'Ate Angie': Tenacious Community Organizer Extraordinaire
On her first day of community work for Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC), Community Organizer Angelita R. Villaflores knew it wouldn't be easy.
The year was 2008, the year MMDC kicked-off exploration phase for its 4,700 nickel property in the Surigao del Sur towns of Cantilan, Carrascal and Madrid. Anti-mining sentiments were high, stoked mostly by deliberate misinformation from some quarters and, in some cases, genuinely misplaced fears from local residents.
NEVER GIVE UP
But Villaflores, who was then one of MMDC's only two community organizers, soldiered on.
If there's one thing she learned from her decades of community organizing in the Visayas, where she helped sugar cane workers in Negros fight for better pay and working conditions, and in Leyte where she assisted human trafficking victims recover from trauma, it is that persistence always work.
"You have to show the community that you are the type who never gives up, no matter the odds," she says with her signature self-deprecating laugh.
And give up she never did.
She has trekked many a narrow, mountainous trails and crossed raging rivers. She has dodged rocks flying at her direction during tensed community meetings.
"Ate Angie," as she is fondly called by locals, persevered.
She conceded that mining was a contentious topic among community residents--even for her, at least initially. But she understood their perspective, coming from a background that has largely been influenced by progressive organizations she had worked with in the past.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
"The key is to understand your subject. Kailangan mong aralin. Only then will you believe in your cause. Only then will you be an authentic and dependable issue-bearer, and only then will you develop trust among your stakeholders," she says.
Once she gained enough understanding on how mining works in the country--and the rules and regulations that underpin it, Ate Angie says she developed the confidence to impart her knowledge to the community.
In this task, she was unwavering in helping people understand the concept of responsible environmental stewardship, and how MMDC is managing the mineral resources of the community in a way that respects their cultural traditions and improve their health and socioeconomic conditions.
"Once local residents realize that our true intention is to work with them for a better future, they become more empowered to take an active role in making mining work for them and for their communities," Ate Angie says.
As she marks her 10-year social work career in MMDC this year, Ate Angie likes to take a glimpse back to a tribal village that once tested her fortitude -- Brgy. Cabangahan, in Cantilan town.
"I once literally ran for my life from a community meeting that got so tensed the rocks started flying over my head," she recalls with a hearty laugh.
"Now when I go back to Cabangahan, all I see over my head are the smiles, and the love, and grateful hearts of the people," Ate Angie says, still in awe with the socioeconomic transformation of Cabangahan and the other communities in Cantilan and Carrascal that she has been privileged to have worked with.
In Cabangahan as in other villages, Marcventures put up roads and essential community facilities such as health and evacuation centers. The company also constructed roads to speed up the delivery of basic services.
Young people were sent to school and the community produced hundreds of college graduates.
Livelihood projects that still bring economic benefits until this day were established. Many are also employed by the company, consistent with its commitment to prioritize local hires.
These tangible signs of development, Ate Angie says, corresponds to the change of local attitude towards Marcventures, and towards mining, in general.
Community stakeholders, she proudly says, now positively view MMDC as a reliable partner for sustainable development.
VALUE OF PERSEVERANCE
As one of the few individuals who have witnessed the enormous challenges that MMDC faced early into its operations, Ate Angie has this morsels of wisdom for her colleagues, who hold her dearly in high esteem:
"As community organizers, you must have thick skin. You should not be easily discouraged by hostile or unpleasant behavior. You must have patience and deep commitment for the community and above all, genuine compassion to make a difference in people's lives."
Ate Angie is contemplating retirement this year as she turns 60.
As she looked back to her productive decade with Marcventures, she says she would always cherish the difficult times--the times she knew things wouldn't be easy--but that she remained tenacious and determined to go on and finish the job.