Local leader Fe Baldoza shares how PIN’s solar power brought light and music to her small disconnected community in the Philippines

Published: May 17, 2022 Reading time: 7 minutes
Local leader Fe Baldoza shares how PIN’s solar power brought light and music to her small disconnected community in the Philippines
© Foto: Rebecca Maria Galvez

“They say that when you come from our barangay, the fare to heaven costs one peso,” says Fe Baldoza, the village captain of Barangay Nagoocan. Clad in a pink t-shirt, she is both a community leader and a mother of five children—the youngest of whom is still a baby. However, she balances both roles with patience and grace under pressure. “We are the most remote barangay in the municipality of Catubig. We have no roads or pathways. It’s all walking,” she shared. Catubig, a municipality in Northern Samar, is situated in one of the least electrified provinces in the Philippines. Its towns are bordered by mountains, rivers, and the ocean. Geological factors are why it is also vulnerable to environmental calamities, such as flooding and typhoons.

During our first visit to Barangay Nagoocan, we arrived in the middle of the dry season. The lack of rainfall posed extra challenges for our travel to the community. On days when there is enough rain to carry motorboats through the river, the journey can take around 2 hours, depending on whether you depart from the port in Northern Samar or the town of Jipapad in Eastern Samar. However, due to the lack of water in the river, we had to trek from a seemingly deserted dirt road. It took us two hours to get to Barangay Osang, one of Nagoocan’s neighbouring villages. We rested under a coconut tree, next to a herd of carabaos, then continued on for another two hours through fields and mountains to reach Barangay Nagoocan.

Whilst this was a challenge for us, this is the everyday reality for barangay residents. In addition to difficulties with physical access, the barangay faces a lack of electricity and phone or internet signal. Some students climb to the tops of mountains to get a few bars of cellphone signal to contact their schools, while others have to make the 2-hour commute by boat or embark on a 4-hour hike to attend classes.

There was a time when it seemed as if these difficulties would not always be the case. In early 2007, when Baldoza’s husband was serving as a barangay kagawad or councillor, an electric cooperative arrived with the intent to electrify the barangay with on-grid electricity. Due to lack of funds, they asked the residents to practice ‘pintakasi’ or teamwork to bring the electric posts to their homes. The community worked together to carry the poles from the nearest town to the village. However, when the time came to connect the posts, the project was halted. “I don’t really know why they stopped, but the electricity never came to our community,” laments Baldoza.

It is stories like these that have lowered the faith of other villages in the promise of electrification. However, for Baldoza, she remains steadfast that her efforts will not go unrewarded. “We have nothing to lose from asking for help so that the government will notice us. Even if we are the farthest barangay in Catubig, we never lost hope.” Eventually, her relentless optimism bore fruit. “People in Need’s solar project came to the municipality, and an employee told me about it. So I didn’t waste the opportunity.” Now, she and the residents of her barangay enjoy the benefits of having renewable energy to power their electric devices.

The Renewable Energy Access for off-grid Communities and Households (REACH) Project is funded by the European Union (EU) through the Access to Sustainable Energy Programme (ASEP). It was implemented in ten municipalities of the Northern Samar province by People in Need (PIN) in the Philippines, Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) and Malteser International (MI). In the latter months of 2021, PIN came to Barangay Nagoocan to install over 120 photovoltaic mainstreaming – solar home systems (PVM-SHS) in the residents' houses. These solar-powered systems can energise four bright lights in a home and charge cellphones, radios, and flashlights. Before, residents would wash in the nearby river or in the bathroom shrouded in darkness, but they no longer bathe in the dark thanks to renewable energy.

“The effect of solar energy was big on our barangay because for the people here, we finally had power,” shares Baldoza. Although access to light was of significant value to the community, one of the most noticeable changes was the sound of music. “A week after the installation, everyone started buying speakers. By the second week, every household would be doing karaoke! Whenever one would stop, another would start. It was so noisy!”.

Music is welcome in the community, whose residents used to go to sleep as early as sunset because they could not do anything in the dark. “If there’s one thing I wish for, it’s that we had this sooner,” shares Baldoza. “Before, kids would read their modules outside using the light of the stars or the moon, but now children can study inside or play even late in the evening.” Enabling children to further their education is one of the first successes in bringing electricity to their barangay.

Still, the barangay faces other challenges, such as frequent flooding and typhoons. “I think storms are more frequent now, and it’s more common that with a little rain, it will already flood.” The Philippines, as a tropical archipelagic country, has many small communities located near bodies of water that tend to overflow during the rainy season. Baldoza notes that “it may be because there are no more trees, so when there is a lot of rain, the water will rise up to the barangay.” Illegal logging remains a pervasive problem for surrounding areas without community environmental officers to safeguard the towns’ first line of defence against flooding.

For Baldoza, a leader is someone who shows up during difficult times. “As a barangay captain, I need to be a leader for my village when there are typhoons or storms. I need to be able to prepare my people because the nearest town with an evacuation centre is so far from us.” As an isolated community, the residents of Nagoocan have grown accustomed to standing on their own—not because they choose to, but because they have to. It was only recently that the town learned to accept a woman as the barangay captain. Previously, only men had governed their village. Now in her second term in office, Baldoza serves as a shining example of the ability of women to carry out multiple responsibilities. With the help of her family, she balances being a mother with her duty as a community leader. “When I ask for help and am told to come back the next day, I will really go back to see the result.” Her leadership skills are highlighted as she presides over a regular barangay council meeting—held in her home. Through her work, she experiences dealing with people of different beliefs and backgrounds. “I think patience is one of the secrets to running a barangay,” she confides.

Since the barangay hall is still under construction, Baldoza's house is the meeting place for all council gatherings. However, her work goes beyond her mandate. Her door is always open to anyone who needs shelter, whether during times of calamity or unrest. People enter and exit as they please, whether to share a cup of coffee or engage in conversation. “The people here are content, but if someone can still help, there is so much that can be done for them,” she reflects.

The REACH project has served as a starting point for positive change that takes both people and the planet into consideration; however, there is still a long way left to go on the road toward development. “As a barangay captain, I need to persevere for the welfare of my community. We need to help each other out,” shares Baldoza. Her story is a testament to the power of women to shape brighter futures than once imagined. Through PIN’s help, leaders like her are empowered to continue their work and carry a shining beacon of hope for those left in the dark.

Autor: Rebecca Galvez, Communication and Advocacy Officer - People in Need Philippines