Marife Relos is very involved in the coastal barangay of Penitan in Siruma, Camarines Sur, in the Philippines. At 50, she is nowhere near slowing down. Not only is she a barangay (neighborhood, or smallest administrative division) health worker, but she also works at the local daycare. When her barangay chose to participate in the TOGETHER project, Relos took on another role.
Protecting and Uplifting Health Rights
The TOGETHER project, with generous funding from Global Affairs Canada, is working to ensure that the most vulnerable — especially girls and women — can exercise their health-related human rights. TOGETHER partners with communities in Cambodia, Kenya, the Philippines, and Uganda to tackle obstacles that stand in the way of health and well-being for all. With most communities being remote, the obstacles can be numerous.
One way TOGETHER takes on the challenge is through its Community-led Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (ColMEAL) initiative. This is a training program that equips communities with the knowledge and tools they need to address challenges in their communities and find their own solutions.
Relos is now the ColMEAL chairperson in her barangay.
How Does ColMEAL Work?
Relos and the barangay leaders underwent ColMEAL training with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in the Philippines. They then brought their knowledge and skills back to their barangay. They invited members of the community to join the barangay’s ColMEAL team.
What does a ColMEAL team do?
“We are the ones who survey and evaluate cases related to early pregnancy, early marriage, and also violence against women and children,” Relos explained.
In broader terms, the ColMEAL team gathers data related to sexual health and human rights (SHRH) and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the community.
The team began by making indicators that would help them gain a better understanding of SRHR and SGBV in the barangay. They then went to work, conducting house-to-house surveys and mapping out the data. The surveys focused especially on households with youth ages 12-19.
Health Information Leads to Informed Action
The ColMEAL team’s efforts are gleaning important insights into practices and attitudes in the community that are harmful to the vulnerable. One surprised Relos.
“The thing I really learned from the survey and evaluation was that adolescent girls should be sleeping separately from their male relatives. We found out that violence and abuses happen when they don’t have separate sleeping quarters.”
Insights such as this are invaluable. They can inform the action plans of the barangay leaders and healthcare providers, ensuring the information, education, and care they give is relevant, inclusive, and effective.
“For me, it’s really important to know all the data,” Relos said. “Even though the weather is bad, or sometimes there’s too much work, we still do it because it’s very important. Especially in the cases of teenage pregnancy, so we can lay out some plans and give solutions for those cases.”
Healthier Communities Today and Tomorrow
Using the information it gathers, ColMEAL brings communities together to strategize solutions to problems.
Relos’s barangay is using the data to better inform healthcare providers, barangay leaders, and the community at large on issues related to SRHR, SGBV, and the health-related human rights of all.
They also actively collaborate with government agencies to facilitate the development of more efficient data and solutions for issues that require immediate attention. This valuable cooperation ensures a more comprehensive approach and leads to meaningful outcomes.
ColMEAL is putting knowledge and power in community hands, assets that endure beyond the project. Instead of the decision-makers traditionally leading the barangay to development, the process of CoLMEAL is being done and owned by the community members for their voice to be heard and prioritized.
If knowledge is power, then knowing how to effectively collect, analyze, and act on data will empower communities to pursue health and well-being for all well into the future.
“I’m thankful to ADRA and Global Affairs Canada for picking this barangay as one of the partners and for implementing the ColMEAL program,” Relos said. “I’m hoping it can continue so we can learn more and give solutions to our problems.”
In addition to the clear benefits to the community at large, the members of the ColMEAL team have gained something a little more personal.
“All the people participating are also thankful, especially since some of the members only finished high school. They have higher self-esteem now,” Relos said. “They are more confident now that they can help with finding solutions to the problems in the barangay. Thank you for making transformational work like this possible!”