Skip to content

“Transforming the lives of those who are too often left behind”: Norfil’s success in the Philippines

Posted on: Monday, March 6th, 2023

At CBM, our vision is of an inclusive world where everyone can enjoy their human rights, and achieve their full potential. Forming and working in partnerships that enable long-term sustainable impact is crucial to seeing this realised.

I recently had the opportunity to visit an organisation with which CBM enjoys exactly this sort of relationship. Norfil, a long-term CBM partner, is dedicated to achieving an inclusive society and a world where every child is cared for and loved. Based in the Philippines – a beautiful country where the welcome was warm as the weather – Norfil has been remarkably successful for 40 years: here are some key reflections on what has driven their success.

A clear vision: Inclusive communities where every child is loved and cared for in a family

Since 1984 Norfil has focused on children and youth with disabilities, as well as their parents and family members, seeking to fully integrate each child with disabilities into every aspect of life in the Philippines. By breaking down barriers that these children and their wider family face, including stigma and discrimination, Norfil enable children with disabilities to embrace and enjoy life to the full in their local neighbourhood and beyond. This clear vision brings focus to their activities. 

A strong model: Enabling Communities for Inclusion Programme (ECFI)

Working directly with the families they seek to nurture, protect and empower, Norfil have developed a hugely effective model. Home and village-based programmes help children with disabilities access services that are appropriate and affordable, whilst ensuring their acceptance, integration and participation in society. From pre-school nurturing and attending school, to home-based rehabilitation and appropriate health care, whilst promoting inclusion in churches and other local community institutions, Norfil’s model enables families to engage with their communities.

Engaging family: Mobilising parents as advocates for their children

A key component to the effectiveness of the model is the Parent Advocates of children with disabilities. In Ilocus Sur, the province where Norfil is currently focussing its work, there are 1,367 parents in such groups. Each parent is encouraged to meet with others, together with their children, as a supportive encouragement as well as taking part in a wide range of activities that help empower and mobilise change. 

During my visit I met with a local Parent Advocates group, based in Sinait, a town in Ilocos Sur. This group was celebrating the end of the year with their children, and had gathered for a party. It was such a delight to see them and hear their stories. One of the children talked of the confidence and future ambition he now had – to become an architect – whilst parents gave me an insight into how valuable the group had been, especially in their advocacy efforts. I already knew of the impact that they had made: the local Municipality Mayor had spoken earlier that day about how the town, encouraged by the advocates, was now seeking to raise awareness of the need for community integration whilst the Municipality was now offering much needed specific financial support to parents who cared for children with disabilities. 

Prioritising access to education: Working with local schools

Access to education for children with disabilities is a huge challenge. Barriers to overcome are varied, but often include financial constraints within the school setting and stigma from local communities. Seeing for myself a school in Ilocos Sur that not only embraced local children with disabilities, but was committed to both mainstreaming and targeted disability support, was so encouraging. With CBM’s support Norfil had provided teacher training alongside family capacity building and awareness raising of the specific needs for individual children, whilst overcoming accessibility issues and encouraging those in authority to be involved long term. 

Mobilising Community Resources: Handing over to the local province.

Core to the success of Norfil’s programme is mobilising community resources. They have trained an amazing 2,387 local volunteers throughout Ilocos Sur. These volunteers, in partnership with Local Government Units (LGUs), other NGOs, and civic organizations, work collectively to support the social integration of children and youth with disabilities – and their families – into the local community. The ultimate aim is for the programme to be sustained by the local authorities, releasing any ongoing need for Norfil to maintain it, and most importantly for it to be owned by the local community itself.  

During my visit I was able to attend a handover ceremony. After five years in Ilocus Sur, the programme had got to the point that 15 Municipality Mayors and the Provincial Governor were publically and formally committing themselves to not just maintaining, but increasing, their support for children with disabilities. It was a delight to see the joy on the faces of all involved as this took place.  

The power of inclusion

What constantly emerged throughout the visit was that, by embracing the vision, the whole community benefited from the drive to inclusion. Not everything was perfect, far from it, but Norfil is transforming the lives of those who are too often left behind, and are passionate to keep moving forward. Ilocos Sur is just one in a long line of provinces in which Norfil have witnessed this change, and they now move to another province to carry on the work. CBM is proud to have this partnership with Norfil and we celebrate their successes wholeheartedly.

Photo: Pupils and parents with the Special Education teacher at San Sebastian Elementary School, San Vicente, Ilocos Sur.