ABK3 LEAP is soon to end in Mlang, North Cotabato after four years of working with the communities to reduce child labor in sugarcane farms in the 4 covered barangays of Katipunan, Liboo, New Rizal and Ugpay.
Meeting the CoMSCA members, mostly mothers of ABK3 assisted children, for the first time was a great learning experience for me. Women, who were once shy and passive members of the community, were all eager to share their challenging but fruitful journey with ABK3 LEAP.
“Dati ako’y nanay lang. Ngayon, may malaking role na ako sa barangay bilang isang CWG, trainer ng manicure/pedicure sa high school, at leader sa grupo (I used to be just a mother and housewife. Now, I have a big role in our community as a Community Watch Group, trainer for manicure/ pedicure at the local high school, and a leader),” proudly shares Nanay Lita of the Golden Savers group.
The Golden Savers group was the first CoMSCA organized in Mlang in 2012. While others hesitated to join and save as a group at first, Lita, along with 22 other mothers in their barangay, embarked on a journey that will positively impact their lives and the lives of their children. All the groups that I talked to had one evident and recurring message – ABK3 LEAP and CoMSCA had been a life-changing experience for them. Understanding and practicing the habit of saving has helped them prepare for months when expenses are expected to swell because of school related costs and special occasions.
Venturing into small scale enterprises such as bigasan (rice retailing), agri-vet supplies retailing, sari-sari (small convenience/ variety) stores after at least two cycles of saving, CoMSCA savers have learned that saving is not enough to improve their lives. Savings and income earned through CoMSCA can still be increased by investing it in social enterprises. In so doing, members also profit from the group enterprise’s income. Moreover, members take turns manning the business and receive an honorarium, in addition to their share of the profit. Jojita, a member of Diamond Savers and the storekeeper of their enterprise, happily shared that sending her child to college is now possible because of the additional income she’s getting from CoMSCA and their business.
Realizing that ABK3 LEAP will soon leave the community and free school supplies from the project will soon end, the enterprising savings groups in Mlang resolved that it was time they take on a more active role in providing for their children’s school needs. Groups now set aside 10% of the profit from their business as Educational Fund, which they distribute among the members equally on an annual basis, alongside the CoMSCA share-out.
It has been a very productive four years for the CoMSCAs in Mlang. And life for the families who used to send their children to work in the farms for additional income is getting better. CoMSCA groups in the 3 barangays have come together to form a federation and sought to be legally recognized as a People’s Organization (PO). The PO acts as a wholesaler, catering both to CoMSCA stores and other sari-sari stores in the barangay, at a higher price. Representatives of the CoMSCAs form part of the management committee of the PO and their business. The Barangay Katipunan ABK3 LEAP United Parents Association, a federation of the 5 savings groups in the barangay, now have at least P19,000 profit since they commenced late last year, on top of their earnings from their individual savings and group enterprise.
As of October 2015, ABK3 LEAP has assisted 689 CoMSCAs and POs set up their group enterprises, benefitting 12,534 members. These enterprises, many of which have just started their businesses in the past year, have gained at least P3.4 million. The project continues to provide technical support to the groups to increase their knowledge and skills in managing their businesses.
Before we left the community, I asked the members present at the meeting what they plan to do after the project ends. I asked them if they think they can go on without ABK3 LEAP. Almost in unison, the parents conveyed their commitment to continue to grow what the project has started. Everyone was grateful for the short but meaningful experience they shared with the project and everyone was hopeful that life is going to get better and that children in their community will soon be out of the sugarcane farms and pursuing a brighter future ahead.