New Stream of Life
Lake community in the Philippines transformed by women’s group
Text Faizza Tanggol
Against the backdrop of the tranquil Marayag Lake, members of Women of War warmly welcome visitors to the Municipality of Matanog in Maguindanao. Garbed in their traditional malong wear, they proudly showcase the Marayag Lake not only for tourism but also for how it provides an alternative livelihood for the community.
Scarred by War and Conflict
Though Marayag Lake is now one of the most well-known areas in Matanog, it has a colourful past, known not only within the municipality but also outside of its borders. “Matanog has a controversial history. People used to be scared of passing through this area because Marayag Lake was seen as a place where dead bodies were dumped and robbery was rampant,” explains Larida May Abedin, the chairperson of Women of War in Matanog.
The women’s group Women of War helped turn the reputation of Matanog and Marayag Lake from a place to avoid to a peaceful tourist haven. “The Women of War, or WOW Matanog, came to be because many women suffered during the armed conflict here in 2002. So we established the Women of War in 2013 with the vision of building a new and peaceful Matanog,” says Larida.
Women as Peace Advocates
Women also have a unique status in their community as peace advocates. Aside from the 2002 armed conflict between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, family feuds, known as rido, is also common in Matanog. “Although their families may be in conflict from rido, the women still get along, so they serve as a link for the settling of conflicts,” Larida shares. “Our group WOW Matanog is really at the frontlines when it comes to peacebuilding in Matanog.”
Initially composed of 35 women back in 2013, WOW Matanog now has 250 members. These women led the transformation of Marayag Lake by managing the rehabilitation from beginning to end.
In 2014, with assistance from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), hundreds of men and women participated in the food-for-work programme which aimed to change Marayag Lake into a place with more productive sources of an alternative livelihood. The local government of Matanog also provided monetary incentives to the participants who helped in the rehabilitation. The participants built protection dikes along the 36-hectare lake, constructed a floating fish cage and bridge and established a vegetable garden in exchange for food.
Positive Wave of Tourism
Now, hundreds of visitors drop by Marayag Lake every year to take in the scenery. The lake also serves as a rest stop where guests can order and eat the food prepared by the women of WOW Matanog while enjoying the view of the lake. Aside from the tourism potential, Marayag Lake also has fish and vegetables which the community members harvest to sell and use for their consumption.
“We have tilapia and dalag (murrel) in the lake and various vegetables such as pumpkin, eggplant, string beans and bitter gourd planted along the mountainside,” shares Larida. “We sell the fish from the lake and it’s one of our main sources of income. We also harvest the vegetables which we sell along the highway.”
One of the key missions of WOW Matanog is to provide livelihoods to their community and with the rehabilitation of the Marayag Lake, they are able to continuously fulfil this mission. With the various sources of income from the lake, the women of Matanog now feel more empowered.
“We have felt a huge effect here in our community,” says Larida. “Before, our women used to just stay at home. Now, they have the opportunity to go out, socialise and earn additional income for their family.”
For more stories and photos, check out Asian Geographic Issue 118.