DAVAO, Philippines -- More than a week ago, Benigno Aquino, III was sworn in as the 15th president of the Philippines. Among the challenges he faces is the decades-old war against Communist and Islamic rebel groups in the southern part of his country.
Workers with Operation Blessing International are risking their lives to help residents of this dangerous territory.
Nelia Tallod teaches dressmaking to poor people throughout the Philippines as part of a mobile training program for the charity aid organization.
Usually she looks forward to those classes, but a recent assignment made her pause because of the danger involved. The assignment -- to teach in a community that's a haven for communist rebels.
"At first, I was really sad and afraid because the community was infested with communist rebels of the New People's Army," Tallod said. "The residents lived in fear, because they were constantly threatened by the communists. And many times, they were caught in the middle of gun battle between the soldiers and the communists."
Tallod was horrified when an encounter with the rebels ensued just a few meters away from the training center. But it did not stop her from giving her dressmaking lessons to the ladies.
"It was not easy because the ladies already had this mindset that they are poor and that they cannot do it," Tallod said. "But I told them that all it takes is to be interested in what they're doing. I challenged them to do their best so that my sacrifices will not be in vain."
After six weeks, all 19 ladies graduated from the dressmaking course. They took pride in their accomplishments and even wore the dresses they made in class. For most of them, this was the first time that they could laugh and enjoy their lives after so many years of hardship. Operation Blessing also awarded each of them a sewing machine so they can start their own sewing businesses.
"I praise God because at my age, he granted my dream to have my own sewing machine," said Flordeliza Tiu. "The people here live in fear. We cannot even farm our fields, because of the communists and that is why we are poor. But now I'd like to thank Operation Blessing for giving us a new source of income."
Thelma Dizon says that aside from learning dressmaking skills, the ministry's Bible studies deepened her relationship with God.
"I became closer to God," Dizon said. "I learned that I have a God whom I can always depend on."
Operation Blessing will also provide for her daughter's cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries.
"Thank you Operation Blessing for attending to the surgery of my daughter," Dizon said. "Thank you, too for giving us another source of income."
The partnership between the Philippine military and Operation Blessing remains important, because it draws the government closer to the people.
"We are honored to work with Operation Blessing International," said Col. Medel Aguilar. "I believe that what they are doing addressing the socio-economic problems of the people is a lasting and more effective solution to the insurgency problem, because this creates jobs for the people."
Once again, Tallod's sacrifices have paid off. After her dressmaking class graduated, she went back to the eager arms of her family with joy in her heart, believing that the seeds she has sown in that community will someday bear fruits of transformation.
*Originally published July 9, 2010.