When asked about her favorite activities, Cassandra says she enjoys learning about history and playing with her rubik’s cube. “I haven’t finished solving one yet but I am practicing,” she shared.
Although she hasn’t solved her rubik’s cube yet, she has already contributed to solving the problems that children face in her community. She has done this by taking part in Save the Children’s Child-centered Social Accountability (CCSA) process in her barangay.
Save the Children, through its Sponsorship Program, introduced the CCSA process in select communities in Sarangani and North Cotabato to engage children to play an active role in policy advocacy in their communities.
“I was introduced to the concept of CCSA by my mother. She told me that I would learn about the rights of children if I joined the activity,” Cassandra said. “Learning about the rights of children is new to me. I was excited because I haven’t joined an activity like this before. It was my first time so I was also nervous.”
As part of the CCSA process, Cassandra and other children participated in a CCSA training. At the same time, an adult support group and the barangay council were also trained on engaging children in government processes.
Cheta, Cassandra’s mother and a barangay health worker, recalls what she has learned from the training: “My favorite part was learning about constructive engagement and problem solving. I also learned about communication and conflict resolution. I was even able to apply these inside my home. When my children have problems, we talk about it. When they do something wrong, I explain what went wrong and what we could do to make it right.”
From all the training activities, Cassandra says she enjoyed doing the survey the most: “We asked people about the problems of the community. I did this with my new friends who I met in the training and our parents. We introduced ourselves and then collected their answers. I am a shy person but I enjoyed talking to the people around the community.”
The survey results were presented by the children during an interface meeting with the barangay council led by Barangay Captain Francisco. “I have been a barangay official since 2011. Since then, this was the first time for the barangay council to have an interface meeting with children. I felt ashamed and embarrassed to hear the problems straight from the children themselves,” Francisco shared.
Francisco immediately applied what he learned in the CCSA training and took action. He says, “I gathered the different stakeholders, as well as the parents and children. Together we identified gaps and looked for solutions to address the problems.”
One of the identified problems was children spending too much time in internet cafes. To address this, Francisco revisited their existing curfew policy and went around the internet cafes to remind them about the curfew for children.
The second problem, which Cassandra is most concerned about, is flooding. “The canals in some areas cause flooding in the elementary school and in some houses. If it floods, classes are suspended,” she described.
Francisco admitted that it was challenging to address the flooding in their community because of the construction costs. But through engaging with the national agencies, the construction of proper canals was funded.
The last problem identified by the children was child labor. This was also an issue that Francisco dreams of addressing because it closely affects children’s access to education. He says: “My dream for all the children in our barangay is for everyone to be in school. We monitor the out-of-school youth here so that we can talk to their parents and get them involved. We really need to strengthen our parent education sessions so that we can support parents do their role as parents.”
Francisco believes that strengthening their child protection program will help address this. “We had no Child Protection Policy and I discovered that not one out of all 13 barangays in the Municipality of Alabel had a Child Protection Policy. And so I met with our Barangay Council for the Protection of Children and we decided to work on an ordinance.”
Francisco led his barangay in conducting their first ever Child Protection Policy Writeshop.
“We were joined by the principals of the elementary and high school, barangay health workers, children, and representatives from the religious sector, people’s organizations, and the Philippine National Police.”
“To ensure that our Child Protection Policy is passed, we engaged private companies as well to support our child policy development. From the initial budget of 20,000 PHP, we were able to raise it to 50,000 PHP,” Francisco proudly shared.
Cheta observed that the CCSA process helped the barangay officials see the issues of the community in a different light. It might not be a big problem for adults but there are issues that are glaring to children that should be addressed. When asked what she thinks is the most important part of the CCSA process, Cheta says it is when the children are empowered to communicate their needs. “It is important to give children a chance to voice out their needs while reminding adults to hear what children have to say.”
As a next step, Francisco will share their best practices to other communities in Alabel. He has this to say to other barangays who will take part in the CCSA process: “Children should be part of decision-making. Ensure that there are policies in place so that budget is allocated for addressing children’s needs.”
Francisco is thankful that they were introduced to the CCSA process and that the council has been capacitated to be more responsive to children’s needs. “The process highlighted the accountability of barangay officials to the needs of children in their community. There are many laws but we need to follow them and ensure that these are implemented,” he explained.
“I am happy to hear that the barangay council acted on the problems we presented. I saw my friends smiling, so I think they are also happy,” Cassandra expressed.
When asked why it is important for children to join these kinds of activities, Cheta answered: “So that they will learn about their rights. Not all children know about their rights. When the children joined the training, that is the only time they realized that they can play a big role in their barangay.”
With the same skills Cassandra uses to solve her rubik’s cube, she and other children can also help solve problems in their community. Cassandra shared: “The most important thing I learned during the CCSA process is about how children have the right to be included in decision-making inside and outside the home, may it be about the food we eat or about helping the barangay council address our issues. I hope more children will get to participate in CCSA trainings.”