Supporting Maternal and Child Health Improvement and Building Literate Environment (SMILE) Mindanao Project

Country Profile: Philippines


96,471,000 (2012)

Spoken Languages

Filipino, English, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Pampango, Pangasinense, Tagalog, Waray

Poverty (Population living on less than 2 US$ per day):

42% (2009)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.7 (2009)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

96% (2011)

Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

Female: 98% (2005–2010)
Male: 97% (2005–2010)
Total: 98% (2005–2010)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)

Female: 97% (2005–2010)
Male: 98% (2005–2010)
Total: 98% (2005–2010)

Staistical Sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleSMILE Mindanao
Implementing OrganizationNotre Dame Foundation for Charitable Activities, Inc. Women in Education and Development –NDFCAI –WED; Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO
Language of InstructionMaguindanao for learners without basic literacy skills, Filipino and English for learners with some level of literacy skills
Programme PartnersLocal authorities
Date of Inception2007

Background and Context


According to UNESCO’s 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, the Philippines’ basic literacy rate among adults was 94 per cent for females and 93 per cent for males. The 2008 Functional Literacy, Education, and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) indicated the functional literacy among persons ages 10 to 64 was 88.7 per cent for girls and women and 84.2 per cent for boys and men. The FLEMMS also revealed, however, a significant gap between the poor and the non-poor populations, showing that 7 out of 10 persons who were poor were functionally literate compared to 9 out of 10 among the non-poor.

The Philippines has three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a region located in the Mindanao division, predominantly consists of Muslim provinces. The ARMM has a low standard of living and high incidence of poverty and illiteracy has been perennially reported at high rates (FLEMMS, 2008). Moreover, in the ARMM, high infant and maternal mortality rates have also been reported. Compared to other regions of the country, this area and its potentials for growth and development are often further hampered due to intermittent internal armed conflict. The Notre Dame Foundation for Charitable Activities, Inc.-Women in Education and Development (NDFCAI-WED) has been serving and catering to people in the ARMM though alternative learning systems or non-formal education projects since its inception in 1984.


Since NDFCAI-WED was organized, it has offered many and diversified education and human resource development projects and activities in ARRM. NDFCAI-WED is a renowned NGO for its dedicated work and successful activities in the promotion of the development of initiatives focusing on literacy, alternative learning systems for adults, and out of school children and youth integration. One of its notable projects is the Gender and a Culture of Peace Project (GENPEACE). This project offers girls and women literacy and continuing education programmes which integrate peace education aimed at building a culture of peace in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. GENPEACE also has been installing community radio stations to use as tools to promote a culture of peace and enhance community participation, as well as mobilization and communication among people. So far 15 stations are organized all over conflict affected areas in Mindanao.

Another notable and quite recent project of NDFCAI-WED is the SMILE Mindanao project. Among many projects and activities NDFCAI-WED has undertaken, this case study focuses on the recent innovative endeavour, the SMILE Mindanao project.

The SMILE Mindanao Project

The SMILE Mindanao project is designed under the Supporting Maternal and Child Health Improvement and Building Literate Environments (SMILE) project formulated by the Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU). Among marginalized families in the ARMM, strong correlations are found among illiteracy, poverty, poor health, and nutrition. The ARMM has the lowest performance for common indicators of service coverage including prenatal care, immunization and nutritional supplementation and family planning services. Lack of adequate knowledge of maternal and child health and nutrition has contributed to higher maternal and child mortality in the poorest areas in the region. SMILE Mindanao, therefore, provides health and literacy education to support the families in the ARMM.

Aims and Objectives


SMILE Mindanao project aims to enable mothers to develop, to actively participate in, and to promote positive mother-child health practices and behaviours. In other words, it aims to improve their lives, the health of their families, and to promote healthy living and family literacy.


  1. To conduct classes on health education which target mothers with children from 0 to 6 years old
  2. To develop and improve mothers’ literacy and post-literacy skills in order to ensure
  3. To train mothers on organic farming of vegetables and crops and to support food security for their families while emphasizing that improving their reading, writing, and numeracy skills are necessary in farming and enterprise/livelihood activities.
  4. To facilitate mothers to organize a “Mothers’ Organization” which functions as a support group for their collective efforts and actions for civic engagement.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methods

Advocacy and Social Mobilization

Courtesy calls, dialogues, consultations, and meetings with government officials were made, and religious leaders in the area/community were contacted. This is to inform and receive the support of women and other civic groups. This activity resulted in the establishment of institutional linkages, coordination, and collaboration among local leaders and other concerned members of the community. Moreover, community meetings, orientations, and house to house visits/interviews were employed to directly contact potential beneficiaries of the programme.

Recruitment and Training of Barangay Health Workers/Adult Facilitators

First, barangay health workers were identified and recruited to become the adult facilitators of the SMILE Project. Because they lacked the knowledge and experience to conduct the literacy component of the classes, they underwent intensive training, mentoring, and tutoring with the more trained and experienced adult facilitators of NDFCAI-WED from another project.

Community Needs Analysis

A series of meetings were conducted with the community leaders, including the municipal mayor, municipal planning and development officer, municipal agriculture officer, municipal health officer, barangay (or village) captains, and barangay government officials to determine the needs of the mothers, and a community needs assessment was conducted with 30-40 mothers. Preferred activities were then identified.

Instructional Materials Development and Distribution of Learning Materials

Intensive review, sourcing, and research were conducted in order to develop learning materials suited for the project goals and objectives. A booklet of materials and a manual for the facilitators were created based on the materials from the Departments of Health and Education. It covers topics such as: prenatal care and services, nutrients needed during pregnancy, breastfeeding, preparing the baby for complimentary food mixes, preventing diarrhea and feeding sick babies, and child growth and milestones. These materials were given to the barangay health workers.

Learners receive textbooks which contain modules on health, food, nutrition, children’s rights, environment and sanitation, communication and life skills, basic mathematics, citizenship, and the world map and their neighbours, and other materials (ex. notebooks, pencils). Learners who lack functional literacy skills are also given textbooks for literacy skills development.

Capacity Training Workshop of Adult Facilitators and Community-based Partners

NDFCAI-WED conducted a three-day live-in capacity-building workshop. Its purpose was to help workshop participants 1) build teaching competencies though acquiring knowledge of different teaching strategies used in facilitating literacy classes, 2) familiarise themselves with learning materials and modules, and 3) enhance their capabilities to utilize learning assessments in order to monitor learning progress and to facilitate learners’ self-study or group-study outside the classroom.

Trainings on Organic Vegetable Gardening


A 1000- to 1500-sq. meters communal plot was created. The Municipal Agrarian Office distributes seeds to each learner to plant in their backyards and communal gardens. Gardening tools and equipment are also given to the mothers. Series of training sessions are provided on organic vegetable gardening in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The agricultural technologist of the municipality regularly monitors/visits the communal garden.

Regular Meetings

Every month, a meeting for barangay and municipal officials is held aiming to strengthen the relationship among barangay and municipal officials and to provide them the opportunity to share experiences in the implementation, concerns and effective practices.

Health Education/Literacy Class

Two of the barangays’ health workers provide six-month long health education classes in the two barangays (one health worker per barangay). At the beginning of the six-month programme, learners who are illiterate and learners who have some literacy skills attend separate classes. For the learners who are illiterate, literacy materials are distributed and class sessions focus on basic literacy. At the later phase of the programme, the non-literate learners gain some level of basic literacy skills; therefore, the two groups of learners then begin to attend the same classes. The materials used in the classes are focused on health related issues; however, they are also used as learning materials for numeracy, reading and writing.

All learners are provided a textbook that include self-directed learning modules and are encouraged to use them and learn at their own homes during their own free time. Learners quite often gather together to study outside class time.

Mothers’ Organization

Immediately after the initiation of the health education classes, each class creates their Mothers’ Organization and prepares their own action plans for collective activities for civic engagement.

Monitoring and Evaluation

To determine the progress of the implementation of the health education classes, the following monthly reports are submitted by the barangay health worker before receiving her monthly salary:

  1. Accomplishment Report: Used to report the topics and activities covered and the results from those topics and activities.

  2. Progress Report: Used to track class/learner progress, special activities, problems encountered and solutions of the problems encountered.

  3. Attendance Sheet: Completed by learners to track their attendance

  4. Work Time Clock

Unannounced monitoring of literacy classes is conducted periodically (once or twice a month) by the SMILE project coordinator to evaluate and assess the barangay health worker’s performance. It covers:

  1. learners’ learning progress,

  2. efficiency of barangay health workers,

  3. effectiveness of learning approaches applied, and

  4. impact of the project on the community. The information gained through each monitoring visit is then shared with the barangay health worker.

At the end of 6-month project, a conference with the barangay health workers is carried out to discuss the areas needing improvement and the areas that must be maintained for quality delivery of services.

Programme’s Impact and Challenges


A total of 57 learners participated in the health education in the two barangays and 52 completed the six-month project cycle so far.

Learners’ testimonies on their knowledge on health

“There are so many things I learned from our class. I now understand the natural way of family planning; I know how to plan and cook balanced diet, and the importance of vegetables.”
“I learned so many things in our class like balanced diet, cooking nutritious food, health and family health particularly for my daughter (1.3 years old) and many more.”

Learners’ testimonies on their literacy skills

“I was an illiterate woman when I joined my class. Today, in just a few months, I know how to write my name, read, know my numbers. I have gained self-confidence, have new friends and always look forward to my class. My husband is very happy and always tells me to go and attend my class. The materials I got have been used by me for my child and family. I want to continue learning in my literacy class.”

Learners’ comments on their garden

“The gardening lessons and our vegetable is now a source of food and nutrients for my family. I do not need money to provide good food for my family.”
“I now have my own garden plot with my vegetables, thanks to the SMILE project.”

Regarding Mothers’ Organizations which are formed in health education classes, several activities have been planned in cooperation with the office of each barangay’s chairmen and their councils. One of the Mothers’ Organizations is registered and certified in the Cooperative Development Authority of ARMM.



  1. In order to foster sustainability of the project, NDFCAI-WED involves local authorities and communities in all stages of project implementation. 
  2.  The knowledge learners gained from the project appeared to be sustaining.


Lessons Learnt

Three factors are important for successful programme implementation:

  1. Focus of the programme on being integrative, responsive and relevant to the lives of learners and their families.

  2. Partnership building with diverse groups.

  3. Community mobilization and active community participation.



Myrna Lim

Executive Director, NDFCAI-WED

WED Bldg. Santos St. Extn, Krislamville Subdivision, Rosary Heights

Cotabato City 9600, Philippines

Tel: 63-64-421-1954, Fax: 63-64-421-7184

Email: ndfcaiwed84 (at), mblim68 (at)