01 June 2010

MERALCO's Project Tulong Program

MERALCO's Project Tulong Program
There is an old adage, which has been proven to be true for a countless of times, that says: "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

It was only a matter of time before Filipinos finally found an alternative and ingenious use for a plant variety that is considered a 'nuisance' in the waters, growing vastly and clogging the canals, rivers, and waterways of Pasig River, Laguna de Bay, and other coastal towns. The water hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes) which is more commonly (though erroneously) referred to as the” water lily” may be unwanted by most fishing communities, but now, it’s a viable income resource with a rapidly-growing industry.

Through the aid of Meralco's Sportsmen for a Cause Committee under the Project Tulong Kapwa Outreach, about 32 women from the Bangon Kababaihan, Bagong Cainta in Cainta, Rizal, were recently trained to pursue a sustainable livelihood program dubbed as the "Water Lily for L.I.F.E. (Livelihood Initiative for Entrepreneurs)," in partnership with the local government of Cainta and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The program aims to convert water lily into productive uses while helping reduce its proliferation in the nearby water bodies. At the same time, the women’s group will be provided with a business opportunity and employment for residents who have lost their livelihood after the town was adversely affected by typhoon Ondoy in September last year.

Cesar C. Pasco, founding chairman of SAGANA (Samahan para Gabayan ang Nayon ng San Pedro, San Pablo City) and proprietor of Sarilikha Handicrafts, was commissioned by the DTI to conduct the livelihood training for the women of Cainta. Incidentally, Pasco is a former Meralco employee himself. Held from 12-17 April 2010 at the People's Center of the Cainta Municipal Grounds, the participants were trained by Pasco in the proper way of scouring, cutting, harvesting, drying, dyeing, bleaching, treating, waxing, and finishing of the indigenous fiber derived from water lilies.

Among the new innovations for water lily is a 'leather look' design that can be applied on its fiber. This technique was shared to the Cainta women who can then produce their own raw materials for different suppliers such as international bag maker Cora Jacobs.

Aside from bags, water lily's fibrous stem can be manufactured into handicraft materials like wall d├ęcor, table runner, pouches, mats, and slippers. The plant itself can also be used in the production of charcoal, an alternative fuel source, and organic fertilizer, among other bountiful possibilities.

Among those who benefited from the training is Magdalena Paz, 37 years old, from Brgy. Sto. Domingo. As a member of the Bangon Kababaihan, Bagong Cainta group, she is glad to learn about the many uses of water lily, and the chance to earn from this new livelihood.

"We are grateful for this opportunity because we get to work with our family and community for the production of water lily fiber," she said.

Pasco has also conducted the training in other provinces all over Luzon, to as far as Mindanao. “We are doing this to help the people of Cainta and other beneficiaries. It can promote community building and provide them with a possible and sustainable livelihood program. We are also delighted with the support coming from the local government, NGOS, and private institutions such as Meralco.

Part of Meralco's outreach program is the donation of three sewing machines which the women from Cainta can use to start up their water lily fiber supplying business.

"As proponents of the training, it is only right for Meralco to help turn the training into a viable and sustainable livelihood program. Motivation is the key word. If we give the trainees the knowledge and skills and provide them other forms of financial and logistic support, then they will truly be inspired to pursue this water lily enterprise in Cainta," Pasco said.