Vangie’s family lives in Linapacan, a village isolated by a three-hour boat ride from mainland Coron. A quick search on the internet will show Linapacan’s crystal clear waters and white sand beaches, but the locals mostly, if not all, live below the poverty line.
“Kami po ang pinakamalayong barangay. Tuwing may kalamidad nga po, pakiramdam namin nakahiwalay kami sa Pilipinas” (Ours is the farthest village. Every time a disaster hits, we feel like we're distanced from the rest of the country), Vangie recalled the slow response after the typhoon.
There were times, she said, when she thought that they must have been forgotten. “Wala pong dumarating na tulong para sa amin” (No help came), she recalled.
In only a few days after Yolanda, their coastal village had run out of rice and other food supplies. Even their main source of livelihood, fishing, had turned scarce. She said the residents relied on root crops for subsistence.
Just when she thought help wasn’t coming their way, Vangie and the whole village found hope through the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies, Inc. (PHILSSA) that extended help with the support of Christian Aid. According to Vangie, they were able to have an alternative source of income through the weaving of table mats and banig:
“Tinuruan po kaming mag-lala ng banig, basket at table mat pagkatapos ng bagyong Yolanda. Mula po noon, ito na ang pinagkukunan namin ng kabuhayan" (We were taught to weave mats after typhoon Haiyan. It has since been our main source of income).
Her biggest clients are school teachers and some well-to-do families from Coron. But as with any business, not all days are good. Sometimes, they even go for weeks without orders.
Vangie knows that in order to stay relevant in a competitive industry like handicrafts-making, she needs to constantly reinvent her designs and keep up with the latest trends. That is why she is grateful that that help did not end when PHILSSA ended their project.
Instead, a Fair Trade organization, Community Crafts Association of the Philippines (CCAP) with funding support from Christian Aid, partnered with to provide enterprise development workshops to level up the skills and knowledge of handicraft and food producers from the Calamianes Group of Islands.
During a seminar-workshop in Coron last August 21-27, 19 producers from different parts of the province learned about Fair Trade principles, proper designing, packaging, costing and pricing of their products.
Like Vangie, 69-year-old Elisa Magaro -- the oldest producer from the group, also lost her only means of livelihood during typhoon Yolanda.
“Lahat po ng basket na pinaghirapan ko noong gawin, nasira. Pati po yung mga materyales ko, nawala. (All my baskets and the materials I had were lost to the flood), she shared.
While most of the producers started their enterprises after typhoon Yolanda, Elisa has been weaving baskets since she was 17 years old, a skill she and her younger sister inherited from their mother. Each of Elisa’s baskets, made of rattan, usually takes two tedious hours to make. Out of her small enterprise, she was able to help augment the family income and send her youngest son to college.
Although her baskets already have quite a demand among foreigners and tourists, Elisa still hopes to improve her products and expand her market.
CCAP assists handicraft producers like Vangie and Elisa by linking them to domestic and international markets. At the workshop, they were taught to identify their target markets and innovating their products in order to create lucrative, sustainable businesses. As a Fair Trade organization, CCAP also promotes fair pricing of products to benefit both producers and buyers. Through the workshop, Elisa learned that her products are priced lower than they should. “Lugi po pala ako!” (I didn't know I was short-changed), she mused. Prior to the session on costing and pricing, the Coron producers used “Tantyahan” (rough estimation) to price their products – a method they have practiced for years.
In Vangie’s case, she found out that her goods were overpriced by P50.00. She says that setting her pricing right would attract more customers.
“Malaki po ang pasasalamat namin sa mga organisasyong tumutulong sa amin na makabangon matapos ang Yolanda” (We are very grateful for the organizations that helped us rebuild out lives after Yolanda), said Vangie.
The capacity-building intervention continues until January 2018, as CCAP with PHILSSA continue to train and monitor the progress of the participants. The products of the Coron producers will be showcased during a national arts and crafts fair in Manila in December.
To these Yolanda survivors, handicrafts are no longer just a source of livelihood, but a symbol of hope and resilience after the storm.