Staffers of the Foreign-Assisted and Special Projects Service (FASPS) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) visited and observed the joint conduct of the Handicraft Production Skills Training by the DENR in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and The Moropreneur Inc on December 12-14, 2018. The training was one of the activities programmed by the Teduray-Lambangian Sustainable Handicraft Project, a one-year special project that aims to contribute to poverty alleviation and promote the preservation of the handicraft culture of the Teduray and Lambangian tribes in Upi and South Upi, Maguindanao, while sustainably utilizing and managing the natural resources in the forests within their ancestral domains. About 70 women from the tribes attended the activity.
The Teduray-Lambangian handicraft industry has been in existence for hundreds of years. It has been a family activity – men hike into the forests for about two days to harvest nito (a forest vine) and pawa (a thin variety of bamboo); men and women cut, peel and dry the materials; women and children weave the strands into functional products such as baskets and hats; and families sell the products in markets. The industry serves as a secondary source of income for the agricultural tribes. However, degradation of the forests that provide raw materials for handicrafts, and conflicts over land ownership endanger the industry and the tribes. The declining interest of the youth to engage in handicraft making also poses a threat to the industry and culture.
Based on Moropreneur’s assessment, the women’s skills and the quality of their work are already remarkable. Hence, the training focused on expanding the tribes’ product portfolio that could help them reach a wider market and increase their earnings. Trainees who were used to making baskets, rectangular bags, placemats and hats were taught to make lampshades, laptop bags, round bags, and cellphone cases. New sustainable dyeing techniques were introduced to help them go beyond the brown-and-black color scheme of their products, which is currently accomplished through burning of rubber tires. The trainees were also encouraged to adopt an innovative mindset that would allow them to generate high-value products and designs.
The participants journeyed for more than an hour to reach the training venue, diligently worked on their projects until 3 a.m., and still actively participated in training sessions. This kind of passion to improve their craft was commended by the trainer and DENR staff.
External support for the project was affirmed during the field visit as local governments pledged to donate land for the establishment of handicraft display centers, as well as allot areas in their offices to showcase the products. They also mulled over issuing ordinances to further forest protection.
The Department of Labor and Employment assisted the women in forming themselves into a people’s organization.
Through the Teduray-Lambangian Sustainable Handicraft Project, the women are gaining hope that their handicraft culture can weave a better future for their families. (FASPS/ Michelle I. Yu)