I have taken a special interest in the #ForMindanao Wave 2 projects since I was one of the resource persons during a boot camp last April 5 – 7, 2018 in Opol, Misamis Oriental. Thirteen (13) teams received grants from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines through Naawan Helps to support their initiatives in response to the Marawi Crisis. As part of the assistance, the recipients were trained on the various aspects of project management including the use of the Do No Harm ( DNH ) Approach.
The DNH Approach is particularly useful for interventions located in conflict areas. By taking into consideration the context, project teams are encouraged to integrate conflict sensitivity in their planning and implementation to ensure that it does not create or aggravate existing tensions.
As a trainer, I am curious how project teams applied the DNH approach and how their projects benefited from it.
With this in mind, I joined the #ForMindanao Bloggers and Media Tour. I also saw this as an opportunity to share my knowledge to the project teams on managing community-based organizations and social enterprise projects. On my part, I felt that by listening to their narratives I will be able to get deeper insights on grassroots project management and by immersing myself in the context of these projects I will have a better grasp on how the DNH Approach can be used in the succeeding initiatives.
The Media Tour covered several projects in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. They are in various stages of implementation, some are just starting, others are midway to completion. I also like the fact that most of the projects are built on existing initiatives. In a way, the teams are already strengthening and/or expanding in terms of participants coverage or volume of production in the case of livelihood projects.
Among these initiatives, three (3) projects stood out in their use of DNH Approach.
1. Project Malaya
When the project team entered their target community, Buadi Itowa, they faced resistance because people were suspicious of their activities. The initial impression was they are affiliated with the ISIS terrorist group. I am not sure why the community associated the activities of this faith-based intervention with Isis i.e. recruitment but this was the main obstacle why the team can not move forward and establish trust.
To counter this, they approached the Barangay Chairman in the area, briefed him about the project and asked for support. Then they conducted discussions explaining who they are and what they intend to do. Eventually, the people were able to understand, appreciate and supported the project by participating in the activities.
2. Peace Crops
The project have two areas, 1) Bito Buadi Itowa and 2) Marantao . While both areas are owned by the community leaders, the circumstances affected their intervention. Bito is primarily for internally displaced persons ( IDPs ) from the most affected area in Marawi while Marantao as potential recruitment ground for radicalization.
The potential conflict identified is not between the team and their partners, but between partners.
There was hesitation from Bito’s leader to immerse his youth group with Marantao’s because of the ill impression they have of the place. To avoid inter-group tension, the team had to forego their initial plan of exposing them to each other, following the first training.
Also, in both cases, the team did not assert the project to the community until they had secured the approval of the Barangay Chairman.
3. S.P.E.L.L PEACE
This project in Butig has a very interesting challenge that they have solved. Normally, women are entrusted in the role of nurturing and assisting their children in their educational requirements. School concerns are primarily the domain of the women while the men go out in the fields, manage a small business or get a job as the breadwinner in the family. But when the PTAs ( Parent-Teacher Association ) were organized, they chose a male parent to lead because traditionally in Maranao society, the men are the leaders and women play supporting roles. This way they have shown respect to tradition at the same time gained the support from the fathers for the project.
Lessons from the field.
1. Recognize traditional cultural practices and leverage it to gain support for the project.
It is very important that project teams are sensitive to cultural perspectives to avoid unintentional disrespect that would most probably result to tension. There are instances that project processes or activities may run against cultural practices of a community so it is crucial to take some time to understand them to avoid misunderstanding.
In the case of the S.P.E.L.L PEACE Project, had they not considered the practice of making men the leader, they would have shown disrespect and created tension in the community. But by making them officers of the PTA, the project team have gained the support of “disinterested” fathers to the initiative.
2. Coordinate or work with local authorities to gain project credibility and legitimacy.
There are quiet a number of organizations that enter a community without proper coordination with the local authorities. They believe that since it is a private initiative, the government does not have to be involved. Sometimes this creates fear and confusion especially if the organization is new to the community or the locals are not familiar with the people running it. Establishing trust is crucial and by coordinating with local authorities in the area, their involvement will give more credence to the project and put to ease the people’s fears.
In the case of Project Malaya and Peace Crops, it is crucial that they coordinate with local authorities since their target communities are also areas where ISIS Terrorists may have a presence, people are wary and fearful. The fact that team members from the Project Malaya were perceived as recruiters for the Isis group is an indicator that the community is not receptive to the project and their presence is already creating tension. Without the involvement of the local authorities, it would be difficult for them to engage the community.
3. Recognize the fears of the partner communities and make adjustments in project activities if necessary.
When partner communities voice out their fears and hesitance to undergo certain activities, there are cases where implementors will just go ahead without addressing the misgivings of the community. The usual reasons are they cannot do anything about it because it was already in the plan or it is standard procedure. When activities can potentially cause tension, the project teams should be flexible enough to adjust activities without necessarily sacrificing project goals or conduct a dialogue to clarify and thresh out issues to ease the tension.
This is what Peace Crops did when the community leader of Bito is hesitant to immerse his youth group with that of Marantao’s. Had they pursued the joint immersion, aside from causing inter-group tension, the Bito community would most likely withdraw from the project which will derail the initiative.
My thoughts on the ForMindanao Initiative
Most of the grantees of the ForMindanao projects are young leaders who are just starting to implement projects in their localities. By introducing the Do No Harm Approach, these young leaders are given the right tools to implement conflict sensitive initiatives. Since the approach is “highly compatible with community-based participatory processes, it may in fact help strengthen local capacities for peace, in the process of using it”.
Although the DNH Orientation covered only the fundamentals, the participants were able to appreciate it and applied it to their projects. For the succeeding projects, it would be more effective if the DNH approach is already embedded in the project plans i.e. processes, tasks and even selection criterias.
The gains of the ForMindanao initiative is two-fold. First, despite its limited funds it is responding to the needs of the communities in conflict areas. Second, it is developing young leaders – conflict sensitive, respectful to local practices and appreciative of the community’s capability to contribute to a project. A significant step towards a more peaceful Mindanao.