By Jennina June Lanza

To celebrate Universal Children’s Day (November 20) we want to acknowledge our wonderful Citizen Voice and Action volunteers in the Philippines. Universal Children’s Day brings awareness to the needs of children, and what better way to recognize that than celebrating advocates who want to help children reach their full potential?

Citizen Voice and Action works by educating citizens about their rights and equipping them with a structured set of tools designed to empower them to protect and enforce those rights. First, communities learn about basic human rights, and how these rights are articulated under local law. Whether it is making sure children are safe after a disaster, or have access to school, and healthcare – the volunteers who make this happen are essential.

“The one thing all children have in common is their rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard. ”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Who would have thought that attending an orientation without having any idea of what is it about could lead someone to become a champion?

“Our barangay [neighborhood] chairman asked me to attend an orientation organized by World Vision. I didn’t have any idea what Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) was. Eventually, our chairman convinced me to join and participate in CVA training,” shares Gemma, a mother of six.

CVA is a local-level advocacy approach that aims to empower communities to influence the quality, efficiency, and accountability of public services.

“I was a Community Recovery Committee member of World Vision. This encouraged me to join the CVA. I didn’t have second thoughts,” says Cristine, 19. “Becoming a full-fledged CVA volunteer is very challenging. There were times when people asked me why I strive for it, even when I am not paid. Despite the criticisms, I chose to stay because I am enjoying it, and I am learning from it.”

Gemma and Cristine are two of the successful CVA volunteers who completed the program. They have become champions of Disaster Risk Reduction as a part of recovering from typhoon Haiyan. Their training might have been rigorous, but it did not shield them from the challenges that waited in their communities.

“During one of our community endeavors in Brgy, Cabacungan, Dulag, Leyte, people could not agree on [how to spend] the Disaster Risk Reduction Management fund. I felt I was not effective in talking with the people. However, I did not surrender until it was fixed,” shares Gemma.

It was not easy for Gemma and other CVA volunteers, as most of them have to balance many responsibilities in their personal lives—some are employees, students, or parents. Their passion, however, was enough for them to go out of their way and participate in their communities’ development.

“Being a college student doesn’t hinder me from being a CVA volunteer. It even inspires me. I [have] gained a lot of knowledge and skills that [have] helped me in my personal growth,” expresses Cristine.

Time management and support from their loved ones brings them strength to take care of both personal and CVA responsibilities.

“When there are a lot of school requirements, I focus my attention [on] my studies, but when I am free, I set aside some time to do CVA training and help our community,” Cristine adds.

“I am so blessed because I may have my children to attend to, but they are very supportive in what I am doing. Sometimes they even help me in my advocacy work,” Gemma shares.

CVA volunteers’ resolute perseverance is mainly because they are pursuing their passion to help others. This may be simple, but for them there is great fulfilment.

“I may only be a volunteer, but what I get [back] is priceless,” says Gemma.

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