“Nakalaya”



For Beth Daep, 55, housewife and treasurer of Ilaw ng Kababaihan candle makers of Canaman, it was a feeling of liberation, even if short-lived. With Grace Brizuela, 35, their president, and Jane Magdalita, 33, auditor, this shy introvert enjoyed a whole week last month free from her back-breaking manual laundry work and other exhausting daily household and neighborhood chores in their flood-prone community of Canaman, a fourth class municipality in Camarines Sur.


They were on duty from October 11-16 as traders for the booth of JaimEliza, Inc. This homegrown medium-scale enterprise serves as their friendly marketing arm for citronella-scented candles packaged for a bigger and more discriminating market at the Orgullo Trade Fair, SM Mega Mall on Ortigas EDSA. The OKB is a week-long “tiangge” of registered MSMEs that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)-Region V holds yearly at the National Capital Region (NCR) to promote Bicol’s local products.


The three women community candle makers stayed in an air-cooled room at the SOGO Hotel in Cubao, beside the Isarog Bus terminal fronting the Farmers’ Market in Quezon City. It was their first time together to experience comfortable billeting in a hotel with complimentary breakfast. It felt good and inspiring.


“Para po akong nakalaya” (I felt liberated), Beth burst out laughingly when asked what she felt being away from home to join the 6-day Trade Fair. Grace and Jane couldn’t agree more. Their life at home was oppressive and stressful, looking for a decent life. Coming from poor farming families, all three women are now organized into a viable women’s community group to make a difference in their lives. They work on their HELP-oriented IGP (income-generating project) producing citronella-scented anti-mosquito candles and citronella essential oils. HELP stands for Health, Environment, and Alternative Livelihood Program that TBM pursues for resilient and sustainable community life.


Timely social intervention


The SOGO Group of Hotels provided a one-week free hotel stay to help the non-profit humanitarian volunteer group Tabang Bikol Movement which organized the aspiring community women entrepreneurs from the ranks of Canaman’s disaster survivors.


Had it not been for this timely generous support from the company, the Ilaw women would have missed another golden opportunity to join the OKB. They already missed one last June at another trade fair in the Shangrila Mall because they had no place to stay for three nights. While they had the comforts of the clean room with soft beds, hot-and-cold water in the bathroom, hot breakfast, and the warmth of the friendly women staff at the Sogo Hotel, they wished their counterparts manning the more than a hundred booths of the OKB would have enjoyed the same. It seemed odd, but some had to sleep inside their parked vehicles or rented small old spaces near the mall and washed and bathed anywhere so they be at the week-long trade fair with less cost.


“Ang buong buhay ko po kasi ay puro kayod at walang pahinga, puro stress mula pagkabata” (My whole life has been full of struggle and no rest, full of stress since childhood). A daughter of poor farmers in Polangui, Albay, Beth’s life with the family was a lot of hard, physical effort that makes children feel extremely tired at a young age. Now married, with four grown-ups still in the household, Beth thought her week long experience during the OKB as on-duty at the JaimEliza booth was one she would cherish most.


Jane saw her self-esteem and confidence grow. “Sobrang mahiyain po ako, ngayon, mula nang napabuti namin aming organisasyon, mula production, packaging sa mga produkto, pati nag-aaral panu makisalamuha sa mga tao, mas masaya po ngayon kaysa nuon, mas malaki sales!” They wore their gray blazers proudly borrowed from a TBM board member. Some buyers called them “madame” and it felt all the more good!


Being with Ilaw ng Kababaihan gives them opportunities for continuous learning and growth. They continue to learn the values of tarabangan or mutual help. They persist to struggle to overcome the obstacles of life. From 2016, the first time I met these women as disaster survivors of Typhoon Nina, I now see a different set of women, more confident and fighting.


Before they left for the week-long OKB, the community women were all agog at preparing their new non-plastic packaging for their products. Creative women volunteers from the NCR to the locals joined the fray. A Bicolana now based in the NCR, Ms. Celia Alamo Jacob of Connected Women and CEO of the creative group Brown Roots.Ph injected a new multi-dimensional perspective of creative entrepreneurship for grassroots women. She introduced me to new social innovation spaces and philanthropic women like Atty Christine Base of Via Mare and to open to those who wish to level up, given the available resources. Well, it was she who sought the help of the SOGO Hotel group through Ms Chariza Salgado, and for the first time, the hotel group welcomed the community entreps from the province to its SOGO “home.” It was a social experiment that turned out to be a life-changer.


Celia’s entourage of experts and investors may be true to their word to extend more help to the Ilaw women. Ms. Ebong Lazaro of Camaligan, now based in Naga, a local creative, is inspired and now is organizing her own set of creative entrepreneurs engaged in social innovations in their ways. Yet, much must be done to liberate women from the oppressive conditions of poverty and stressful home life in congested communities.


The experience of third-party interventions to help women like Beth, Grace, and Jane is a study of social innovation that national government agencies like the DTI, DA, and DSWD can look into in promoting social enterprises among the basic sectors of farmers and workers. On the other hand, the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Canaman provided the school vehicle free to ferry them and their goods, a valuable add-on to network intervention.


In the next OKB, more hotels may follow suit and partner with the DTI to provide similar simple assistance for accommodation. More creative industries and experts may come to help. More schools can sponsor transportation needs. It can work both ways. The hotels, schools and private companies promote their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and the NGAs, with their mandate, serve better. Ultimately, all can experience a new freedom albeit superficial and temporary from harsh conditions, with innovative beneficial social experiments.