Weaving Dreams in Sibaltan, El Nido

Weaving Dreams in Sibaltan, El Nido. Written by the Ayala Foundation for SubSelfie.com.
Sibaltan had a reputation as a sleepy village by the sea in the eastern part of El Nido, Palawan. But now, it is waking up to increased economic activity.  Among those contributing to the growth is a bold band of women weavers who have not only scaled up their craft but also their dreams.

They are the Sibaltan Women Weavers Association, Inc. or SWWAI. Last November 2015, the group received their certificate of incorporation fromthe Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And no one could be happier than Melodiya “Diay” Bantog, a 37 year old Palaweña who is the group’s president since 2013.

Diay and her team had been struggling to complete documentation requirements that will allow them to operate commercially and scale up a livelihood enterprise on which they pinned most of their hopes. The hurdle especially for small groups filing for registration at the SEC has been higher following the Napoles controversy which affected the governance outlook of NGOs in the country.

Last March, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) finally issued SWWAI their certificate of registration so they can operate as an independent business entity. Now that SWWAI is allowed to do business, while issuing their very own official receipt, Diay and her team feel they had won half the battle.

The women weavers of El Nido.
The women weavers of El Nido.

Weaving and Cultural Heritage

In this idyllic farming and fishing community, weaving is a skill passed on from generation to generation. People take pride in the fact that their roofs and walls are the work of their hands. They weave almost everything. Thus, in a typical household, it is not unusual to see menfolk, farmers and fishermen in particular, doing their share of weaving when they come home from the sea or farm.

The Sibaltan women weavers started as a small group in 2000. Through the DSWD and the private sector with the leadership of Ayala Foundation, they underwent training to supply a single buri bag design for giveaways in El Nido resorts.

In 2008, Macrina “Nay Macring” Gacasa became president and by that time, the group already had 57 members, and had since woven buri – pandan bags, wallets, baskets or bayongs, slippers and mats for the local market.

But still, it was difficult for them to make both ends meet as their market was limited to Palawan. While their artisanship is evident in the work that they do, they lacked the vision to drive the business further.

The fisherfolk of Sibaltan.
The fisherfolk of Sibaltan.
A day in a life.
A day in a life.

Building Confidence and Skills

Chiara Cruza, Program Manager of the Ayala Foundation, observed how the hard-working Palaweñas sundried leaves from buri and pandan for two days before they made simple but durable products out of them. The women did this only as a part-time undertaking to help augment their respective family’s income.

Sadly, she also realized that whatever the women earned out of weaving will never be enough to feed their families nor send their children to school, that is, if they continued to do things in the old, familiar way. Thus, the Foundation coordinated with the group to explore a new leadership and introduced them to Rag to Riches (R2R), a fashion and design house which seeks to empower community artisans.

The Sibaltan women weavers also found inspiration women from the Payatas dumpsite who developed a formidable enterprise. The humble beginnings of R2R resonated with them as a powerful message that if the Payatas women can do it, so can they.

R2R then provided SWWAI with an overview on production, marketing and sales plus designs. After a week-long training during mid-2014, sixty design prospects were added to their list. Following through the new found confidence of the weavers, the Ayala Foundation invited The Leather Collection (TLC), a company specializing in corporate gift items using high-quality leather, to take a look at SWWAI.

TLC thought highly of the Sibaltan women’s craftsmanship, realizing that they were capable of weaving fine leather strips into panel materials that they needed for their luxury products, namely wallets, folios, key fobs, among others. Shortly after the visit,  five women weavers from Sibaltan and Villapaz towns went to Manila for skills development with TLC. Later on, their output formed a unique, limited edition collection of luxury bags and gift items.

“We learned about quality in our training with The Leather Collection. We realized that we should not just weave in a rush. We have to make sure that our products are of the highest quality. We know that Leather Collection sells them at a really high price so they have to be the best,” Diay Bantog says.

The Foundation believes that by enhancing the skills of the women weavers, developing new products with greater appeal and function, and facilitating access to the market, a far greater value – both on a personal scale and product-wise— will emerge.

Now their bayongs and other buri products are giveaways for the El Nido resorts of Ayala Land. Manila-based national and international organizations also made their work as conference bags. Seeing the versatility of the woven buri-pandan products, many clients ordered notebooks, tea boxes, notepad boxes, and other items out of their handicraft. Custom Made Crafts partnered with the group to develop these gift items.

A treasured skill.
A treasured skill. Photo courtesy: Jay Fernando.

Bigger Dreams

Nowadays, children in Sibaltan, El Nido, Palawan still fly kites and play along the shores like before, but their mothers, grandmothers and sisters who compose the Sibaltan Women Weavers Association, Inc. are now seeing far beyond the horizon of the resort town. And others are taking notice.

During El Nido’s 100th founding anniversary last March 12, the people of El Nido, Palawan recognized the crucial role of the private sector in community development, particularly the leadership and guidance of Chiara Cruz of the Ayala Foundation.

“We are happy where we are now and thank Chiara being good to us and helping us all the way. Totoong totoo siya. (She is so true.) She gives us advice even on our little problems,” SWWAI President Diay Bantog says, adding that now that they have come this far, they will appreciate a special training in financial management, budgeting and record keeping. “My daughter, who is 15, is a special child. I want to send my 10-year old son to college. I can say this because I now earn more than my husband who works as highway laborer. On the whole, I am able to provide for my family in a much better way.”

Life for the Sibaltan women weavers was once as complicated as their intricate craft. But through community development, they are now taking the future into their own hands.

[Entry 135, The SubSelfie Blog]
Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post.

 About the Author:

The Ayala Foundation.

The Ayala Foundation aims to understand community realities and to be a catalyst for change with the help of the public and private sector. They envision programs and partnerships that have impact, scale and sustainability. SubSelfie.com supports initiatives that promote community development.

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