In this 3rd edition, in honor of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples earlier this Quarter, we’re excited to feature Ms. Jade Angngalao, an accomplished indigenous community leader who is a coordinator for community-based micro hydro in the Philippines. We had the opportunity to connect with Ms. Jade and gain insight into her inspiring journey and vision.
I have been involved in community development work for 9 years. For the past 2 years I have been Coordinator of the Renewable Energy Program at Sibol Ng Agham At Teknolohiya (SIBAT). I am a member of the Kalinga tribe, from a mountainous area in the North of the Philippines. I am also a mother of two daughters (which poses a challenge in terms of balancing and prioritizing my different responsibilities).
What motivated you to work in the field of energy access?
I first became aware of micro hydropower (MH) when SIBAT implemented an MHP in my hometown. Previously we didn’t have electricity access, since the electric co-op (the main grid provider) did not reach our town. My father was the one who led the community to participate in the construction of our village micro hydro system. As a young person, I was also involved in building the system, for example, by helping to transport sand.
When the MHP was being constructed, I was also studying Agricultural Engineering at Kalinga State University, and working part-time at the Affiliated RE Centre (a university research centre). When one of the engineers heard of my studies, he suggested that I apply to work with SIBAT after graduating.
For my thesis, I decided to evaluate and report on the sustainability of MHPs in the North. My findings were that most of the systems were no longer operational and there were no plans to repair them. After being implemented, most systems were handed over to the local communities; the communities used the systems for about 5 years before most became non-operational. In most cases, the local MH operator had damaged, or was unable to maintain the system as a result of inadequate training and a lack of proper capacity building. I created a report to give to the Department of Agriculture; however, repairing the MHPs was not a priority, as solar home system were the focus, at the time. I felt that it was a waste of money to build MH systems in very remote communities and then leave them without any support for maintenance and management.
This experience motivated me to work on building communities’ capacity to sustain their MH, rather than leaving them without support, post-construction. I was driven to implement capacity-building measures such as training on maintenance and management, in order for MH communities to become independent and for community-based projects to operate sustainably. Most of the existing systems in my region were based on old designs which required a lot of maintenance. I saw a need for these systems to be upgraded, to give the villages quality electricity, and to improve local management and system sustainability.
How did you start your career with SIBAT?
I was hired by SIBAT in 2010 as part of the technical staff working in potable water and irrigation systems, in remote sites in Mindanao. The sites were so remote that it took two days to reach most of them (and we had to carry our own food along the way). This is when I saw the vulnerable situation of the villages in these areas. There were very high rates of poverty, with many families eating just one meal per day. The villages were deprived of basic social services, with no formal education, health care, clean source of water, or electricity - no government support whatsoever.
This was when I promised myself to continue to work to help the communities there. I felt a kinship with the local people, because I also belong to an indigenous tribe, and had faced a similar reality growing up. These were ‘my people’ and I wanted them to experience the benefits of MH that were felt in my own community.
The irrigation project I was initially working on did not materialize because of the remoteness of the community - 15 hours were needed to walk there and it was very difficult to bring in materials, and also to mobilize the people. In any case, I think it would make more sense to give local training on agricultural techniques before focusing on irrigation projects. Subsequently, I was involved in a solar water project in the southern part of Luzon, before I took part in any MHP work. It was quite difficult starting out and, after three years, I almost quit my job. However, I stayed because I was passionate about the work and was encouraged by some individuals.
What sort of challenges did you face?
I nearly quit my job because some of my seniors expected too much of me. As the youngest team member, I was expected to be full of ideas, gutsy and energetic, but I have my limitations, of course. The program was also dominated by men. As the only woman in the group, I was often the centre of jokes, which were sometimes very offensive.
My senior, Chris Alfonso, encouraged me. He was a SIBAT engineer who had played a big role in the capacity-building of the SIBAT team. He mentored me in potable water and irrigation and I learned a lot from him. His life was short-lived, but we will always be grateful for his mentorship and his vision for SIBAT’s Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATech), where we now manufacture micro hydro turbines and electronic load controllers.
Currently, I’m working as a coordinator, delegating the team, which is a challenge because the staff is still dominated by men. Lately, I have also been frustrated because we frequently hire an engineer, and invest time and money in training him, only to find that he resigns very soon after starting. They often complain about the small salary or they’re unable to adjust to the culture in the communities where they’re placed. Indigenous communities have a different culture from low-land culture, where these engineers come from. I’ve been encouraging management to hire local, indigenous engineers, who wouldn’t face the same problems around cultural adjustment.
For NGOs that don’t offer large salaries to their engineers, I recommend orienting new engineers to help them understand and adapt to the situation in the communities where they will be working. This can help improve retainment of young engineers.
Community work is very challenging and frustrating at times, but I always tell the staff that they should try to go deeper in developing their understanding of the community.
How do you involve women in your MH work?
When I work in indigenous communities, I have an advantage because I am indigenous myself. This allows me to assert myself in order to include women in decision-making and encourage them to voice their concerns, especially in meetings. Men listen to our opinions and our input is valued and respected.
I believe that women can be the role models to lead people’s organizations. Three of the MHPs I’ve worked on are led by chair-women, and the strong management of the female leaders is reflected in better reporting and book-keeping.
There are still many areas for improvement. For example, in my province, the division of labour is still such that women must do all the household chores and men must provide for the family. When I was starting out in my career, whenever we went to the field, my male seniors would tell me to do the household chores, like cooking. I was proactive in telling management when this happened, but it was difficult. Sometimes I ended up staying back with the community rather than going with my team members, when I couldn’t tolerate being the centre of their jokes.
Yet, I conquered. After years passed, I learned how to fight back and speak out. I resisted until I gained their respect (which took about 5 or 6 years).
What advice do you have for other organizations?
First, you should always include women in decision-making in MH projects. If I had my own organization, I would prefer for it to be dominated by women, primarily because women often have a more holistic approach to community projects.
Additionally, gender awareness and inclusion should start at the internal level, in the organization itself, before any attempt to facilitate it in the community. Gender orientation is included in SIBAT programs on paper, but not in practice. I tell my colleagues we should run gender workshops to teach men how to value and respect women. As an indigenous woman, It’s natural for me to promote this, but I want to see more engagement from others, so that real change will happen.
As for female engineers, my advice is that you should speak up and voice your opinion, don’t be shy!
What is the impact of MH that you have you seen since you started out?
MH has changed many lives in the Philippines. I’ve seen the changes directly in my own village. Before the MHP was installed, we spent a lot of time pounding rice and corn; normally women were the ones doing this work, including the younger generation who would help their mothers and aunties. My mother spent a lot of time doing manual pounding, and I used to help her after school.
It took 4 days of manual pounding for 10-15 kg of rice! In some villages, they had to do this every day. Corn would take 6 hours to pound per day, for just 8mkgs - which would take just 1 hour with a machine (and no labour except for transport). By providing power for rice and corn milling machines, the MHP made life a lot easier for us and saved a lot of time, particularly for women and girls.
Yes, my grandmother was a fierce lady and a strong activist for Indienous rights. She was once featured on National Indigenous Women’s Day by the Cordillera Women’s Education and Research Centre (CWERC). She fought against big geothermal and mining companies in my village. Some of the engineers from a geothermal company installed a system near my grandmother’s rice field. She was very angry and led the community in pulling out the post. She told the engineer, “when you come back, we’re going to kill you; you’re invading out land”.
Is it common for Indigenous women in your tribe to be so strong?
It isn’t really that common now – that’s the problem. My grandmother is no longer there to fight for indigenous land rights and a geothermal company is trying to come again to hold a meeting in the village. Now, there are no women opposing it.
My grandmother got her strength through her genes. She was one of many of my ancestors to fight for our rights. If I go back to my village, I will be the one to lead the movement against the geothermal plant.
It looks like you are mentoring the next generation of MH and agriculture engineers, and they are women! What wish or message do you have for the next generation of MH women practitioners?
Yes, I’ve been supporting a younger engineer and friend, Ms. Bena, to learn how to adapt in indigenous communities. I have also brought my daughters with me to one of SIBAT’s sites to show them my work and to help them understand why I’m sometimes gone for two or three weeks. This also exposes them to the situation of the children there, who are less fortunate. My message to young women MH practitioners would be to appreciate and value their work.
Are there any key messages you have for our readers?
When you are doing community-based MH work, the women should be the first people you try to influence, before the men. This is because the women can lead the men in systemized implementation of the MHP. That is what I’ve learned through my 9 years at SIBAT.
I encourage all women to stay determined and to leave your mark, the way my grandmother did.
Finally, you should be happy with whatever work you are doing; if you’re happy in your job, that is more important than money.