Written by: Carleen D. Salas

“I firmly believe you never should spend your time being the former anything.”
-Condoleezza Ric

According to the Philippine Commission on Women, 2021 National Women’s Month Celebration serves as a tribute, platform and a call to action that highlights the extraordinary roles of ordinary Juanas in the society as trailblazers and harbingers of change. And as the nation honors and gives awareness to the women of today, this month focuses on empowering women’s hardships and achievements in the volunteer sector. PNVSCA is proud to present once again the inspiring story of a special Juana who aims to create peace and unity by spreading joy through care and education. She is also the National Awardee in the Youth Category of the Search for Outstanding Volunteers in 2019.

CTTO – Ms. Aliah Baniaga Adam with her National Outstanding Volunteer – Youth Category Awardtaken last December 2019

Growing up in Lanao del Sur, she was exposed to so many social problems with two of them greatly affecting her – security issues or armed conflict and forced or child marriage. Prior to the now infamous “Marawi Siege”, Aliah has been working as a peace advocate lecturer in Marawi, working with different organizations towards bringing the rope of peace through prayer rallies, intercultural dialogues, friendly competitions and leadership camps. Right after Marawi was declared liberated, she rendered her services as a volunteer with the Institute of Peace and Development in Mindanao, an organization advocating for peace and non-violent solutions through participatory lectures and orientation towards the rebuilding and rebirth of Marawi. During her lectures, Aliah emphasizes to mostly young women and children that violent extremism is the root cause of all conflict and problems in Mindanao and could create a generation of children with disrupted education.

Her other advocacy and the one closest to her heart is gender equality against forced or child marriage. She herself was arranged to be married when she was in college, but she fervently resisted it as she wanted to pursue a career and exercise her ability to choose what is best for her. Though she managed to escape that fate, it was a bittersweet one as her younger sister was chosen to replace her. For her, this practice has shattered the childhood and future of countless children not just in her hometown but all over those homes and communities which still practice this age-old tradition. Going a step further, Aliah created Singanen O Mindanao, a socio-civic organization composed of mostly women youths who were inspired by Aliah’s example and who also wish to bring about that change to their fellow youths.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

At present, Singanen O Mindanao continues to carry out activities that will benefit the communities of Lanao del Sur, especially during this pandemic. Aliah and her team made it a priority to always remind the citizens about proper health protocols by posting publication materials on their Facebook page and at the same time, distribute free face masks to homeless citizens, tricycle drivers, their families and those who have no means to purchase one so as to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

CTTO – Photo from UNFP Philippines Facebook Page

Last 27 November of 2020, Aliah, representing Singanen, hosted the first episode of an online forum entitled “#Babaenihan sa BARMM: Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence/Violence Against Women in the time of COVID-19”. The event was organized by the UNFPA Philippines in celebration of the 18-day campaign to end Violence Against Women.

CTTO – Photo from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

Singanen O Mindanao also organized a radio program to celebrate Mindanao’s Week of Peace with the theme “Dialogue towards Harmony”.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

As an educator herself, Aliah also visited children in their community who do not have internet connection and are experiencing difficulties with their online classes. She later on was able to give them free lectures in an actual classroom setting.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

Aliah has also been invited by several groups to participate in their activities. Among these was the Ministry of Public Order and Safety who invited her to sit as one of the panel of judges for the selection of the Bangsamoro Peace Champions 2020 which took place in Cotabato City in December 2020. Aliah willingly accepted the invitation as she truly supports the Ministry’s strategy on recognizing the great contribution of peace advocates who extraordinarily committed in the quest to sustain the gains of peace in the region. She believes that everyone should work together to create peace and always put it as a priority.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

Aliah was also invited as a special guest who represented Singanen O Mindanao during the Bangsamoro Foundation Day Celebration with the theme, “Moral Governance: Building Strong Foundation for Better Bangsamoro”, held last January 21 at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex, Bangsamoro Government, Cotabato City.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

Aliah also led Singanen as they paid a visit and distributed gifts to the children IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in celebration of the New Year.  In addition, the organization distributed art supplies and food to the children of families in South Upi, Maguindanao whose houses were burned down on New Year’s Eve.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

The team also continues to distribute face masks to the citizens who were affected by the incident. Aliah never stopped visiting the IDP children which later created a bond between them.

CTTO – Photos from SINGANEN O MINDANAO Facebook Page

Her team continues to provide these children with free education and relief goods until this very day, giving them more hope and happiness despite the pandemic and other tragedies happening in our country.

CTTO – Photos from Asia Pacific Luminare Awards Facebook Page

Because of her unending support and effort in creating peace in her region, Aliah will be recognized as the “Most Inspiring Woman & Outstanding Youth Leader of the Year” in the 4th Asia Pacific Luminare Awards to be held on 31 March 2021. The Award honors and recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the enrichment of lives of others. 

Ms. Aliah Baniaga Adam shows dedication in her advocacy for Juana empowerment. May her story encourage all women to stand up for themselves and work hard to achieve and create peace in each other’s community. #JuanaForAll and #AllforJuana!

The author is currently the Volunteer Service Officer I of the Policy, Advocacy and Technical Services Division (PATSD), Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.

Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering.