The Story of Narra: Welding her spirit and strength for success

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Her name is Narra.

It is very apt, because Narra Pacoma, 31, of San Sebastian, Samar proved that despite people who and situations that challenged her in the past, her spirit and courage proved that she, like the country’s national tree that is a symbol of strength and resilience, could withstand any storm and endure even the roughest of climates.

Despite being born and raised in the island municipality of Tagapul-an in Samar, their family left for Manila while Narra was young in the hopes of pursuing a better life. It did not work.

While Narra was able to finish her elementary and secondary education in the city, their family was not able to find the opportunities they were looking for, leading to difficulties in having food on the table and other problems of  meeting their daily needs. As such, when Narra met and married her husband, Jose, they decided to return to Samar, this time settling in San Sebastian.

Joining Kalahi-CIDSS

Unfortunately, San Sebastian also did not provide much in terms of opportunities, especially for women. While Jose worked as a fisherman, Narra was hard-pressed to find means to make a living.

She shared, “An nagtitikang pala kami pag-asawa, ako nasuporta ha iya hit akon sideline. Naglalabada ako ha iba nga balay. Pero waray na ak magpadayon kay waray naman napalaba tungod han kakuri hit panginabuhi (When we got married, I tried to support my husband’s livelihood by offering to wash clothes for other homes, but I was not able to continue that because no one was willing to pay for a laundress in this place).”

Even so, she still awaited other opportunities that she can get involved in.

Narra’s entry as a Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) community volunteer in 2013 was far from rosy.

Sanay it mga residente ngadi ha amon nga it nangunguna dapat may kapas, may aram. Asya an iba nahikasunlog han amon pag-api (People were used to having leaders who have skills and knowledge. That is why they ridiculed us when we joined),” she said.

Narra, who was only a high school graduate and sometimes a laundress, did not fit the mold of a typical leader in their minds.

Despite the negativity she faced when she started as a volunteer, Narra stood strong.

When asked why she did not hesitate to serve through Kalahi-CIDSS amidst the mockery, she proudly answered, “Han namimiling hira hin volunteer, nag-volunteer ak dayon. Waray man mag-vovolunteer nga iba kay it kadam-an nga babaye dinhi nahadlok it ira asawa, an iba liwat nadiri gud hin pagkarawat hin responsibilidad (When they were looking for volunteers, I quickly presented myself because only a few women will volunteer. It is either they are afraid of their husbands or they are afraid of the responsibility).”

Equal time, equal opportunities

Despite having met an accident in August 2014, in which she fell from her house that led to her breaking her right arm, Narra wholeheartedly immersed herself in volunteer work in Kalahi-CIDSS. She said she appreciated the trainings she attended through Kalahi-CIDSS.

Malipayon ako kun naka​-​attend ako hin training kay diri ako nag-iinukoy la ha balay nga nakatungaga la nga maghuhulat ha imo asawa. Mas maupay nga nadudugangan it akon aram nga may pulos  kay high school man la ako (I am happy when I get the chance to attend trainings. I do not like to stay at home and just wait for my husband. Though I only reached high school, it is better that I am out in the community learning new and productive things).”

Jose in turn provided full support to Narra.

“Maupay ini para ha iya kay may ada niya bag-o nga nahabaruan ha Kalahi-CIDSS ngan nakatrabaho pa hiya (This is good for her because she learns new things in Kalahi-CIDSS. Now she can also work),” he said.

Not all women in their community were as fortunate as Narra. Despite their interest to volunteer, some were not allowed by their husbands to do so. Some of her kumares’ husbands insisted that they should stay at home to perform household chores instead of roaming around the town checking for suppliers and hardware stores and checking the quality and quantity of the construction materials, which were part of Narra’s tasks. She was chosen as a member of two volunteers’ groups in Kalahi-CIDSS: the Procurement Committee and the Monitoring and Inspection Team.

Narra’s determination to volunteer came into play when Typhoon Ruby hit Samar on December 2014, ravaging almost all the houses along the coastline of San Sebastian.

Naka-evacuate gad kami pero waray na kami gin-abtan nga balay kahuman han bagyo. (We evacuated, but the typhoon destroyed our house),” she shared.

The typhoon triggered the citizens’ joint efforts in post-disaster response and rehabilitation. With the support of Kalahi-CIDSS and its community-driven development (CDD) approach, the people were given the opportunity to decide and implement their chosen project to respond to their village’s problems related to poverty, particularly for disaster response and mitigation.

In Poblacion Uno, Narra’s village, the citizens chose to implement the construction of a drainage canal amounting to P515,346 and a 60-linear meter breakwater worth P1.5 million through Kalahi-CIDSS, with funding support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an independent U.S. foreign aid agency created in 2004 which also provided funds to the DSWD program.

Aside from serving as Kalahi-CIDSS volunteers, the residents were given another opportunity through the program: working as physical laborers for the construction of the said sub-projects.

Women like Narra joined the workforce, and they were paid P260/day for their efforts, the same amount given to the men. Furthermore, they, in the spirit of bayanihan, all contributed a portion of their daily pay so that they can purchase additional materials to reinforce their breakwater.

Through their involvement in the construction and implementation of these sub-projects, Narra and the other volunteers saw that equal opportunities awaited men and women in technical and physical labor.

Kaya man magtrabaho it babaye ha construction saypa yana nga nakarawat it Kalahi-CIDSS hin mga babaye ha pag-ayad. Basta tutduan la, kaya (Women can work in construction, especially now that Kalahi-CIDSS is accepting women for paid labor. Just teach us and we can do it),” Narra confidently asserted.

It was this change in mentality that led to the community selecting skills training on non-traditional work when San Sebastian was chosen as one of the recipients of the Gender Incentive Grant, again funded by MCC and implemented through Kalahi-CIDSS. The primary goal of the capacity-building training, which amounted to P1,001,710  was to improve the quality of life in rural communities through empowering women, even persons with disabilities, in physical labor.

Even with her injury, Narra’s determination and commitment led to her selection as one of the 252 women-trainees of San Sebastian in May 2015. The trainees, which also included 86 men, were trained in six areas of non-traditional skills such as welding, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, painting, and electricity.

All the skills that were selected were relevant to Kalahi-CIDSS’ sub-project implementation, as the intention was to provide them with initial job opportunities through the program. Through this, the trainees, especially the women, were given equal access to better and well-paying jobs where they can use their newly acquired skills.

Narra chose the Training on Shielded Metal Arc Welding Machine Operations. However, she was again beset by jeers from other people, because they did not believe that she would be able to do the job because of her broken arm. As before, she stood firm.

Damo an nagyakan nga diri ak pwede umapi. Pero nagpadayon la ako pag-attend kay kaya ko man. Waray ak kahadlok. Maaram ak nga akos ko. Kanugon an oportunidad (They said I should not join. But, I continued to attend because I knew I could do this. I was not afraid. I believed that I could. I did not want to waste this opportunity),” Narra confidently said.

Pay it forward

After the training, both men and women participants are expected to become the pool of trainers in their respective communities to train their fellow villagers for free.

Now equipped with proper skills and knowledge on non-traditional work, the trainees from San Sebastian like Narra could be easily hired by other companies or government agencies through the Municipal Public Employment Service Office.

“Women can be easily hired in this new field, specifically in welding, since they have better coordination and longer patience,” Kalahi-CIDSS Area Coordinator Roy Beringuel said.

“Our trained beneficiaries were already endorsed to the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) of DSWD for further trainings and comprehensive workshop. With this new engagement, mothers like Narra can now acquire their Level II National Certification from TESDA (Technical Education Skills Development Authority) which can bring more job opportunities here and abroad,” Beringuel further explained. He added that San Sebastian’s women participation rate in Kalahi-CIDSS increased to 81.75% after the training

For some of the graduate participants in San Sebastian, serving as a trainer in the community may sound like a mandatory duty. Not for Narra, who said that it is a responsibility that she is willing to do.

Willing man ak magtutdo ha iba an akon nahabaruan. Basta akos ko, bubuhaton ko gud (I am willing to teach what I learned. If I can do it, I would do it),” she said.

When asked about the greatest lesson she learned on skills training, Narra, tearful, said, “Kun may-ada ko nahabaruan ha amon skills training, tinuod gud nga diri la pambalay it mga babaye (If there is one thing that I learned during the skills training, it is that women are not only for the home).”

She continued, “Siguro asya Narra an ginangaran ha akon ni Tatay kay pareho ako an puno nga iya gintanom, matatag at malakas. Alam ko kaya ko ang  lahat… Sana sugad gihap it panhuna-huna it iba nga  kababayen-an (Maybe this is the reason why my father named me after the tree, because I am resilient and strong. I know I am capable of everything. I hope all women think this way).”

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Introvert, wanderer, blogger, foodie, a hip-hop music writer, and one of the co-founders of a tech start-up company called GigsManila.