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Meet the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines Helping Communities Face the Pandemic

This article is part of a series featuring inspiring stories of local action #fromthefrontlines of COVID-19 in the Global South. For more, visit our COVID-19 page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The skyrocketing need for protective clothing is inspiring individuals and communities worldwide to take up sewing machines and needles. In the Philippines, one Fund-supported group is mobilizing dressmakers from rural indigenous communities to help make masks and medical gear, while they are also supplying those communities with emergency food aid.

Based in Mindanao, the Fund-backed Convergence of Initiatives for Environmental Justice, Inc. (CIEJ) typically focuses on mobilizing rural indigenous communities to campaign for just and equitable management of natural resources. In the region, mining and other large-scale development projects jeopardize access to those resources and destroy homes, livelihoods, and local ways of life. As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, the group has shifted to use its trusted relationship with local residents and expertise in community organizing to respond to emerging needs around healthcare and food supplies.

At the time of this blog’s publication, nearly 4,000 cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in the Philippines, a figure that is expected to rise dramatically in coming weeks. Volunteers are helping the dressmakers get protective gear, including at least 500 scrubs and masks, to health workers and others in direct contact with people who are ill.

Additionally, CIEJ is working to ensure that communities do not run short of food. The restrictions on movement have caused markets to close and diminished routes for the transport of food. As a result, the already irregular trade of goods, including food, in and out of remote communities, has become even more difficult.

Government assistance rarely if ever reaches these communities. CIEJ was able to distribute sacks of rice, but these supplies will only last for a week. The Fund’s flexible support will serve as a stop-gap as they develop a longer-term plan to address this issue.

The Fund is proud to stand with CIEJ and all the community leaders and local organizations we support in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia with the flexible funding and strategic assistance they need to adapt their work and provide critical services to their communities at this critical moment.

As Fund-supported activists adapt and respond to the global outbreak of COVID-19, we will be sharing stories of inspiring community leaders and innovative local action on the front lines of the pandemic. For more, please visit our blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.