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Lucy alumna Maria Baylon on her mission to empower marginalised people and level the playing field

Maria Baylon (MPhil in Environment & Development Studies, 1999) is Programs Director and concurrent Deputy Executive Director of Action for the Care and Development of the Poor in the Philippines, Inc. (ACAP), a non-profit organization based in Manila (Philippines). They work to empower marginalized youth through a combination of education assistance, art literacy, values education, and health and nutrition-sensitive programs.

Maria’s professional experience covers the broad field of environment and development with technical competencies in gender sensitive and holistic program design, development and management, strategic engagement with national government agencies and with local government units. In the course of her community development practice that spans three decades, she has worked with Philippine government agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, national and local offices of the Philippine Technology Education and Skills Development Agency, as well as with the Office of Civil Defence of the Department of National Defence. In addition to her experience working in the executive branch of government, she also had a stint as a Legislative Officer in the Philippine Senate, working with for the Senate Committee on Science and Technology.

Before joining ACAP, Maria was also in a strategic leadership role with an NGO promoting maternal and child nutrition and is a strong proponent of social mobility and helping people ‘at the margins’ of society. She has always been passionate about community development, and has been actively engaged with initiatives that promote children’s rights and development, equality, women empowerment, and indigenous peoples rights and development over the past three decades. Maria is committed to levelling the playing field and creating space for participation for poor and deeply marginalized sectors and communities, most especially for poor and at-risk children.

The situation of poor and at-risk children in the Philippines, particularly children in street situation, remains dismal. The economic fallout from the COVID19 pandemic has pushed many poor and deeply marginalized young children and adolescents back to the streets to help eke out a living for their families. This exposes them to physical danger and violence, severe psychological distress, mistreatment, food insecurity and hunger, and to all kinds of abuse daily. Many children that come from poor and deeply marginalized families and communities suffer from malnutrition, some experience sexual abuse, trafficking, or even arbitrary detention, leaving the children emotionally, and often also physically, traumatized. These children grow up in ‘survival mode’ and tend to lack social skills. Most experience great difficulty in trusting others and caring for themselves. The most effective way to lift children out of poverty – and, importantly, to break the cycle of poverty – is through education, including values education, and the financial independence and social capital that it builds.

ACAP’s Art’s Program offers not just an opportunity for creative exploration, but, more importantly, a “safe space” for deeply hurting and traumatized young children and teens to express their emotion, which can help to heal trauma and help regain self-worth, restore dignity, and self-efficacy. As children learn to value themselves, they can also begin to become productive, self-respecting members of society. ACAP’s Art Program supports this process to help prepare these children to start or return to school.

“Any intervention that we do for children is an investment for the future. It requires strategic and wise engagement not only with the child’s immediate family but with different communities, but more importantly with community duty bearers in government as well as in civil society, including specialists from various disciplines – e. g. the arts, the social and the natural sciences, engineering, education, etc. This is the beauty of the community development approach. It facilitates dialogue between and among practitioners from different disciplines, which leads them to create a shared space for collaboration to serve the greater good.”

During her time at Cambridge Maria was a Fellow at the Cambridge University Overseas Trust and received a British Chevening Scholarship Award. She remembers her time at Lucy Cavendish College fondly.

“I chose Lucy Cavendish College because it was, and still is, a supportive environment and has a history of transforming the life chances of people from non-traditional and under-represented backgrounds. As a mature female non-European student living away from home for the first time, the incredibly supportive and warm Lucy staff and resident students at that time have been a tremendous help in my adjustment and in helping me navigate the University system.

In addition to the lovely people of Lucy, I also love the College Library and the Lucy garden! I always remember with deep fondness my beautiful attic room in Strathaird House and the view of the garden from my small bedroom balcony. It was the best room in the house, I was told. Indeed, it was!”

Maria Baylon with school children in Tanzania.
Photo: Maria Baylon with school children in Tanzania.
Maria with children in Banda Aceh Indonesia
Photo: Maria with children in Banda Aceh Indonesia
Maria with fellow trainors in Banglore (Using radio for community development and distater response)
Photo: Maria with fellow trainors in Banglore (using radio for community development and distater response)