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A village of empowered women starts with one

by Kayla Lapiz, Linking, Learning, and Amplifier Officer  Voice Philippines

I first met Wilma Abubacar last 2019 in Cebu City, Philippines. A woman of strength, she is one of the survivors of the Marawi siege and has been internally displaced to Sultan Naga Dimaporo (SND) due to the incident. She is part of the partner community of the Mindanao Tri-people Women Resource Center (MTWRC), a then Empowerment grantee of Voice and currently implementing its Empowerment Accelerated project with us. As part of the Voice Linking & Learning community here in the Philippines, we were able to initially engage with each other briefly. Little did I know that in the coming years, we will see each other again—thrice and in person before, amidst, and ‘post’-pandemic.

 Photo of Wilma Abubacar during Voice Philippines’ monitoring visit in Sultan Naga Dimaporo)


She shared her story and experiences as a Moro (Muslim), woman, and bakwit (evacuee, internally displaced person or IDP). I vividly remember her voice: courageous, loud, and has that sense of intentionality. On our second and third meeting, I was only able to briefly hear from her yet again. I recall hearing about the situation of women IDPs from Marawi. I knew that she is a mother, a wife, and an emerging leader of the women IDPs in SND. Our fourth meeting was during our monitoring visit with our partners here in the Philippines. I was so happy to see a familiar face and warmed by her recognition of me, as well. This meeting is even more joyous because we got to meet with and talk to the whole group of women IDPs in SND, whom they now call “Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan” or Association of Women.

A member of the Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan sharing her experiences as an internally displaced woman and as part of MTWRC’s project.

A member of the Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan sharing her experiences as an internally displaced woman and as part of MTWRC’s project.)

Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan started its formation when Wilma and her co-women IDPs met the Lanao Alliance of Human Rights Advocates or LAHRA. They were gathered and invited to participate in an activity or program which aims to help the communities of IDPs affected by the Marawi Siege. Interested and decided to take action, Wilma joined the said program. It is through this that she met MTWRC whose first project with Voice focused on organizing Moro Women displaced by the siege. They aimed to raise the knowledge and awareness of the community around their rights and strengthen their capacities to take action amidst their situation.

A member of the Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan sharing her experiences as an internally displaced woman and as part of MTWRC’s project.)

MTWRC took notice of Wilma’s potential as a leader. According to Wilma, perhaps it is because of her talkative nature. Well, I think it was because of how she aspires for collective rather than just personal transformation. Before the siege, she and her family lived a simple life. They were not well-off, but they get by every day through selling vegetables and barbecued bananas/sweet potatoes. When they were eventually displaced to SND, Wilma recalled how it felt like they were birds whose wings were cut off. It has been difficult to find sources of income and a decent house to live in. Five years after the siege, while some challenges remain, she feels a bit more relieved noticing how her situation is gradually getting better. This relief comes from knowing about her rights and the happiness that her fellows in the Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan bring. Wilma expressed how in all of her experiences since joining the program of MTWRC, what brought her the most joy was gaining new friends, her co-Moro women and IDP, from different areas in Mindanao. Amidst their challenging situation, being with her fellows make her feel lighter. She can feel that she is not alone.

The Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan still has a long way to go but Wilma is decided to move forward. She also has her husband to thank for being supportive in what she does. He even encouraged her to continue taking action and being a leader, especially if she knows that this is the right thing to do and if it will help other people. Currently, the association is getting smaller in terms of numbers. Some moved to other areas, while some expressed their fear should the association be labeled negatively by State authorities. Amidst this decrease in membership and the continued impact of the siege and COVID-19, Wilma would like to share this message to her fellow women IDPs:

“I hope that my fellows will not tire from what we are trying to do and achieve. I hope we can continue, that we keep holding on. After all, our efforts do not go to waste and has helped them especially when problems arise. In a way, our problems feel smaller when we’re together.” – Wilma Abubacar

Wilma dreams to have more members in their association once again.  A lot had left but there are also still a lot of women IDPs in SND whom they have not reached. Wilma admits that she also has fears, but her commitment to fight for their rights is bigger. One of the things that motivate her to move forward is her reality that they are not in Marawi anymore, where they used to simply follow what they are told, where they are expected to do domestic work, where she and her fellows do not know each other and are normally boxed at home.

Hearing the women from the Association and seeing Wilma’s happiness during our gathering with them is one of the most inspirational experiences during our visit in Mindanao. She is proof that a leader can come from anywhere; that a leader shares the journey towards betterment with others.

“If what we are doing will eventually bear fruits, I am not the only one who will harvest but all of us.”

– Wilma Abubacar


Tagalog version: 

 Si Wilma at ang Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan ng Sultan Naga Dimaporo 

(Wilma and the Association of Women in Sultan Naga Dimaporo) 

Isinulat ni Kayla Lapiz, Linking, Learning, and Amplifier Officer ng Voice Philippines 

 Una kong nakilala si Wilma Abubacar noong taong 2019 sa siyudad ng Cebu. Isa siya sa mga mga nagging survivors ng Marawi Siege na lumikas patungong Sultan Naga Dimaporo o SND. Siya ay bahagi rin ng komunidad na sinusuportahan ng Mindanao Tri-people Women Resource Center o MTWRC, naging Empowerment grantee ng Voice at kasalukuyang nagpapatuloy ng proyekto sa loob ng Empowerment Accelerated grant. Bilang bahagi ng komunidad ng Voice Linking & Learning dito sa Pilipinas, kami ay nagkatagpo at saglitang nakapag-usap. Hindi ko lamang alam na sa susunod pang mga taon ay magkikita kaming muli. Tatlong beses— bago, sa gitna, at sa paghupa ng pandemya.  

 Ibinahagi niya ang kanyang kwento bilang isang Moro, babae, at bakwit (evacuee/internally displaced person o IDP). Tanda ko ang boses niya: may tapang, lakas at intensyon. Sa ikalawa at ikatlo naming pagkikita, pahapyaw ko lamang muling narinig ang kanyang kwento tungkol sa kondisyon nilang mga kababaihang bakwit mula Marawi. Alam kong siya ay isang ina, isang asawa, at isang umuusbong na lider ng mga kababaihang bakwit sa SND. Ikaapat na pagkikita namin ay sa kalagitnaan ng aming monitoring visits sa mga Voice grantees sa Pilipinas. Laking galak ko nang siya ay aking mamukhaan at ako ay mamukhaan niya! Mas masaya ang pagtatagpong ito dahil hindi lamang siya ang aking nakausap ngunit ang buong grupo ng mga kababaihang bakwit sa SND, na ngayon ay tinatawag na nilang “Ompongan (Samahan) ng mga Kababaihan”.  

Nagsimulang mabuo ang Ompongan ng mga Kababaihan o Ompongan nang makilala ni Wilma at ng iba pang mga kababaihang bakwit ang Lanao Alliance of Human Rights Advocates o LAHRA. Sila ay tinipon at inimbitahang sumali sa isang aktibidad o programa na ang layunin ay tulungan ang mga komunidad na naapektuhan ng Marawi siege. Interesado at desididong aksyunan ang kanyang kalagayan, sumama si Wilma sa pagtitipon na ito. Dito niya nakilala ang MTWRC, kung saan ang unang proyekto nila na sinuportahan ng Voice ay ang pag-oorganisa ng mga kababaihang Moro na lumikas ng Marawi dahil sa trahedyang nangyari. Nilayon nilang mabahagian ng kaalaman ang komunidad ukol sa kanilang mga karapatang pantao at paigtingin ang kanilang kakayahang aksyunan ang kanilang kalagayan. 

 Si Wilma ay nakitaan ng MTWRC ng potensyal upang maging isang lider. Sabi ni Wilma, dahil daw yata ito sa likas na pagkamadaldal niya. Sa palagay ko, ito ay dahil sa hangarin niyang hindi lamang pansarili ngunit para rin sa kapwa kababaihan niya. Bago mangyari ang Marawi siege, tahimik silang nabubuhay ng kanyang pamilya. Hindi sila mayaman, ngunit naitatawid nila nang maayos ang bawat araw sa pamamagitan ng pagtitinda ng mga gulay at banana at camote cue. Nang sila ay mapalikas at mapadpad sa SND, ika nga ni Wilma ay para silang ibong naputulan ng pakpak. Naging mahirap ang paghahanap ng pagkakakitaan at ng tirahan. Ngayon, kahit na may nananatiling hirap ay may nakikinita na siyang ginhawa. Ginhawang dulot ng kanyang kaalaman tungkol sa kanyang mga karapatan at ng sayang naibibigay ng kanyang mga kasama sa Ompongan. Ayon kay Wilma, sa lahat ng kanyang naranasan magmula nang siya ay maging bahagi ng programa ng MTWRC, ang kanyang pinaka-ikinasaya ay ang pagkakaroon ng mga bagong kaibigan, mga kapwa kababaihang Moro at bakwit mula sa iba’t ibang lalawigan sa Mindanao. Kahit na mahirap ang kanilang sitwasyon, naiibsan ito ng kanilang pagtatagpo at pagsasama. Ramdam niyang hindi siya nag-iisa.  

 Mahaba pa ang kanyang tatahakin kasama ang Ompongan ngunit siya ay desididong magpatuloy. Malaki rin ang kanyang pasasalamat sa suportang ibinibigay ng kanyang asawa.  Hinikayat niya si Wilma na ipagpatuloy ang pagkilos at pagiging lider kung ito ang pinaniniwalaan niyang tama at makakatulong. Sa kasalukuyan, bumaba ang bilang ng miyembro ng Ompongan. Ang ilan ay lumipat na sa ibang lugar, ang iba naman ay may pangambang mapahamak sakaling magkaroon ng negatibong paratang sa Ompongan. Sa kalagitnaan ng pagbabang ito at ng patuloy na epekto ng siege at ng pandemya, ang mensahe ni Wilma sa Ompongan:  

 “Sana yung mga kasama ko ay hindi magsawa. Sana ituloy lang namin ito at kumapit lang sila. Hindi naman nasasayang ang pagod at nakakatulong naman ito sa kanila lalu na ‘pag may problema. Kahit papaano ay nababawasan ang problema ‘pag magkakasama kami.” 

Pangarap din ni Wilma na madagdagang muli ang kanilang bilang. Marami ang nag-alisan at marami pang bakwit sa SND ang hindi pa nila naaabot ngunit sisikaping hanapin. Aminado si Wilma na kahit siya ay may takot, pero patuloy ang kanyang paglaban. Isa sa mga tumutulak sa kanyang kumilos ay ang katotohanang wala na sila sa Marawi kung saan sinusundan lang nila kung ano ang sasabihin sa kanila, kung saan gawaing bahay lang ang para sa kanila, at kung saan hindi sila magkakakilala at nakakulong lamang sa pamilya.  

Ang marinig ang mga kababaihan ng Ompongan at ang makita si Wilma na galak sa nasaksihan niyang pagtitipon ay isa sa mga pinakamasayang bahagi ng aming mga bisita sa Minadanao. Isa siyang patunay na ang isang lider ay maaaring magmula sa kahit saang sulok ng mundo; na ang isang tunay na lider ay hindi sinasarili ang paglalakbay tungo sa ginhawa. 

“Kung sakaling may ibubunga ay hindi lang ako ang aani, lahat tayo.” 

  • Wilma Abubacar 


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