Subanon women in Canatuan try their hands on making ropes from abaca fiber which they later wove into beautiful bags of all shapes and sizes. The one-week training conducted by the Fiber Industry Development Authority is part of the sustainable livelihood program initiated by TVIRD’s Community Relations and Development Office aimed at introducing additional income-generating activities to members of the Siocon Subanon Women’s Association, Inc. At right is SSWAI member Celestina Suson preparing abaca twine using a rope-making contraption. And FIDA and TVIRD officials check the finished products displayed after the training. From left to right, FIDA trainer Felix Nepomuceno, FIDA Regional Director Eduardo Holoyohoy, TVIRD General Manager Ely Valmores, CReDO Superintendent Joel Alasco and FIDA Provincial Officer Wilson Torres.
ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines - Celestina Suson, 42, a Subanon wife and mother, believes she is now an empowered woman - she says she’s a far cry from being what she describes as the “plain housewife and mother” that she was some years ago.
According to her, she achieved her empowerment after she joined the Siocon Subanon Women’s Association, Inc. (SSWAI), an all-women organization based in Canatuan, a small village in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte and host to the copper-zinc mining operations of TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc.(TVIRD).
What Celestina means by “empowered” is her being able to augment her husband’s income from farming. Even as she earns from her profession as community komadrona (midwife), she also gets extra money from dressmaking and from selling cakes made from squash and cassava that are abundant in her village.
She acquired her dressmaking and entrepreneurial skills by attending the training sessions conducted by SSWAI and TVIRD’s Community Relations and Development Office (CReDO) in coordination with government agencies such as the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA). Over 100 Canatuan women have participated in training sessions that include commercial cooking, commercial baking, dress designing and sewing, and, of late, handicraft and bag making.
Having experienced how liberating it is to be empowered, Celestina wants to learn more to be able to earn more! These days, she is eager to hone her newfound bag-making skills. She now wants to sell bags as well. “This business will surely give us another source of livelihood with significant income even when TVIRD is no longer around in Canatuan,” she says.
For a full week last May, Celestina and her fellow SSWAI members learned how to make small ropes from abaca strips and to weave these ropes to make beautiful bags of all shapes and sizes.
“We grow abaca in Canatuan and we don’t need to buy raw materials from other places,” she points out. “We only have to make good use of what we grow here and transform it into beautiful bags and other accessories.”
For the bag-making seminar, CReDO sought the assistance of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) whose provincial officer in Zamboanga del Norte, Wilson Torres, visited Canatuan with his team of trainers to oversee and provide the technical know-how to the Subanon women. Torres views the abaca industry in Canatuan as viable for profitable bag-making businesses that will benefit not only the Subanon women, but farmers as well.
“It only takes hard work, focus and cooperation from this women’s group. The market (for the bags) is not a problem because we can help the women find the market,” Torres explains.
“Abaca products are in demand worldwide,” he adds. “Apart from abaca handicrafts, other products like bond papers, stationeries, and even peso bills and computer chips contain abaca. We want the people here in Canatuan to join the abaca pulp industry in a big way.”
Torres says about 36 hectares in Canatuan are already planted with abaca. Joselito Maribojoc, a FIDA field officer, estimates that the village’s potential abaca fiber production could reach an average of 15 tons per harvest every 3 to 4 months, which is equivalent to approximately P1.1 million (or about US $25,600).
FIDA officials saw such promise of good income from abaca for the Subanon people that they are planning to provide a spindle-stripping machine to abaca farmers here. “The machine costs around P100,000 (over $2,300) and will be given to them for free,” Torres says.
SSWAI officials Annabelle Combi and Lydia Dandana, also want to advance their members’ skills in making use of abaca for other products. “We plan to have our members undergo training on how to make cloth, sandals and other accessories made of abaca fiber,” says Combi, the association president.
“One good thing about this endeavor is that we are now joined by younger Subanon women, including teenagers, who have showed keen interest in the handicraft,” Dandana adds.
During the graduation ceremonies for the 23 SSWAI members who completed their training on bag-making, FIDA Regional Director Eduardo Holoyohoy says the occasion could be a milestone in these women’s lives and for the organization. He encouraged them to provide more space for abaca planting in their ancestral domain. “There is money in abaca fiber,” he stressed.
ulma Villanueva, CReDO Program Officer, brought the Canatuan-made abaca bags to Dapitan City and displayed them at the Agro-Industrial Trade Fair during the Zamboanga del Norte’s Hudyaka Festival that ended first week of June. Out of the 16 items displayed, only 5 were not sold – quite encouraging considering that products were showcased at the tail end of the fair.
Meanwhile, Celestina brought home an abaca rope-twining device. She will produce more bags, putting her newly acquired skill and produce to good use. Given the needed support and technology, there is no doubt that Celestina and her fellow Subanons of Canatuan can live a sustainable life with dignity long after TVIRD is gone. (Joseph Deliverio)