Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao Del Norte- “Through prayer, action, unity and understanding, there is strength to achieve whatever we aim to do,” Brgy Gupitan Rural Health Midwife, Mary Jean I. Sabudan strongly believes in this.

Born of a Mandaya-Ata-Manobo Dibabawon descent, Mary Jean was declared recently as Regional Pantawid Focal under Health Category. She has been serving the Indigenous Peoples in her community for nine years now.

Hard up

“We were very poor. Farming was our only means of living. Since my parents had eight children to feed and support, we really felt the struggle of surviving each day,” Mary Jean recounted.

Even as a child, Mary Jean already devoted herself to strive and study hard in order to free her family from poverty.  She also wanted to extend help to her fellow tribe members who were in the same fate as them.

“I almost lost hope for a brighter future after finishing elementary school. My parents were incapable of sending me to high school, let alone support my college education. But I refused to let go of my goals. I worked as a house helper to support my high school education,” Mary Jean said.

Fortunately, with the determination and effort of her mother, they were able to seek assistance from a National Government Organization (NGO) to help Mary Jean finish a college degree. Mary Jean then finished a course in midwifery and subsequently, passed the board examination. Equipped with her educational achievements and professional skills, Mary Jean returned to her hometown to serve her community, her tribe, and help her family start a better life.  

Volunteer worker

Even with noble intentions, starting out her professional journey wasn’t easy. Mary Jean couldn’t find a job fit to her qualifications in their town. It was in 1998 when she started volunteering in Barangay Gupitan as a community health worker.

“I served the people of Barangay Gupitan where many residents are lumads, despite the difficulty of reaching the area due to harsh roads, impending flash floods, and the looming threats to security and safety of volunteers.” Mary Jean said.

None of these dangers hinder Mary Jean’s dream to help the community in need of her services and that of her fellow midwives, doctors and barangay health workers. They would visit this remote sitio out of sheer sense of volunteerism.

“I may not have received any financial compensation but my heart is full of joy knowing that I have contributed to the good health and well-being of the people that we served.” Mary Jean said.

As volunteer, Mary Jean has formed partnerships with various medical groups such as the Mercy Maternity Clinic and the Malaysian on-The-Job-Trainee Doctors to improve the services they extend to remote areas. “There are times that government support is not enough that is why I thought of asking help from other parties”.

As Pantawid Coordinator

In 2009, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has included all Ata-Manobo and Dibabawanon tribesmen in the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer for Indigenous Peoples or MCCT-IP. With the implementation of this program, Mary Jean had seen great improvements in the lives of her fellow lumads.

“I am thankful to be part of this 4Ps program as coordinator. Through Family Development Sessions (FDS), I am able to impart my knowledge in health and wellness, especially on the importance of a pre-natal check-up.”

Mary Jean also initiated efforts to educate the community about the importance of immunization through FDS. Mary Jean also introduced to them the different health services provided by the government like free vitamins, free medication, free medical examination and consultation.

Mary Jean as a health worker observed that mothers in the community struggle to find a safe and accessible birthing place. Thus, as one of her proudest initiatives, she coordinated with officials of Barangay Gupitan to help establish a birthing facility in the area and was issued a resolution in year 2014.

“For me, being a 4Ps coordinator is not an easy task. One needs to deal with different kinds of people with different levels of needs. As an IP and a partner in implementing the Pantawid Program in the community, I continue be inspired by God’s grace in my work.”

Because of these ‘extra mile’ efforts, Mary Jean was proclaimed Regional Winner under Health Category of the first ever Search for Pantawid Focals.

This search aims to recognize the efforts and services of partner stakeholders from the schools and health centers who have been crucial in the successful implementation of the program.

At present, regional Pantawid Pamilya is helping 226,230 families in 43 municipalities, 6 cities, covering all 5 provinces, by keeping their children healthy and in school. The program also has 29,070 IP beneficiaries in Davao Region under the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer for Indigenous Peoples (MCCT-IP). (DSWD)