Muslim mothers of Baseco in the Philippine capital of Manila launched on March 30 a rice for peace social enterprise that will provide additional income opportunities to women and sustain the community-run madrasa (Islamic school) that teaches Islamic values and way of life to Muslim youth.
Ummahat Baseco, a group of women who have been supporting the provision of basic services in one of the country's biggest slums since 2007, recently formed the Ummahat Manila Enterprises (UMME) to raise funds for the operations of the Mahad Baseco Madrasa and remuneration of the ustadzes (Islamic teachers) who will teach young Muslims in the enclave to be resilient to the lure of illegal activities and extremist ideologies and recruitment.
According to Sally Impao, member of Ummahat Baseco, almost half of Baseco’s population are Muslim settlers who fled conflict-stricken towns in Mindanao, Southern Philippines since the 1990s in search for jobs and economic opportunities. However, the discrimination and exclusion that Muslim Filipinos experience, especially in urban areas outside Mindanao, push many Muslim women and youth in Baseco to engage in illicit activities and make them vulnerable to extremist influence that weaponizes religious and cultural identities to justify violence against others.
“Hindi kami makapag-hanapbuhay sa Mindanao. Sa totoo lang, kaming mga kababaihan ang talagang totoong biktima ng lahat-lahat ng kaguluhan. Kaming mga nanay ang nakatira sa evacuation center kasama ang aming mga anak. Kaya naisipan naming na pumunta dito sa Manila dahil hinahanap naming ang opportunity para magkaroon kami ng matiwasay at masaganang buhay. Pero sa kasawiang palad, kabaliktaran ang expectation naming dahil pagdating naming dito, discrimination ang inabot namin. Nahirapan din kami kahit sa pag-aaply ng trabaho, ayaw nilang tanggapin ang mga Muslim. Kaya ang mga iba ay pumapasok sa mga illegal na gawain para lang makakain ang pamilya niya,” Impao said.
(We couldn’t find work in Mindanao. In fact, we women are the real victims of conflict. We mothers are the ones who live in the evacuation centers with our children. That’s why we decided to come to Manila to seek opportunities and have peaceful and prosperous lives. Unfortunately, what we found was the opposite of our expectations. We experienced so much discrimination. We had difficulties applying for jobs because they won’t hire Muslims. This is why others got involved in illegal activities just so their families could eat.)
“Kasi nagkakaroon ng gulo ang isang community pag sobra nang hirap. Dahil sa naiisip namin na negosyo, mababawasan din (ito), magkakaroon din ng kabuhayan doon sa community,” Myrna Masukat, another Ummahat member explained.
(Conflicts arise in a community when there is so much hardship and poverty. Now that we thought of putting up a business, these will be lessened because there will be livelihood opportunities in the community.)
Community-run Islamic schools
Aside from alleviating the plight of families, Ummahat Baseco saw it necessary to put up this social enterprise to sustain the operations of the Mahad Baseco madrasa, especially because Islamic schools supported by the Department of Education (DepEd) only teach the Arabic language and Quran reading, but do not incorporate Islamic values in the curriculum. Most community-run madrasa, that teach Islamic values such as tolerance and peace, operate through the contributions of parents.
Ang hirap kasi sa madrasa dito, hindi siya naka-attach sa DepEd kaya hirap na hirap ang mga ustadz kung paano kumuha ng income. Siyempre ang mga ustadz may mga sariling pamilya din yan at kailangan nilang magkaroon ng hanapbuhay para sa pamilya. Hindi sapat yung kinikita ng ustadzes dito dahil sa contribution lang ng mga parents," Masukat said.
(The thing is, our madrasa is not attached to DepEd so the ustadzes find it difficult to obtain an income. Of course, the ustadzes have their own families and they need to be employed for their families. Right now, the ustadzes do not earn enough with only contributions from the parents.)
The Mahad Baseco Madrasa is run by 10 volunteer ustadzes. More than 100 students attend the school every weekend.
Role of women in peacebuilding
Nina Bahjin-Imlan, Project Officer of International Alert Philippines, a peacebuilding NGO that provides mentoring and technical support to the Ummahat Baseco explained that building conflict-resilient communities means involving all sectors, especially marginalized youth and women.
“Youth are easy targets of violent extremist groups because of the lack of opportunities for education and livelihood and employment. The same goes for women, especially Muslim women who face double discrimination both for being Muslims and women at the same time. Wala silang oportunidad para makakuha ng trabaho, wala silang boses sa lipunan, hindi sila nabibigyan ng political participation (They do not have opportunities to get jobs, they do not have a voice in society, and they are not given opportunities for political participation),” Bahjin-Imlan said.
According to Bahjin-Imlan, women are the glue that binds communities. Providing them opportunities to participate in socio-economic and political activities that enhance their capacity to provide for their families eliminates the need to engage in criminal activities, reduces the influence of violent extremist groups, and uplifts their stature in the community as a strong voice or reason and compassion.
“Mahaba at hindi naging madali ang proseso ng pagdevelop ng rice trading business ng ating women partners sa Baseco. Pero dahil sila ay may clear vision, at dahil meron silang napakagandang mission hindi lamang para sa kanilang mga sarili kundi pati narin sa community, ay nagawa nilang magpursige at maipatupad itong maliit na negosyo,” Bahjin-Imlan shared.
(The development of the rice trading business of our women partners in Baseco has not been quick and easy. But because they have a clear vision, and they have a noble mission not only for themselves but for the whole community, they managed to be persistent and make this social enterprise a reality).
The UMME initiative is supported by International Alert Philippines with funding support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the New Zealand Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Australian Government.