By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---Turning arts and crafts into livelihood and training women on the side have won a Bicolana an entrepreneurial award at the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Vietnam.
Besting other 20 delegates from member-nations of the Apec, the Philippine delegate who happens to come from Camarines Sur won the Best Green Economy Award on Sept. 27 for her enterprise and advocacy to empower women by providing them skills in arts and crafts.
Bernadette de los Santos, who hails from Baao, Camarines Sur, won the nod for her Bidibidi Enterprise, including her initiative to train rural women to help them earn income. She is the Philippine delegate in the 2017 Apec’s meeting on Women as Prime Movers of Inclusive Business at the sidelines of the main Apec activities held in Hue, Vietnam.
De los Santos, through her Bidibidi Enterprise, has successfully established La Huerta de Rosario, a farm that combines art and agriculture; Bidibidi Café where art works are displayed; and F.A.R.M. (Fabulously Absolutely Rural Made), a workshop that produces accessories from discarded materials.
Formerly based in the United States, she is a painter and had held exhibit in 2003 at the Walter Lee Avery City Hall Gallery in Seaside City, Carmel County in California.
Film director Alvin Yapan, a friend to De los Santos, compared her paintings to that of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe because of her favorite subject---flowers.
When De los Santos resettled back in Baao town in 2004, she decided to nurture the farm she inherited from her parents in the barangay of Sta. Teresita by growing vegetables and ornamental plants for landscaping.
It did not take long for her to revisit her passion in art while establishing herself in the agriculture industry. In the middle of planting and harvest, she devotes her time on arts and crafts.
“So, I sewed again, made patchworks from upcycled fabrics, and in the course of that, created some fashion accessories made from the buttons I was collecting from deconstructed clothes,” she narrated.
De los Santos said she planted the seed of the workshop that is F.A.R.M. which at present is now a registered brand that makes not only fashion accessories but also serve as her tool for technology transfer and marketing of arts and crafts produced by the rural women she trained.
When the demand for her arts and crafts started to grow, it was time for her to spread the skills to the rural women around her farm, so she put up a workshop to train them and produce products for her growing number of clients.
“I mainly provide skills training for the arts and crafts through the F.A.R.M. to farmers’ wives so they can contribute to family income during the lean season,” De los Santos said.
But she realized she could not do it alone. She established partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and other agencies that provide trainings to rural women to expand her program under F.A.R.M. that include women empowerment and entrepreneurial and marketing skills.
De los Santos specializes in training rural women on embroidery, patchwork quilts and fashion accessories. She teaches them painting using oil and other medium, and gardening and farming, too.
“I started organizing and providing rural women skills training since 2009. That was after I was awarded as the Most Outstanding Rural Woman by the Department of Agriculture in 2008. I was challenged to make good the honor given to me,” De los Santos quipped.
She said her recent beneficiaries in the training program are rural women under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) where 120 of them from her town and another 50 beneficiaries from another Camarines Sur town of Buhi.
De los Santos said she initially only wanted to confine her initiative to her hometown. However, the demand for F.A.R.M products warrant more embroiderers. So, she trained the women in the town of Buhi in partnership with the local government there.
She said about 50 percent of all the women that she trained are now earning.
Thirteen years since she resettled back in her hometown, De los Santos continues her farming which earned her recognition from the DA for good practices in agriculture in the farm, which is situated along the national highway, where she has built her workshop and training facility.
At the ancestral house at her hometown, she continues to fuse arts into her business endeavor when she opened Bidibid Café that serves foodstuffs from locally produced crops. The café is also a gallery where her art works and F.A.R.M. products made by rural women are displayed.