Our Mayor from Al-Barka

Published December 8, 2021, 5:26 AM

by Milwida Guevara

Mayor Darus Lajid did not have the sophistication of a City Mayor like Mayor Rex and Mayor Vico.  He is a simple Mayor from Al Barka, Basilan, but his challenges were as great, if not greater. His passion for public service was as fiery.

Al-Barka was once the most troubled town in Basilan.  In 2007, 23 Marine troops were killed in skirmishes with the MILF, and at least 14 of the soldiers were beheaded.  In 2012, 19 soldiers of the Army’s Special Forces were killed by MILF rebels and other armed groups in Al-Barka.

Thus, we had second thoughts in accepting UNICEF’s invitation to work in Al- Barka.  We would have regretted it had we said no.  We would have missed the opportunity to know a Mayor who dreamt big and worked hard to improve the life of his constituents .

Most households from Al-  Barrka  did not have access to safe water.  They walked as far as 6 kilometers to get to the nearest creek or deep well.  If households had no water, open defecation and sanitation problems followed.

Basic education was a luxury rather than a right.   There are no elementary schools in many barangays.  Villages with schools were only for primary grades; in some, children could only reach grade 4.  Another problem was the lack of regular teachers.  Many children are out of school to help their parents earn a living.  There was no system for alternative learning.  Thanks to the military, who offered lessons on basic literacy and simple livelihood.

Thus, the election of Mayor Darus brought hope and inspiration to the town.  He was not a typical politician who sought to be elected to gain power. He was more of a simple community worker.   He was a great believer in empowering the residents by providing them with essential services, especially water.  He advocated that the education of children was the most powerful tool in restoring peace.

Mayor Darus voluntarily came to a Synergeia meeting in Zamboanga.   He wanted to learn from his peers how education can be brought to the doorstep of every household.  We were so moved by the intensity of his intention to become our partner.  He was like a child on his first day in school and listened intently to our mentors like former Governors Lito Coscolluela and Josie de La Cruz.

He showed us that he was an action man.  As soon as he got home, he brought community members together and called for an education summit.  He spoke from his heart and enjoined them to believe in a dream for a great future for their children.  Even the men were in tears as they shared the obstacles that they have to overcome.  But they believed in their Mayor, who promised to be there every step of the way.

Then, the Mayor visited every school to find out how children could be helped. He was not a man of promises, but he showed the community his sincerity through action. He dedicated his resources to repairing schools, constructing new ones, and holding school meetings.  Never mind if there were no plantilla positions to hire teachers.  He raised resources to staff schools with teachers and provided them with support.   UNICEF was one of his generous donors in constructing school facilities and the development of instructional materials which children used in distance education.

Mayor Darus was an outstanding learner.  He was there in every Synergeia workshop, presenting his plans and budgets.  Weak internet access was never his problem.   He organized “al fresco” workshops and brought together teachers and parents to be part of our online learning sessions.  He proudly reported his presence and those of his community leaders in our virtual National Education Summit last March.  “The R Man here from Barka listening to Mayor Jett,” he wrote in the chat box.

We can only thank Mayor Darus and tell him we are so sorry for our sins of omission.   The pandemic deprived us of the opportunity to work with him and his community.   They were lost opportunities that would have made our organization stronger and transformed us to become better persons. He has taught us that there is greatness in every man.  We only have to stop, listen, and learn.

We grieve with Al -Barka.  We hope that the life of the Mayor was not lived in vain and those you left behind would carry on the mission that you started.

Fr. Jett says that working with children is a noble act.  “Lilingon ang langit,” he says. Rest in peace dear Mayor.  Heaven will not forget how you protected and helped His little ones.  

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