An eye opener to the people: Meilani Lazo-Libre and her experience working in Plan International

Meilani and her team in Malabod, Datal Lutay Malungon Sarangani Province.

   As a Learning Specialist of Plan International, Meilanie Lazo-Libre would never forget the long trek to far flung communities in Sarangani Province, the boat riding experience with the locals in Liguasan Marsh in Maguindanao Province and her presentation of project objectives to the LGU officials. She has learned so much from it and eager to extend her service even if the project is over. Her passion as community worker serves as inspiration to the people she has influenced.

   She is a passionate community worker who advocates for “Education for all”. As she describes, the ReaCH Mindanao Project on education is not only beneficial for the communities but also for her since she is an advocate of child rights and education. Her wide range of experience in working in the different NGOs and INGOs became her advantage on why she got hired on this project. Her exposure in community development helps her to become flexible as a community worker. 

   “It’s not hard to adjust. My experience in different NGOs and INGOs serve as an advantage that’s why Plan hired me for the project,” says Meilani. 

   Before she became Learning Specialist in Plan International, Meilani served as Division Social Mobilization Coordinator in different NGOs and INGOs. For example she became a focal person for education in UNICEF project from 2000-2010 under the Department of Education (DepEd). Since she works in DepEd, Meilani asked permission to his Superintendent to work in Plan International. Fortunately, her boss always supports her activities. She started working in Plan on November 2013. 

   “It’s my first time to work with Plan International. I feel blessed because I have good experience in community work. I am quite familiar in the job because of my immersion in IP communities in Sarangani Province,” says Meilani. 

   The REACH Mindanao Project on education of Plan International ended in September 2015. It’s a two-year development project in Mindanao which covers the provinces of Maguindanao and Sarangani. Dubbed as Resilience and Change for Children and Families in Mindanao (REACH Mindanao), the project envisions that boys and girls would live in resilient communities and are able to access their health and protection rights through locally delivered and managed services. 

   The project covers 24 barangays with various project components. The education component implements activities which support the Alternative Delivery Mechanisms (ADM) in Sarangani and Maguindanao. It endeavors to contribute to improved access and quality basic education among children in the remote communities of the target provinces. Plan partners with Department of Education (DepEd) and Local Government Units (LGUs) in the implementation of REACH project on education. 

   The project really suits for her in the sense that ADM is a DepEd program. She is quite familiar with it because she is the Supervisor of ADM program in DepEd.

Meilani and her team with DepEd representatives during their boat riding experience in Liguasan  Marsh at Dalgan Pagalungan, Maguindanao Province 

   One of the things that she would never forget on working in this project is their field experience in Maguindanao Province. This area has a long history of armed conflict that leaves social, economic and political impacts in the communities. As Meilani relates, more Internally Displaced People (IDP) needs care and attention. 

   “Maguindanao Province situated in the lowlands. The people in the province experience different armed conflicts in their lives; from the rebels fighting against the army up to the family feud or Rido. It has different scenario but has almost the same needs,” Meilani recounts. 

   Through project interventions of NGOs like Plan International, they would educate the people about health and sanitation, values education, literacy and development projects. 

   “It’s not hard to educate the people if you understand them. It’s not hard if you focus on them. The people in Maguindanao have a different mindset. They are more into dole outs than long term projects. It takes time to educate them. But they are open to change,” says Meilani. 

   In every beneficiary, they have conducted three consecutive orientations before the implementation of the project. Brgy. Dalgan, in Pagalungan Maguindanao did not embrace the project among the beneficiaries in the province because they preferred money over the project itself. 

   “You cannot please everyone. I cannot blame them for not accepting the project. They were introduced in that kind of short term mentality. That time I felt depress because they missed the opportunity given to them,” says Meilani. 

Aside from the mindset of their beneficiaries, it also served as a challenge for Meilani and her team to go in Maguindanao. Most of the areas in the province are base camps of MILF. You cannot easily visit the place unless you ask permission to them. But with proper coordination of the locals they were able to visit the place and implemented their project on education. 

   The geographical location of Sarangani Province also serves a big challenge for Meilani’s team. Most of the beneficiaries of REACH Mindanao project in Sarangani are situated in far flung areas.

Meilani and Tres Besena from Public Information Office of the Provincial Government of Sarangani, during the shoot of a short documentary about the REACH Mindanao project in sitio Datal Lutay, Brgy. Blaan Malungon Sarangani Province.

   “I would never forget the long hours of trekking in the rolling hills and mountains. Through this project I also learn to ride a horse. I also realized that even though they are in the same tribe, they have different perspective,” as Meilani recounts. 

   Furthermore, not all the officials were supportive in the project. They thought that the project would cater all their needs. 

   “Not all the barangays in Sarangani said yes to the project. Some of the barangay officials would want us to shoulder all the project requirements like learning center.” 

   But this incident did not stop Meilani to push her advocacy. She remains persistence about the project. The Provincial Government of Sarangani appreciates the program. LGU-Sarangani supports it and remains committed in helping to sustain the program. 

   Meilani and her team always attend the Sangguniang Bayan session in Sarangani. They were eager to present their output. As a result, the local officials easily embrace the project because they saw the benefits of the project to their constituents. The Provincial Government of Sarangani and Plan International created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that eventually became Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to institutionalize the project on education. 

   “It’s for the sustainability of the project,” says Meilani. “In its first year they witnessed the benefits of the program. That’s why they have decided to replicate it to other barangays.” 

   Despite its proven success, the DepEd Sarangani still question the effectiveness of the project. Some DepEd officials question the capacity of para teachers in teaching their students. Meilani defended the para teachers during their conference meeting in the Provincial Capitol. 

   “The para teachers really immerse in the communities. They are in the same tribe and they can communicate well with the locals using their own dialect. And most importantly, they visit the homes of their pupils. Don’t question the capacity of the para teachers. Ask yourself if what your contribution in the program is. We must be thankful that they are there. I really challenged them about it. I said to them that this is DepEd program. Why keep asking so many questions. Why not support the program,” says Meilani. 

   Meilani and her team are transparent about the project. They always coordinate with the locals and the officials. They presented their data and the progress of the project. They gave situational analysis and other necessary data for monitoring and evaluation of the project. 

   “Even if it is 10 students that goes to school it is still matters. We presented to them raw data. Even if 1 or 2 students attended school still it matters,” says Meilani. 

Meilani is focusing on her work instead of the negative criticism she received from her detractors. Meilani and her team are not only providing basic education but also life skills like planting for their own food. She inculcates to them the concept of sustainability for them to continue the project. She always emphasizes the value of collaboration among the LGUs and the stakeholders so that the project would succeed. 

   “When you go directly to the community and you involve the LGUs and the communities it is possible that project would succeed. It is about good support system and collaboration. I feel satisfied because we help many people in this project. It’s a community base project that’s why they benefited on it,” says Meilani. 

   “The sustainability of the project also lies to them,” Meilani adds. 

   Meilani is thankful for a lot of reason. She is thankful for the sacrifices, willingness and interests of the students. She is thankful for the hard work of the para teachers, teachers and school heads. She is also thankful of the support of LGUs in the program. She is glad that she established good relationship with many people because of this project. And most importantly, she is thankful that she shares her expertise and able to help other people. 

   “It’s not about the salary. It’s about helping other people. I hope Plan International would continue this project for the welfare of the people,” says Meilani. 

   As a passionate advocate of “Education for all” she is able to inspire many people. Her dedication and perseverance in her advocacy leave mark in the community she has gone to. Words are not enough to describe her dedication in her work. Many people have notice this good traits of Meilani and one of them is Gov. Solon of Sarangani Province. As what Gov. Steve Solon says, “You are an eye opener to all of us.” 

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