Elisa Gahapon del Puerto – Philippines (1957- *)

Elisa Gahapon del Puerto has passed away … (just this mention on her 1000peacewomen 1/2-page) …
… but not any mention of her dead’s date, nor how she died !!! Nothing in any online-news or articles. Was this all about a brave women on this planet ??

She was one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Elisa Gahapon del Puerto, a social worker, had spent more than two decades forging peace and healing the wounds of war in the province of Basilan. Her efforts had led to a continuing dialogue among warring rebel factions such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Under the Prelature of Isabela and the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF), she implemented programs and services to address the people’s urgent needs such as health, water supply, housing, literacy, environmental conservation and peace advocacy. Elisa del Puerto was born (1957) to an upper middle class family. Her mother was a nurse; her father was head of a private company in Maluso. Her childhood was almost idyllic. Basilan was then a quiet place to live in, where Muslims, Christians and Yakans, the indigenous people of the place, went about their daily lives peacefully and in harmony … (1000peacewomen 1/2).

She said: “I am childless but I have 40,000 children. The children in Basilan suffer the most from this senseless war and they need all the love and help we can give them”.

..

Elisa Gahapon del Puerto – Philippines (1957- *).

She worked for the Christian Children’s Fund CCF.

… This peace was shattered by events that presaged the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines in 1972. And so, while Elisa’s older siblings were afforded a college education in Manila, she was forced to stay behind and quit school. “You see,” she said, “I, myself, am a victim of this conflict.”

Undeterred, Elisa at 17 took on a job cooking for soldiers stationed in their town. She recalled with amusement her early efforts to earn her own money. Soldiers took pity on this earnest young woman and agreed to have her to cook for them. “Actually, it was my grandmother who cooked. I just brought the food to the soldiers,” she recalled.

There were times when the soldiers would let her go with them to various places in the province. Impressed by the unspoiled beauty of the places she visited, Elisa vowed to stay and help keep peace in her home province.

With her earnings from catering, she resumed her studies, switching from Political Science which she started at the Ateneo de Zamboanga, to Social Work at the Zamboanga State College (now Western Mindanao State University) She felt that social work would be of useful if she was to keep her vow to do her share in building peace in Basilan.

At 19, even as a student, she served in the Prelature of Basilan doing community organizing at the request of Bishop Querexeta, who nurtured her youthful idealism. She got deeply involved in adult literacy work, rehabilitation and peace building from 1977-1990.

Wanting to improve her skills, Elisa enrolled at the Asian Social Institute for a graduate course in Social Work. However, the further deterioration of peace and order in Basilan demanded that she return to work in the prelature.

Back in Basilan, Elisa married Col. Emmanuel del Puerto and they set up residence in Zamboanga City. But her devotion to her home province brought her back to work in Basilan.

In 1990, the Christian Children’s Fund, Inc. (CCF) established a program in Basilan to assist the most hapless victims of the continuing conflict. CCF had developed in Basilan programs and services focused on improving the health and nutrition of children under five and their families. The program counts some 5,351 families or 32,830 individual beneficiaries and includes feeding and multi-vitamins supplementation, medical and dental referrals and hospitalization. In addition, it has launched programs in home-based and formal education, water and sanitation, housing construction, development of micro-enterprises, psychosocial assistance and peace advocacy.

Through CCF, malnutrition, the silent killer that stalked the impoverished children in Basilan, had been controlled. “I have often been asked to be the ninang (baptismal godmother) of severely malnourished babies on their deathbeds. Some were beyond help and died soon after baptism ,but there were times when a child will come to me, call me Ninang and say ‘Thanks to you, I have survived.”

She also managed an outreach program of the Isabela Foundation, Inc., which assisted poor communities in Sumisip, Tipo-Tipo and Tuburan, known rebel lairs. Elisa had had to take long hikes passing through leech-infested areas to reach some communities, something she had learned to take in stride. But leeches are among the least of her worries in these places where various groups of armed men lurk. The Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf, which ranks second in the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, has gained international notoriety for hostage taking, extortion, kidnapping and merciless beheadings of its hostages. It also recruits children.

Asked if she does not fear for her safety as her work takes her to the most hazardous places in the province, Elisa said she feels safe knowing that even the most hardened of the terrorists have realized her sincerity in helping the people of Basilan regardless of their tribe or religion. “Once”, she said, “I even helped the pregnant wife of the most wanted Abu leader, Khadafi Janjalani.”

CCF was also a partner of the Army’s 103rd Brigade in its continuing training of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit, the civilian militia in the province, in values formation, conflict resolution and peace-building. More than 2,000 men have undergone the monthly training. Joining forces with the military, the local government units and other NGOs, the CCF, headed by Elisa, joined hands in various activities that altogether formed what the commander of the 32nd Infantry Battalion in Basilan called a successful model for counter-insurgency operations. The CCF also assisted in conducting the training called Sala’am (literally, a greeting of peace) which stands for Special Advocacy on Livelihood/ Literary for Muslims in which Muslim officers, enlisted men and MILF integrees are trained in community organizing and implementation of impact projects.

For her efforts, Elisa was presented the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award on February 19, 2003. In his nomination, Feizal Halim of the Department of Interior and Local Government in Basilan cited Eliza’s role in the settlement of a dispute between “Commander Congo,” state chairman of the Basilan Revolutionary Command of the MNLF in Sumisip and “Commander Leleng,” head of the Civilian Volunteer Organization Battalion in Maluso. The long festering dispute between these two warriors had dire consequences in terms of loss of life, limb, and property during kidnappings and extortion activities, mass evacuations and armed encounters. Thus, the peace accord they signed on October 16, 1999 was an important event in the quest for peace in the province.

Awarded in the Individual Category of Peace through Participatory Development, Elisa was cited for: “helping organize the Maluso Farmers’ Organization where she initiated moves to have stewardship of 900 hectares of land bequeathed to the landless, many of them Muslims and ex-rebels; for her work as project manager of the Maluso Outreach Project which had improved the lives of 1,800 beneficiaries through potable water, medical and dental assistance, skills training, adult education and tools for food production… for her bravery, action-orientation, continuing belief in people empowerment and for directing her energies in the elimination of peace.”

Elisa’s work had been cited by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a case study in Women Waging Peace in a Conflict Area. CCF was likewise selected as a recipient of funds from the Children’s Hour Campaign, a fund raising activity that calls on individuals and companies to donate an hour of their work to support programs for the welfare and development of children.

While welcoming all these recognitions, Elisa said nothing beats the warmth and happiness she got when she had seen gratitude in the eyes of the children she had helped. “Once we pleaded with Abu Sabaya (one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf) to release at least the youngest of the children they had taken hostage from a school in Tumahubong. A four-year old child who went with his sibling to school was among the victims. When he was safely released, his ‘Thank you, Ma’am Liza’ has been the best reward I ever received”. (1000peacewomen 2/2).

link: The Maluso Outreach Program Inc. MOPI.

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