Tambongon, Pantukan -Poverty is a never-ending battle if one chooses not to step up and do something about it and embark on changing for the better.
“She does it like a man.” The Area Coordinating Team of Kalahi-CIDSS and residents in their purok would often say this of her every time she performs her tasks.
But this description would always inspire Vanessa I. Diez, 33, for she believes that women can actually get out of their box and carve an identity of their own.
She grew up poor. Vanessa, fondly called Em-Em in their community, shared her adversity and struggles as a child as she was forced to endure poverty instead of savoring the joy of growing up.
“My father did not allow my mother to work because she had to care for us, their seven children. He believes that women should stay home and serve the family.”
The unstable income of her father being a technician,made it difficult for her family to sustain its daily needs.
Her father would rarely go home due to his work. Young Em-em had to find ways to somehow help her mother. She would sell Safari and Hebi (junk snacks) at her school.
“This was my racket back then. I had to look for means to be able to help my mother as she had no livelihood to rely on and my father was seldom home, working far. At times, we were short of cash to buy our basic needs.”
Her experience as a child was far different from the experience of other children in her neighborhood. The battlefield of life became her ultimate friend. Her family was always hard up and they had to be contented with the little or nothing on the table. Somehow, this experience never discouraged Em-Em for she believed she is above others in terms of endurance.
The trying times she underwent taught her to be skilful. She may have missed the essence of being a child –playing, sleeping, frolicking, yet she came out tougher than most. She also realized that nothing worth having comes easy in life.
Em-em was able to attend college but almost had to stop as her father’s meagre income could not sustain it anymore. Luckily, her father found a new source of income which enabled her to pursue her dream of earning a degree.
“I took up Civil Engineering but my father wanted me to become a teacher. I insisted and I won.”
On her second year, Em-em got pregnant, stopped schooling and got married. Unprepared and young, they settled down as their culture dictated.
Fear and doubts then arose. She thought this could be the end of her dream of having a better life. Her marriage began to shatter.They both had a hard time adjusting with the new responsibility.
At this time, she resorted to selling banana que.
“Hard life was nothing new to me as I had been there, done that.”
Her husband, on the other hand had a hard time looking for a job. Also, Em-em did not see the drive in her husband to really strive hard and be the main provider of the family. Despite these odds, she didn’t want to lose her faith.
Her husband gradually started to recognize Em-Em’s worth and efforts. He began to try to save their marriage. When they at last reconciled, Em-em made it clear to her husband to give her room to grow and be the best version of herself.
“It was not easy at first but what I was really aiming for was to change the trend and do away from what we were accustomed with. We were so struggling because it was only my father who had a job.”
Em-em and her husband started to teach their children to be responsible and independent. They learned to fend for themselves. Steadily, her family coped, with all members sharing with the load and working together.
With a stronger and able family, Em-em then started to serve in her church.Helping others gives her a sense of fulfillment more than anything else. She also actively participated in other community endeavors.
“I would encourage children and parents to enlist and avail of the different services offered by government for free, like circumcision and medicines. The other women in our place refused to participate as they were already burdened with home chores. I did want them to miss out on these opportunities.”
Shortly, the Barangay Council of Women elected Em-em president with 14 puroks under her watch.
Appreciating her concern and selfless service for others, the community urged her to serve as Purok Leader. In her first attempt to get elected, she won. She was awed and overwhelmed with the outpouring support of the community. She was the only woman out of four candidates aiming for the position. Then women power began to unfold in their village.
When Kalahi-CIDSS conducted its Municipal Participatory Analysis in October 2012, Em-em was elected to represent her purok along with two other residents. She was hesitant at first but accepted the new assignment.
“The journey was never easy. To convince the members of the community of this new development strategy seemed to be impossible to achieve. Residents from the 14 puroks had a hard time submitting themselves to this change. They thought that what the government introduced will not be sustained anyway [so why waste our time].”
With the construction of the 200-linear meter road through Kalahi-CIDSS, Em-Em felt she was one step closer to her dream.
This project, she considers as one of her childhood dreams. For a long time, villagers had a hard time transporting their products to the poblacion especially during rainy season. Road accidents were common as the road condition was awful, apart from being strewn with potholes.
Earlier, at the Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum where all barangays would present and defend their prioritized community sub-projects, Em-Em took a stand in defending it. She admitted she became emotional during the presentation.
“I felt my happiness could not be contained when I became the voice of my community.”
All their efforts and the sacrifices became more meaningful as their sub-project was prioritized.
Now dreams are coming through and coming true because people worked hard and resources were wisely used.
Born to a poor family, Em-em has had more than her fair share of life’s most painful tribulations. Through it all, she remained steadfast, hopeful and hardworking, helping the community, especially women, to rise up and partake.
Through the opportunities that Kalahi-CIDSS has shared with her, Em-em now celebrates the triumph of determination and positivity versus poverty. (DSWD)