Thursday, September 29, 2011

Baclayan Basket Project

This project is what has kept me busy for the last three months, and what will continue to bring me back to the Philippines for many more years to come. I wrote this article on the project's developments for Stairway Foundation, the sponsoring organization.

For years now, Stairway Foundation (SFI) has been reaching out to the local indigenous Iraya Mangyan in an effort to help uplift the community from poverty. In 2009, SFI purchased some land in one of the local Iraya communities called Baclayan. During the time of purchase, we observed a community that was struggling on many levels. Because of this, Stairway Foundation has since started several community development to partner with the community in creating positive and sustainable change, especially for the young generation, the children.

Stairway Foundation volunteers recently jumpstarted a long-term project in Baclayan that focuses on working with the local basket weavers. Basket weaving has been a part of Iraya Mangyan culture for many generations. Traditionally, girls learn to weave baskets when they are 7-8 years old, beginning with simple pieces and working their way up to complicated designs. Both men and women know how to weave baskets, but it is more common for women to use basket selling as a means of livelihood. For many years, Stairway Foundation has invited the women of Baclayan to come to SFI to sell their baskets every week. SFI has become one of the most consistent purchasers of baskets in the community, but the Foundation was looking for a more in depth way to work with the Iraya women to help them learn practical business and marketing skills in order to more successfully sell their baskets at large.

The first goal of the project is to create a community of empowered women who possess self-esteem and a desire to change their community. Volunteers conducted several life-skills sessions in the hopes of identifying local women leaders, who can become future life-skills trainers. There was a noticeable change in the women, a “sparkle,” as one person described it. They became more outspoken, gregarious and assertive. They displayed a keen desire to learn more about smart marketing practices, and to use their creativity to create new products to give them an edge in the market. They took great pride in the new knowledge and skills that they were acquiring, and have expressed an interest in teaching more local women what they have learned.

The second goal of the project is to have a community of women who have the capacity to successfully market their baskets. A volunteer facilitated sessions on product diversification, organizational skills, and marketing strategy, with the long-term goal of capacitating the women with the ability to market and sell their baskets domestically and internationally by themselves.

One very exciting development that happened was the creation of new product—hand-woven earrings. By using their creativity and innovation, the women designed several styles of earrings, from hoops to circular spirals. The women attended a short training on attaching the metal earring hooks and rings, and soon were producing large quantities of beautiful earrings. All of the earrings were quickly bought by customers, amazed by the craftsmanship and detailing.

In order to start labeling their products, the women learned how to create tags for the baskets. They first attended a training to learn how to make hand-made paper from banana stem fibers and indigenous cogon grass. While perfecting their paper-making skills, they participated in the design stage of a tag, creating a label that features a photograph of an Iraya woman and the story behind the basket.

Although this project is very long-term, and will hopefully develop for many years to come, it is off to a successful start and has already generated positive feedback from the women. Stairway Foundation is dedicated to working closely with these talented artisans, capacitating them with valuable skills and knowledge, thereby putting them in a more empowered position to stand up for their rights as women and as Indigenous Peoples.

My Summer Months

I was so busy in the Philippines with work and playing at the beach, that I did not have time to update my blog. What began as a two-month committment extended to a six-month period of volunteer work at Stairway Foundation, Inc. Despite not writing on my blog, I was busy writing several pieces for the Stairway Foundation website.

Stairway Foundation has a residential program for former street kids from Manila. I had the opportunity to care for one of the Stairway boys after jaw surgery. Having gone through jaw surgery myself, I was eager to help him in any way I could post-operation. The following is the story that I wrote about this incredible little boy:

"A New Smile, a New Voice, a New Taste"

A big part of my summer was working with Stairway Foundation's local scholarship students. Click here for a description of the program that I wrote for the website. I was in charge of preparing a curriculum of tutorial sessions for students struggling in English and Math. I taught several groups of students in different municipalities. At the end of the summer, we invited 25 of the most motivated and active scholarship students to attend a leadership camp entitled, "My Right to be a Leader." The following is the article that I wrote about the summer camp experience:

"We Should Not Judge Other People, and Discriminate Them." -Stairway Scholar

Stairway Foundation is located in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. The property faces the ocean and backs up against the mountains that rise straight from the sea. It is a place of not only beauty, but serenity and acceptance. Life sometimes takes you exactly where you need to go, even if you don't know it yourself. I learned this lesson when I stumbled upon Stairway completely by chance, not knowing what I was getting myself into, and found a truly magical place where I could connect with people, learn a lot about myself and dive into work that is extremely meaningful to me. I hope that everyone has the opportunity to stumble upon their own oasis.