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From Isolation to Connection

Date: November 28, 2022

By Denise Rafaeli Cadorniga

Having grown up in faraway Ilocos Norte, Annielyn integrated herself into her new local community in Basilan. Now, this northern feminist supports peacebuilding in southern region.

Annielyn is a former nurse from Ilocos Norte, who studied midwifery and worked in Malaysia as Overseas Filipino Worker. She met her spouse in Kuala Lumpur and now lives in Basilan, serving as a Barangay Health Worker.

Being an Outsider

Annielyn is from Ilocos Norte, in the northernmost part of the Philippines, but moved to be with her spouse. When she first came to Basilan, an island in the southernmost part of the Philippines, she faced discrimination. She could immediately tell that there was mistrust of outsiders. And she certainly felt like an outsider: she came from the opposite end of the country and she faced language and religious barriers (Annielyn grew up Christian and hadn't yet converted to Islam).

But Annielyn persevered. She got to know her new community, and they got to know her. Some of the discrimination eased, partly because she built those relationships and trust, and partly because she learned from the people of Basilan: she became a part of her barangay, learned the language, and found Islam.

She had been trained as a nurse and a midwife, and knew she wanted to use her skills in the community.

Once Annielyn was settled into Basilan and her new job as a health worker, she began noticing issues that Basilan faces as a marginalized province. As a health worker, Annielyn often offers to bring patients to the hospital if their case is no longer manageable at the local level. But some are afraid of visiting hospitals in bigger cities due to fear of discrimination. She saw her patients fear the same discrimination that she felt when she arrived—discrimination of outsiders.

Basilan Peak

The Violence that Comes with Isolation

Annielyn has noticed that many people are closed-minded towards groups outside of their own, which creates a feeling that they are being controlled or attacked by outsiders. She believes that this fear has made people in Basilan susceptible to violent ideologies or joining the armed non-state groups that are engaged in active conflict in the area.

"You can pray five times a day, but when you kill someone, you’re already forgetting God."

Pwede kayo mag pray nang five times a day, pero kapag pumatay kayo, nalilimutan ninyo na ang Diyos."

This lack of peace has contributed to a lack of proper education, which has contributed to other things, like health issues and early marriages. Some community members are unable to access government services and economic opportunities due to the divide that conflict causes.

These have all compounded. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been accompanied by economic crisis and even more unrest, making communities even more vulnerable to recruitment by armed non-state groups—especially women and young girls, who are increasingly involved in suicide missions and recruitment networks.

Annielyn recalls that, shortly after moving to Basilan in 2016, the violence in her town became so uncontrollable, residents of the town were forced to evacuate. Annielyn was pregnant at the time. Amidst the evacuations, she knew she wanted a better life for her children and for all the children of Basilan. She believes that peace and education are the answers to these issues—a way to end the violence that is so vehemently wrong in her eyes.

Building Relationships and Building Peace

Annielyn acknowledges that resolving violent conflict is difficult and there is a lot of work to be done. However, she is far from alone in these efforts.

Annielyn has attended Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) workshops focusing on empowering communities against violence, as well as training on mental health and psychosocial first aid for those who are most at risk. Much of this centers on gender-sensitive training, which is crucial in communities where women are marginalized.

As the President of Barangay Health Workers Association, Annielyn works these concepts into her own seminars, and noted that the youth have already been influenced. Young women in her community are more aware of their rights and their capabilities, especially those who have learned to deconstruct traditional gender roles. This has been a strong bond in developing the community and maintaining peace, as integrating more inclusivity into development can transform the entire community

"What we learned about women, that we actually have rights to, you know, act. I really learned a lot. The youth, learning about those sex and gender concepts, especially those who were with us there, they share that their minds have been opened."

Yung natutunan po, tungkol sa kababaihan, yung may rights pala tayo na umano, yun... Marami po akong natutunan talaga. Mga youth, sa sex and gender na yan, lalo na yung mga kasama namin doon, shinashare nila na nabuksan yung kanilang isip.

Playing an important leadership role in her community, Annielyn also hosts programs to help empower women who otherwise have been marginalized due to their situations. She supports early mothers, such as those who have entered into arranged marriages as young as fourteen years old and already have two or three children. Their children are often malnourished due to a lack of resources, being unemployed at a young age, and a lack of knowledge about what to feed their children. Young mothers often turn to porridge, rice, and sugar for their children, which is insufficient. She says that food can sometimes be difficult to grow as well, but she says that many mothers are starting to garden, growing plants like malunggay, to help their children meet their nutritional needs.

"I would like to thank you all from the NP organization who are here to help us open their hearts and minds for the future of our children." 

Yung natutunan po, tungkol sa kababaihan, yung may rights pala tayo na umano, yun... Marami po akong natutunan talaga. Mga youth, sa sex and gender na yan, lalo na yung mga kasama namin doon, shinashare nila na nabuksan yung kanilang isip.

Pleased with her progress through her own initiatives in partnership with NP’s Women-STRIVE Project, Annielyn wants to continue serving her community and build on what has been started in the area. She believes that establishing a foundation of peace and informing community members of their own agency in shaping their community's future can have a powerful impact.

* * *

Annielyn is one of the beneficiaries and training participants of the Women-STRIVE Project implemented by Nonviolent Peaceforce through funding from Australian Aid and supporters like you. Women-STRIVE is being implemented in Lanao Del Norte and Basilan to contribute in preventing and countering violence through women empowerment in local peacebuilding, community-based conflict transformation and peace advocacy.

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.
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