Pagsangaan is an isolated community perched among beautiful mountains in the Philippines. The village was established during World War II when a group of families fled the violence of the Japanese invasion. The dense jungle provided a perfect place to hide.

For 30 years, the people of the village remained very cautious of strangers.  When villagers started slowly interacting with the outside world, the influences that filtered into the village weren’t all positive or healthy. People had a very limited understanding of the principles of healthful living, sanitation, good nutrition, or birth spacing.

The EMBRACE project, funded primarily by Global Affairs Canada, was designed for villages like Pagsangaan. Through community-based groups, members learn about health, nutrition, sanitation, child care, gender equality, safe pregnancies, and healthy family relationships.

I visited Pagsangaan and interviewed several women in the village. One was the town leader, Maricel.  I found her testimony heartwarming:

“ADRA is the first agency that’s worked in our village. I first heard about ADRA from some of the other leaders in our region. I asked them, ‘What is ADRA?’ They told me about all the ways that ADRA was helping make improvements in their communities. I wondered why ADRA hadn’t yet come to our village. I started praying, ‘Lord, please send ADRA to our village, too!’

“When a representative from ADRA Philippines arrived here, I was so happy and thankful! I gathered the people of my village together and asked them to give their best support of the EMBRACE project because it was here to help improve our lives.”

I then had the opportunity to speak with Laiza, a mother of three who was one of the participants in the EMBRACE project.  She said:

“Most of our babies were born in the village.  If a woman had problems, she was carried into town on a hammock. Two men would carry her seven kilometres through the jungle to the nearest birthing clinic.  The path can be rough and slippery if it’s been raining.  Even this year, one of the women being transported in this manner ended up giving birth along the way. 

Things are better now.  A road is finally being built into our village.  We’re now able to go most of the way on a motorbike, at least during the dry season. With the help of EMBRACE, our village has set up a planned transportation system for expectant mothers to get to the clinic.  There are trained motorcycle operators that are ready to go when needed for a set price.  ADRA has also built a home right next to the birthing clinic where women can go and stay for a week before their due date.  This is giving pregnant women a lot of peace of mind!”

All the women I spoke to wanted me to pass on their gratitude to Canadians for helping them through the ADRA EMBRACE project.  Maricel summed it up best when she said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”