In one of the registration days in the municipality of Patikul in Sulu, we see Norina Sampang providing support to Sama Bajau parents who have queued to register the birth of their children. At the age of 28, Norina has been volunteering at the barangay hall to help Sama Bajaus communicate to non-Sama speakers and guide them on the processes and documents to be prepared for the birth registration process. “I love doing this because I am able to help my neighbors,” she shared. “At the same time, I feel proud and happy that I can be of service to my community,” she added.
Norina is one of the Sama Bajau community volunteers from Barangay Tubig Tanah in Patikul who patiently go around the community to inform parents on the birth registration initiative and help them prepare the documents needed for the activity.
Your support helps ensure that the Sama Bajau and other populations at risk of statelessness are able to obtain birth documentation and access better opportunities. Ⓒ UNHCR/Yam Palma
Thanks to community volunteers like Norina who advocate for birth registration, the awareness about the importance of having a birth certificate has been on the rise among the Sama Bajau. Ⓒ UNHCR/Yam Palma
At the same time, Norina is lining up to register the birth of her two nieces and a nephew who were left to her care by their birth mother. As their sole guardian since they were children, she tends to all their needs, including their education, with the hope that all three of them will finish school and become who they want to be when they grow up.
Norina has big dreams for her nieces and nephew, but they face a barrier in continuing their education—the lack of a birth certificate. Norina’s family and community belong to the Sama Bajau indigenous group, whose itinerant lifestyle has led to generations of non-registration of live births.
“The teacher said that we’d have to stop if we can’t present a birth certificate to the school,” shares 7th grader Norsaima, the eldest. “We wanted to secure a birth certificate so we can continue with our studies,” she added. The kids are determined to stay in school so they can help their family financially and be of service to their community in the future.
Millions of people around the world do not have any proof of nationality. According to the 2022 Mid-Year Trends Report, more than 4.3 million individuals are estimated to be stateless or of undetermined nationality as of end of June 2022. When someone does not have any document to prove who they are, they may be excluded from access to social services – they won’t be able to go see a doctor, travel, work legally, open a bank account, get married, or even go to school.
As a volunteer in her barangay, Norina greatly emphasizes the importance of having a birth certificate to her fellow Sama Bajau in the community, as many have yet to be registered. When people come to her for advice, she informs them of the benefits unlocked by a birth certificate for mobility, healthcare, work and especially, for the education of their children. At home, Norina also ensures that her nephew and nieces understand the value and need for their birth document.
Due to the threat of recurring displacement due to armed conflict as well as the itinerant lifestyle of the Sama Bajau, many in the community lack birth documentation and are considered at risk of statelessness. Ⓒ UNHCR/Jorica Pamintuan
With the help of donors, government agencies, community volunteers and partners, Norina’s nephew and nieces, together with more than 460 Sama Bajau received their birth certificates in September 2022. The Joint Strategy for Addressing Childhood Statelessness initiative by UNHCR and UNICEF opened an opportunity for Sama Bajau and unregistered children within the context of forced displacement due to armed conflict to secure a birth certificate for free.
Now, Norina has one less thing to worry about. She is extremely grateful for the chance to have her nieces and nephew finally registered for a birth certificate. With this, they can continue and finish their education – their ultimate goal for themselves and for their family.
When asked if she would continue to volunteer for her community, Norina beamingly replied with a “Yes”, and added “As long as I could, in any way possible.”
Since 2019, UNHCR has helped over 3,000 Sama Bajau and unregistered children within the context of forced displacement due to armed conflict secure their birth certificates. This year’s birth registration activities focused primarily on the island provinces of the Bangsamoro (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi), which have been plagued by recurring conflict and cyclical displacement for decades.
Through the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness and the UNHCR-UNICEF Joint Strategy for Addressing Childhood Statelessness, UNHCR hopes to help individuals obtain birth documentation, and in the process, access opportunities that will allow them to build better futures for themselves and their communities.
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