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Walk the talk

© UNICEF Philippines/2004/Baluyut
Students from a nearby elementary school flank Maitum Mayor George Yabes. Schoolchildren visit the Knowledge Center to learn more about their town and their own rights as children.



By Nilo A. Yacat
UNICEF encourages better governance by helping local leaders become more accountable and informed.

ASK HIM about the T’bolis, an indigenous group in southern Philippines. Ask him about iodised salt consumption. Ask him about the town’s children’s day celebration. Ask him about enrolment in day care centers. Ask him about anything on the situation of children in his town of Maitum and he will surely have an answer.

Mayor George Yabes, 58, walks the talk. An elected leader since 2001, Mayor George has steered Maitum to its current status as the most child-friendly municipality in the Philippines. In 2003, Maitum joined an annual search of the national government for the first time and bested other more seasoned finalists. Maitum is one of seven towns in Sarangani, a province on the southernmost tip of the Philippines.

According to the search’s awards committee, Maitum won for its Knowledge Center for Children and Women and other projects that promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The contest mechanics involves the submission of accomplishment reports. These reports will be validated through a monitoring visit by the search’s representatives.

“When the search’s monitoring team came, I volunteered to drive them to the most far-flung community and let them see that what we reported was no fluke,” Mayor George said. At the town hall, Mayor George ushered the visitors into the Knowledge Center where all the information the monitoring team needed was at their fingertips.

The Knowledge Center is a resource center where statistics and reports on the state of children and their families are available in different presentation formats. Covering the walls are various graphs and charts on key indicators on development. One corner has a whole wall of profiles of the communities. The center also has a computer unit with a DevInfo database. The DevInfo is a software tool that stores data on children.

The success of Maitum inspired other towns in Sarangani to set up their own centers. Maitum won one million pesos. “I divided the prize to cover all of our 19 communities.” Each village used their share to set up a playground. At the town center, Mayor George allotted funds to improve the maternal clinic.

Setting up Knowledge Centers is one of UNICEF’s flagship projects on communication and child-friendly governance. Local government units are encouraged to become more accountable by putting value on information. UNICEF believes that with accurate information, local resources can be wisely spent for children’s programs.

“It is easy to memorize facts,” Mayor George said. “But making sense out of all these facts is the key to doing what is right for children.”

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