Merce, as Angelita Nicolas’ colleagues fondly call her, started her community involvement as a student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. As a student at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Social Development Office, her work involved talking to communities in the rural areas. At a very young age, she dealt with the grassroots by trying to help them achieve a solution to their problems. When she finished college she continued to work with the communities under the Philippine Business for Social Progress. Her stint with the rural communities was cut short when she joined the National Computer Center (NCC) as a Budget Examiner, then as the Head of Supplies Group, and finally as head of NCC’s Training Group.
After over twenty years with the NCC, Merce’s life changed when she was made ADOC (APEC Digital Opportunity Center) manager in 2005. Under her leadership, the project has expanded to cover thirteen centers, and has trained more than 3,500 women and girls in digital literacy through the Philippine Digital Literacy for Women Campaign (PDLWC).
In addition to being lead trainer for the PDLWC, Merce is also NCC’s Gender and Development focal person, which enables her to work intensively with both women and men. In 2011, her achievements, especially with the ADOC, did not go unnoticed and during one of the many conferences where she has represented ADOC and her country, it was announced that she was one of the 100 Outstanding Telecentre Women Managers.
However, life can be a rollercoaster. The excitement of being recognized as an Outstanding Telecentre Women Manager was short-lived. In December 2011, Merce lost her only child. She slowed down for a while.
But she perseveres, and today Merce is more focused than ever on what she does best – working with people in the underserved sector. She wants to see changes for women in information and communication technology (ICT). “I would like to advocate accessibility for all,” says Merce. “There is a clear disparity between men and women in rural areas compared to the cities.”
According to Merce, the ADOC Center, which is steadily being converted into a Community eCenter (the Philippine term for a telecentre), is a vehicle for change, for women to have ICT access. Women in underserved areas can be empowered through basic ICT training in Excel, Word, how to get connected, and how to make a business plan.
Merce sees herself as a catalyst for change. She has done a lot, but feels it is still not enough, that she could have done more had she started earlier with her advocacy. Her ultimate goal is to work with an international nongovernment organization, so that she can do more for her people. She takes pride in saying, especially as a presenter in international conferences, that the Philippines has done a lot for the underserved – in transforming the digital divide into digital opportunities.
As she goes home to her family after her day’s work, what comes into Merce’s mind is her advocacy – to transform lives through digital literacy for women. An advocacy to make her family proud.
*The article was written by Patricia Barkess and originally printed in the book “Outstanding Telecentre Women Managers: 100 Stories” published on May 28, 2013 by the Telecentre.org Foundation.