December 7, 2022

Leyte district puts a modern spin on basket weaving

Jessie Arenas curates furniture made from various indigenous materials at a store in Villaba Town, Leyte Province, south of Manila, Philippines. Photo by Basilio Sepe/Oxfam Pilipinas

VILLABA, LEYTE – Grace Moñera, 32, was just a child when her father taught her how to cut bamboo and make it into amakan or woven split bamboo mats that are commonly used as wall panels for homes traditional in some rural areas of the Philippines. .

Knowing about this trade has enabled her to earn extra money as she and her husband mainly depend on growing maize in their hometown of Tabango, a 4th class municipality in Leyte.

But because the demand for amakan in their town is low, their family remains among those considered the poorest of the poor – earning less than 5,000 pesos a month. This entitles them to a small amount of government assistance, but it’s still not enough to support their 4 children.

To help local artisans like Moñera, the Leyte District Congress office formed Uswag Leyte.

Uswag Leyte is a sustainable product design and entrepreneurship development program rooted in the cultural heritage of Leyte 3rd District comprising the towns of Villaba, Tabango, San Isidro and Calubian,” Cong said. Anna Veloso-Tuazon.

Thanks to this initiative, artisans like Moñera benefit from free training and exposure at government trade fairs.

“Before, we only knew how to make amakan for homes, but now, thanks to Uswag Leyte, I learned that there are other products that can be made. That’s why I’m very grateful to Uswag Leyte for including us,” Moñera said in the local language, referring to modern designs suggested by the Design Center of the Philippines.

Instead of earning only 350 pesos per bamboo panel, she can earn 600 pesos through new designs such as the amakan curtain, which is more complex and delicate.

Veloso-Tuazon said the word “uswag” is Karay – a term for “improvement, advancement or, in the parlance of intangible heritage, enrichment”. She explained that it is their way of enriching the heritage concepts of their province while helping artisans to proliferate their art and earn a better living.

The lawmaker, who has a long-time fondness for locally made products, said she became passionate about promoting local artisans after meeting a 76-year-old basket weaver who had learned her trade from her husband who sadly died in the pandemic. of COVID-19. The weaver herself could no longer transmit her know-how due to her age and illness.

“Artists are repositories of knowledge. They are carriers of culture. Their knowledge would die with them unless we intervened in a timely or systemic way,” Veloso-Tuazon said.

She realized that if they did nothing, the next generation, including her children, would not be able to enjoy this artistic craft.

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, when she was still a councillor, Veloso-Tuazon and her team started appealing to institutions to help them develop a heritage map. It was the Center for the Conservation of Cultural Assets and the Environment in the Tropics at the University of Santo Tomas that helped train local government staff in heritage mapping.

Antoniette “May-Ann” Gondek, Uswag Leyte’s project coordinator, said they took over the leg work due to COVID-19 restrictions.

She said they learned a lot about their own towns from this experience.

“Our liaison officers would go around their communities and ask where the weavers were. If they see a locally made product in a store, they ask where it came from until they reach the source,” Gondek said.

This is how they met Moñera and her sister-in-law Diosdada “Nora” Serat.

“Nagpapasalamat kami na nakasama kami (sa Uswag Leyte) kasi dagdag returned. Medyo nakaluwag, tumaas ng konti (ang kita),” Serat said.

(We are grateful to have been able to join Uswag Leyte as it gives us extra income. We are doing better now that we have a bit more income.)


Furniture made from various indigenous materials is displayed on a table inside a store in Villaba town, Leyte province, south of Manila, Philippines.  Photo by Basilio Sepe/Oxfam Pilipinas
Furniture made from various indigenous materials is displayed on a table inside a store in Villaba town, Leyte province, south of Manila, Philippines. Photo by Basilio Sepe/Oxfam Pilipinas

Thanks to Uswag Leyte, local artisans like Moñera and Serat learned from each other and from the Design Center of the Philippines, which exposed them to new and modern styles of woven decor.

Veloso-Tuazon said the goal is to be able to market their products to inclusive businesses, which they also promote.

An inclusive business, unlike traditional businesses, aims to support the economic base – such as farmers, fishers, low-income workers and other marginalized communities – through employment or access to affordable products and services.

“Artisans, farmers and small businesses need all the help they can get, so local government units must step in to leverage networks and amplify impact by creating value chain links that enable inclusive businesses to source sustainably,” Veloso- said Tuazon.

Uswag Leyte’s dream is to connect local artisans with inclusive businesses to ensure their work is valued and properly remunerated.

In addition to catering to inclusive business sourcing needs, Uswag Leyte also has a member that can be considered an inclusive business.

JL Aquino Enterprises is a local store in the town of Villaba that sells furniture made by residents.

Jeanefer Aquino, who helps run the business with her husband Julius, said they have been selling woven wood and synthetic furniture since 2008.

Their secret to success? “We ensure that our products are of good quality. We’re not interested in making a big profit if the result is shoddy,” Aquino said.

And even amid the pandemic and subsequent drop in orders, they looked for ways to continue employing their workers.

Dionisio Rublica, who upholsters sofas, said business owners would always find small jobs for them or move them to other departments to make sure they have a source of income.

Without the concern of local workers, Rublica and his other colleagues could have ended up unemployed like the many Filipinos who have suffered during the pandemic.

Groups like Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS Inc.) and Oxfam Pilipinas have been pushing for passage of the Inclusive Business Bill to help tackle poverty and accelerate the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Atti. Irene Pua, Chief Legal Officer of IDEALS Inc., said that unlike simple corporate social responsibility programs, inclusive businesses have a more systemic and lasting impact.

“Yes, there are people doing this (inclusive business) even without prompting. But with the good effects on reducing poverty and empowering women, you would want to replicate it,” said Pua, who explained that having an enabling policy through a new law can help increase the number of inclusive businesses.

A worker uses plastic rattan to assemble a chair at a furniture store in Villaba town, Leyte province, south of Manila, Philippines.  Photo by Basilio Sepe/Oxfam Pilipinas
A worker uses plastic rattan to assemble a chair at a furniture store in Villaba town, Leyte province, south of Manila, Philippines. Photo by Basilio Sepe/Oxfam Pilipinas

Veloso-Tuazon is among those considering supporting the measure in Congress because it can help local artisans such as those under Uswag Leyte.

The proposed law not only provides for the recognition and accreditation of inclusive businesses, but also contemplates the establishment of a National Inclusive Business Coordinating Council comprised of various government agencies. Through consulting, inclusive businesses can get more support through training, market opportunities and public-partner partnerships.

But while civil society groups wait for the bill to pass, pioneering local government initiatives like Uswag Leyte are already laying the groundwork.

Veloso-Tuazon said he hopes to be able to solve last-mile logistics problems and help small producers like Moñera, which faces challenges in collecting raw materials, to increase production through innovation and partnerships. .

“There will be a need to create stronger, resilient and sustainable supply chains, and to fill gaps in the value chain, especially where there are bottlenecks in supply and access to finance . Institutionalizing market access by addressing last mile logistics issues, targeted public sector funding to help bear some of the risk that small businesses are unable to bear, would help” , she said. “These efforts can be institutionalized through legislation that will help mobilize capital for social impact.”