Shirley in her village in Camarines Norte, Philippines. All photos: Richard Wainwright/ Caritas Australia
Meet Shirley: an indigenous Filipino, an overcomer, a community leader and a world-changer.
At the age of 36, Shirley has broken through some serious barriers of poverty, discrimination, and inequality, to improve life for her family and her indigenous tribe, the Manide people, in the remote Camarines Norte province of the Philippines.
A mother of four children aged 6 to 17, Shirley is her family’s sole breadwinner – as her husband cannot work due to tuberculosis – and with the many disadvantages that indigenous people in the Philippines face, she was struggling to make ends meet and keep her children in school. She was poorly educated herself while growing up, and to survive, she was collecting materials in the forests to make slippers out of dried banana bark to then sell.
But life began to change for Shirley when she joined a Caritas-supported program – the Socio Pastoral Action Center Foundation Inc (SPACFI), which helps indigenous people to lives of dignity and self-esteem. It supports them in advocating for land rights, getting better employment, and improving their access to health, education, housing and sanitation. Nearly 1200 Manide people have benefitted from the program.
Thanks to supporters of Caritas Australia, Shirley has been trained to become an indigenous health worker, and is leading her community to stand up against discrimination, improve health and education, and pave the way for a better future. She also supplements her income by growing vegetables.
Shirley recently took over her father’s role as tribal chieftain and now represents her people on her local health board. As a community leader, she helps Manide people to access medicine, vaccines, healthcare and nutritional advice.
A Voice For Her Tribe
Shirley has been trained as a Tribal Health Worker and works in the local government run health clinic as well as conducting home visits within her community. By acting as an intermediary between government health services and her community, she helps ensure the Manide people have access to health care. Historically, the Manide have had trouble accessing health care due to discrimination and their fear of mixing with non-indigenous people.
“I became the voice of my tribe to have their needs heard,” Shirley says. “As a trained health worker, I am confident to talk, to mingle with non-indigenous people, even with government employees.”
“To have Shirley as a representative for indigenous people gives courage to the community.”
SPACFI’s Community Development Worker, Eric Encinas, says fewer children are now sick and malnourished, and more are going to school due to greater acceptance of the Manide people.
“To have Shirley as a representative for indigenous people gives courage to the community,” said Mr Encinas. “The most significant change in this community is the affirmation of their right to be heard, right to education, right to participate in community activities.”
Shirley said she is proud of what she has achieved for her tribe.
“My dream is to be able to provide for my kids and have them finish their studies,” she said. “I am so happy and grateful for all the help of Caritas Australia. I hope and pray to continue their assistance, particularly to the needs of indigenous people.”
The Philippines: There’s More Disadvantage Than You Think
Despite being a middle-income country, around 2.8 million kids in the Philippines don’t go to school. And for the nation’s nearly 17 million indigenous people, life is incredibly tough. They are displaced from their traditional land, and often bullied at school, forcing many children to give up on their education.
Due to unequal access to health services, preventable diseases like tuberculosis, dengue fever and measles are common in indigenous communities, and the death rate of mothers and babies during or after child birth is high. In fact, 28 out of every 1,000 babies die before they turn five.
By supporting Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion throughout the period of Lent leading up to Easter, Australians can help provide life-saving support for people experiencing poverty and oppression in places like the Philippines.
To donate or learn how to host a ‘Pancake Tuesday’, ‘Fish Friday’ or ‘Water Challenge’, head to Caritas Australia’s website, www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion.