WAS six-months pregnant when she first learned to
write her own name.
Now, with her two-month
old son Hammod, Zainab Labing, 29, returns to the Female Functional
Literacy class where 20 other Moslem mothers begin their lesson
on numbers and immunization.
Held at the back
of the barangay health center, the literacy class is handled
by midwife, Leonasa Abuelo, 31. Sessions are conducted in
the mornings of Tuesdays and Fridays. "These are commonly
their free days," says Abuelo who has served as midwife
in the village of Patadon since 2000.
Located along the
national highway, Patadon is one of 40 barangays in Kidapawan
City, North Cotabato. Most of Patadon’s 300 households
are Moslem. As in other Moslem communities, many Patadon's
women of reproductive ages are illiterate.
"I did not
even finish grade one," says Labing. She was the sixth
child and the youngest girl in a brood of seven. When her
mother gave birth to the youngest son, Labing was asked to
leave school and take care of her brother. She did not go
back to school.
At age 16, Labing
got married to a neighbor five years older. She now has six
tease me for learning how to write and count at my age,"
says Labing. When Abuelo and other volunteer barangay health
workers began inviting mothers to attend the first literacy
class in Patadon, Labing was initially reluctant. "It
was embarrassing to admit that I was illiterate."
Abuelo says that
Labing's reaction was typical. With the support of barangay
officials, Abuelo's team conducted house-to-house visits to
encourage the women of Patadon to attend the class. "It
was really difficult in the beginning." As the weeks
progressed, the women themselves would seek out Abuelo, egging
her on to hold classes.
The literacy class
is an initiative of the Provincial Health Office. With the
support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the
local government of North Cotabato prepared and printed literacy
workbooks called Sinag, literally "rays of sunlight."
Lessons are divided into eight modules. The modules include
not only exercises on writing and numeracy but also information
on safe motherhood and child's health and nutrition.
A month after giving
birth, Labing resumes her participation in the literacy program.
She chanced upon the lesson on the importance of immunization.
"BCG, DPT, measles," she enumerates the vaccines
and remarks that she can now actually read labels of medicine.
Like Labing, Amina
Mintang, 33, was also pregnant when she joined the literacy
class. Today, she attends sessions with her barely two-month
old daughter, Almira. She breastfeeds her infant as she scribbles
down her notes for the day's lesson.
Almira was severely
underweight when she was born. Through exclusive breastfeeding,
immunization and constant monitoring by midwife Abuelo, Almira's
malnutrition was curbed. Mintang no longer worries about Almira's
condition. "I am now able to attend to other concerns
now that Almira is all right."
Mintang looks forward
to participating in local elections. "This time, I can
cast votes that I can really call my own," says Mintang.
She will no longer need assistance at the polling precinct.
In the meantime,
Mintang, Labing and their classmates have three more Sinag
modules to cover before they finish the course. Abuelo and
her team of volunteers also look forward to the graduation
By then, all these
women will have truly experienced what it means to have the
sun shine on them.