Sunday, January 9, 2011

ULAP's silver lining

THE ANSWER is in the clouds. That is, if one is to go by the name of this organization run primarily by women and say the word with tongue in cheek.
“Ulap” literally means cloud, but for the women who want to start over, go on their own and bravely forge ahead, Ulap means Ugnayang Lakas Patungo sa Pag-unlad. Here the meaning of Ulap translates into something like “a gathering of strength towards progress.” It sounds awesome, but for those who are decided to eke a better future for their families, it should mean precisely that.
Brigida “Virgie” Apuyan Arteta, 49, has been a member of Ulap for eight years now. It was Ulap, a people’s organization based in Legazpi City in Albay, that gave her hope, strength and courage to start over and move on after a failed marriage.

Virgie’s case is not unusual. After their five children were born, her husband, a construction worker, began to look elsewhere. “Nagbalik siya sa pagkasoltero (He went back to being a bachelor),” Virgie says in crisp Bicol and sans pain in her voice. She laughs the laughter of the liberated.

By Virgie’s own account, she had done her legwork and gathered enough evidence of her husband’s infidelity. To the police precinct she went and had her complaint blottered. She even sought help from the Public Attorney’s Office. Parties involved came face-to-face in a meeting but there was no mistaking the fact that the marriage had already smashed against the rocks.
To make a long story short, Virgie had no choice but to set herself free and be on her own. She did not have much of a formal education, having stopped schooling after sixth grade. For a time she left the children with someone she trusted and went off to find a job. After she found work as a laundrywoman, she gathered her brood and put their lives back on track. She has her hands to show for all the hard work she continues to do.

And then she met Magdalena “Dalen” Abejuela Ramos, who invited her to join Ulap, which became a support group—emotionally and materially—for Virgie. “Little by little my problem became lighter,” Virgie recalls. Her newfound strength and resolve, she adds, had a positive effect on her children (now aged 24, 22, 19, 14 and 9).

Dalen, 63, is like a mother hen in Ulap. Like Virgie, she did not have much formal schooling and finished only Grade 4. Through Dalen’s leadership and Ulap’s micro-lending program, many families have experienced improved lives.

According to Dalen, her family found themselves in a “home along da riles” or by the railroad tracks after they were driven out of the land which had been their home. Because they were poor, they could not afford the services of a lawyer. The family moved to San Roque, a barangay (village) in Legazpi City that used to be known for its seedy, slum-like ambiance at that time. Of course, the place has since changed its ways and look, thanks to the people who worked on the community’s transformation, “diit-diit” or little by little, and to Ulap.

A transforming presence in this community are the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) nuns, who came in 1990 to accompany the poor and minister to women in need of support, women who are in pain, in danger, or trapped in oppressive situations.

The Good Shepherd Sisters are into “community-based integrated services (geared) toward economic justice and eradication of gender violence.” The Good Shepherd Home in Legazpi City offers direct services for the recovery and healing of women and children in violent situations. Within the Good Shepherd compound is a warm and quiet home for these survivors in the process of picking up the pieces and starting over.

Side by side the personal services that the Sisters render to individuals are socio-economic development programs, community organizing, training and formation of leaders. Sr. Veronica Nobleza, RGS, head of the RGS Legazpi community, says that the sisters are also active in advocacy and networking. Integral growth and development of individuals and the community are paramount.

When Typhoon “Reming” devastated the Bicol region two years ago, when flood waters poured into San Roque and dark clouds hovered in the typhoon’s aftermath, Ulap revealed a silver lining through its women’s strength and resolve to forge on.

Virgie and Dalen are just two individual women who have personally experienced the transforming power of women helping women and who have directly participated in their community’s becoming.