Woman leads call for cyber safety in her community

3 February 2021

Juggling between work and motherhood is not an easy feat, let alone if you are a single mother. This is why being part of the Plan International Philippines’ Cyber Safe Spaces Project is one of the experiences that Mercedes Aloro — or Ate Mercy — is truly grateful for.

Ate Mercy plays 2 important roles in her life. She’s a local councillor as well as being a mother to 4 children. Ate Mercy has always been aware of the risks posed against children and has worked for many years towards their protection.

“We are facing many challenges against the safety of the children, especially in our community school. Online, there are pressing issues of cyberbullying, online addiction, and there are cases where children share their nude photos on the internet,” she shares.

While her job has been a platform for her to learn about the threats against children so as to help them, her busy schedule and demanding work had been a cause of struggle for her in spending time with and watching over her children. “It’s not easy being a solo parent. Since I’m the one providing for my family, one of the biggest challenges is I don’t get to spend much time with my children because I’m often at work.”

Through the Cyber Safe Spaces Project, Ate Mercy acquired new knowledge on the protection of children, especially online, and has also learned how to marry her roles both as mother and as children’s safety advocate together —  as opposed to juggling between the 2.

“It’s my role to include all children in our advocacy and to make sure that online spaces are safe for them. Everything I’ve learned in the Cyber Safe Spaces Project I apply first to myself. I always see to it that I have enough knowledge on issues and how to address them so that I can share it with my children and other people,” she says.

Meanwhile, Ate Mercy has also engaged her own children in the Cyber Safe Spaces Project, thus making it a platform for all of them to spend quality time together while collectively gaining knowledge on ensuring children’s safety.

Now, Ate Mercy’s children have also taken substantial roles in their community to raise awareness on the online safety of children.

“A lot has changed in our home since my children got involved in this project. They now educate other people about safe internet use so that more will be reached by our cause, and they already recognise and understand the importance of my advocacy. This project gave me and my children quality time together.”

Ate Mercy now actively ensures that her children are equipped with sufficient knowledge on safety measures on social media and other online platforms to help and guide them with their newfound advocacy.

As her experiences in the project have brought considerable positive changes in her personal and work life, Ate Mercy gives back to the community by generously educating other parents and guardians as well. Through their awareness sessions that include different groups such as the educators, women organisations, LGBTQIA+ community,  home-owners associations, the church, single parents, and 4Ps members, she constantly reminds parents and guardians to be the first line of defense against online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

“My advice to my fellow guardians and parents is to be the first role models of safe internet use so that their children will follow their lead,” she says.

As for the youth and children, Ate Mercy underscores that safety and protection includes being vigilant and responsible internet users.

“What I can tell you is to apply the lessons imparted to you by this project: online and offline, be vigilant when meeting strangers and don’t give valuable and private information. Take it also upon yourselves to be respectful and responsible with all your actions both online and offline.”

Now that her advocacy and motherhood complement each other, Ate Mercy expresses gratitude to the Cyber Safe Spaces Project and the staff of Plan International Philippines. She, along with her children, vows to sustain the efforts this project has started.

“It saddens us that the project has already ended. But we vow to cultivate and sustain the efforts seeded in our community.”

Protection from violence, Youth empowerment, Gender-based violence, girls’ leadership