchase a refrigerator whichi use to sell drinks to residents), Saripa explains in Maranao.
Apart from the community bank, both Didi and Saripa explain that they received trainings from MARADECA through a partner called Voluntary Service Overseas Philippines (VSO). According to them, this helped them learn through other seminars that enabled them to engage other enterprises such as growing cash crops and even making cough syrup.
The program helped about a hundred Maranao wives in the village and in nearby communities, becoming a credit program that enabled them to start trading and reselling rice and growing cash crops like vegetables and coffee.
About the community drugstore, Didi explains that they began the drug store in 2011 after they attended a government sponsored training program in Marawi and received the generics medicines that they can sell.
Noong una nahirapan kami magbenta ng generics kasi hindi ito nakasanayan nila (“We had difficulty selling the generic medicines”, she explains, having had to sell branded medicines that they were used to.
As we talk a walk around Barangay Dimapatoy visit the drug store Didi proundly displays the store`s financial records, which according to her nets a profit of 3,000 pesos a month. "Our community drug store serves the needs of the residents of dive Barangays," she explains.
The various skills learned through the OBAERA program allowed partners and residents to sufficiently partake of the loans and are able to pay these funds back.
MARADECA, in partnership with VSO, undertook a series of training seminars in financial management that taught them to manage and record funds, skills useful for keeping financial records and documents for those who borrow. The program already has several chapters in the entire province, with hundreds of members engaged in microfinance, vegetable farming and other community based enterprises.
Armed with these skills and programs, the OBAERA women stood at the forefront of helping Marawi residents fleeing the violence during the siege in May 2017. Didi tells us how OBAIRA members have helped document and assist Marawi residents fleeing the recent siege as they sought refuge in their town.
As we leave the Barangay and return to the poblacion or town center of Bubong we notice these former Marawi residents put up market stalls and sell their wares, including recently harvested vegetables, beside a new larger public market being constructed.
As the slow hustle of workmen and traders putting together what will be a more permanent set of stalls and residences, the healing from the Marawi siege begins, the brave women of OBAERA are up to the task of helping others heal and rebuild.