In the Philippines, there is a popular adage that goes “Ang ina ay ang ilaw ng tahanan”. Directly translated to English, it means "A mother is the light of the home". There couldn't be a more fitting statement for mothers as they are most often the family's source of energy, warmth and comfort.
Luzviminda Lobos, is a seasoned artisan, a woman of strength but above all, she is a daughter and a mother.
Born into it
Luzviminda has been weaving professionally for almost 20 years. She was more or less born into it with both parents and most relatives working as crafters, weavers and the like. She started weaving at an early age being literally immersed in it. "It was an everyday part of life in the community and family during that time. Everyone was doing it, even the children." says Luzviminda.
A WONDER WOMAN
Although her mother was a housewife, she would weave during her free time to help make money for the family. Growing up in that kind of setting, Luzviminda has always seen strength and importance in the role of women and mothers in the community. It is what drove her to push herself to be better in her craft. From a simple basket weaver, Luzviminda has now established herself as one of the heads of the Research and Development, creating and improving new techniques in natural material weaving.
a love inherited
Weaving was an essential part of her life growing up. Her love for it was familiar and natural. There is this feeling of undescribable bliss when you lose yourself while weaving. It somehow gives you a kind of peace and contentment in that moment that all problems seems to disappear according to Luzviminda.
Like her mother, she now shares her passion and love for the craft to her two children, who according to her seems to be developing a keen liking into it. Although she wants them to pursue their own passion dreams when they grow up, she wants them to be know about hers. "This craft taught me patience, creativity and fortitude. Those are qualities i want my children to have in life."
JR Agao, 28 yo. Abaca paper maker had to learn to support himself at an early age after losing both his parents when he was 13.
Leukemia took both his parents in 2000 and 2001. Tragic as it already is, him and his four siblings were left with almost nothing to support themselves with. They had to survive for a while with very small pension money their father left, but that didn’t last very long.
A NECESSARY SACRIFICE
With all siblings helping out in making some money, JR was able to finish high school and go to college to study Fine Arts. But the financial woes got more and more difficult with all of them in school, forcing him to stop and help instead in making money.
JR took any job that came his way from waiting tables to dog training. He has always been a responsible kid and that kept him from losing his way even without the guidance of adults.
FINDING HIS LOST ART
Eventually he ended up getting a job at the Paper Project as a paper-maker. There, they blend abaca fibers and make their own paper. Odd as it seems, here is where JR found his niche. He now leads a team of 5 young men making paper from Abaca fibers and JR is mainly in charge or color mixing. He was able to apply his background in fine arts in coming up with new colors and combinations.
Many has fallen into the pitfalls of poverty and struggles. For some of those people that JR knew, they ended up drowning in drug addiction or crime... the less luckier ones, dead. JR considers himself fortunate that he was saved from those grim possibilities because of the opportunities he had. Thankful for the job he really enjoys in the company of friends. Thankful for the good relationships he has in his life. Not to mention the new motor bike he just bought that he can't get enough of. For JR, now and today...life couldn't be any better.
Grandmothers Elvira Velasco-Lolo (L) and Lilia Napay (R) have been nurturing the craft of basket weaving in the Bicol region of Philippines for almost half a century now.
Elvira has been in the weaving business since 1968... that is much longer than many of us has been alive. Government volunteers at that time visited their town, among others, to teach the basics of weaving in an effort to boost livelihood in underdeveloped regions of the country. It then piqued her interest and was inspired to learn more about it. Not long after, she herself began teaching the technique to other locals which expanded her network and eventually created the community of weavers she works with until now.
She began her business by teaching and employing households in the remote mountain areas of their province. She needed help in handling bigger volumes and most of the locals were struggling to making money from agriculture alone.
There are now about 50 households in her network of weavers all working as a thriving artisanal community. Elvira herself can’t weave as much as before anymore, but continues to teach and supervise production in the mountains to this day.
Lilia, on the other hand, has been in weaving for 30 years now. She runs a small community of artisans that produces weaved baskets and ornaments. it was a business she started with her late husband who was a weaver his whole life.
Since her husband’s passing, she was left to continue the business alone. Although it was very hard in the beginning, it did inspire her to help other widows like herself by teaching them the craft to give them a chance to still make a decent livelihood and support their families.
Leaving a legacy
Elvira and Lilia are now grandmothers to more than 30 grandchildren. Since none, in both their families expressed any interest in weaving, let alone the business, their only hope is that the communities they work with will continue to carry out their legacy in keeping the craft of basket weaving alive for the next generations to come.
Crispin Mingorio, is a native of Bicol, Philippines. He has been weaving for the most of his 42 years. Like his father and grandfather, he was brought into this trade due to lack of financial resources to acquire higher education.
Crispin was the youngest of 4 children. He grew up in a house where abaca weaving is a part of their daily lives. He picked up the interest basically from the environment he was in, tinkering with his parents’ work while they take their siesta or afternoon naps.
Although, he developed the skills naturally, this hasn’t always been his dream. He actually wanted to become a chef. As he grew up realising what his goals could be, a cousin promised to help him get a job in Canada. All he had to do was to finish school and get a degree, even a vocational one, just to qualify him for any job that country is offering. But Crispin, despite a promising opportunity at hand, failed to even finish high school.
He would joke about blaming the distance, having to walk 5 kilometers everyday, as the reason why he had to quit school. With very little words he told me the that it was actually because of the financial struggles of his family. He was young and he saw an opportunity to help out by making quick money in weaving. The future seemed too far him to worry about.
He got married in his early 20s and now fathers 4 children. Because of weaving him and his wife have managed to send all of them to school. The first two finished college, the third still in high school and the youngest is only 4 years old. Among the older ones, only the second child showed some interest in weaving.
Crispin would prefer that. He knows they can have better jobs and better names for themselves. Him and his wife have worked tirelessly for their sake and there is no better reward than to see them tread the better path.
Crispin dreams again, not for him to go to Canada and become a chef, but for his children to see the world and be whoever they want to be.
Khen, one of our talented tag makers from the Paper Project group, shared her life story. She tells a story of a young mother who had to survive the merciless streets of the city just to make a living, and how an unseemly event might have just saved her life.
Getting pregnant at an early age of 17 was the point that changed Khen’s life forever. Living in Butuan, a province in the southern part of the Philippines, with her parents who barely makes enough for them and the absence of the father of her child, forced her to make a decision to leave college and find work in Manila.
To many Filipinos who are living in rural poverty, the common misconception was Manila is the land of promise where there are unlimited jobs and opportunities. Later, and most likely too late, is when they would realize the error of that notion.
It was exactly what happened to Ken, a young woman lost in a big city with no experience to offer. And like most young women who couldn’t find their way, they end up in the corners. Dark, cruel corners where they become most vulnerable and left with a difficult decision of offering the only thing they possess in order to survive…themselves.
struggles in the shadows
This was a part of Khen’s life she was most ashamed of. She kept it from everyone else back home, especially her family. The only thing that kept her going was the life of that child she left with her parents to support. Somehow, that made things easier for her to digest.
The street life swallowed her, made her forget her true self. And for five more years she would lose every measure of dignity she has left as she worked in the bars every night looking for that day that she has finally saved enough to go home to her child.
And with a seemingly austere turn of events, Khen would get pregnant again with her second child. The father, unknown.
And so it inadvertently pushed her further down into that life she so wanted to leave. Two mouths to feed and aging parents to support, she didn’t know what else to do. Nobody would stop and give an uneducated woman from the bars an opportunity of a good life. Not in this world, she tells herself.
THAT FATEFUL NIGHT...
The bar she was working on got raided and closed down by the authorities. Khen, among other women were luckily rescued by an organization called International Justice Mission, a non-profit group that combats sex trafficking. They were sent into a shelter while IJM looks for a legal and decent job for them. Eventually, Khen was given a job in a restaurant that helped her get back on her feet. The hours were irregular and there were no rest days, but the needs of her children surmounts any hardships.
Not long after, Khen found an opportunity to become a card maker for The Paper Project, a company that helps empower women by employing them. She was accepted and the rest was history.
A new lEAF
Khen is now the head of quality control for The Paper Project. She has cut and pasted her way to where she is now, working hard every day to become better. It was easier to be good at something if you’re enjoying it, according to her. Aside from her good position in the company, she’s also part of a team that directly helps women that has been rescued from the streets. With her two boys now aged 11 and 6, Khen can easily provide them and her parents with the support they need.
She is very thankful for having this new direction in her life… a clean and clear path to a future where she can send her boys to college, save enough money in the bank and hopefully get married someday.
An admirably simple dream for someone who has been in the most complicated of situations... but then not everyone is lucky enough to survive the nightmare of the streets to even begin to dream.
Your continued patronage of our products directly helps women survivors like Khen reach their dreams through The Paper Project Inc.
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Save the craft.
Randy Santos is a 42 year old expert weaver from Pampanga, Philippines.
Growing up with Weaving
He was born and raised in Pampanga, a province in the central region of the Philippines famous for its food and handicrafts. Having been raised by a carpenter in a community where basket weaving was the prevalent livelihood, it seems forthcoming that Randy would also become an artisan himself.
He picked up his knack for weaving at the early age of 11, curiously watching older peers do it and practicing on any pliable material he could get his hands on. His curiosity later on became a hobby as he develops a keen liking to the craft.
However, living in a struggling economy, Randy, like most would aim for a higher education in the hopes of giving him and his family a better life in the future. In pursuit of his goals he had to work while in school to support his studies. Using his weaving talents, he would tirelessly take on any freelance work available to make money. Little did he know then, that this would eventually pave the way to a fruitful career.
WEAVING his PATH TO a better life
Randy would start his career path as a rattan pole framer. Not the easiest nor the best paying, but it was a job that helped him provide for his wife and three children. For some time, he endured hard labor, up until one day his weaving talents were discovered by one of his superiors. He was then invited to join the company’s pool of weavers where he would learn further to master his craft and prove himself to be one of the most skilled artisan in the company. Randy is now the head of the Research and Development Department for Crafts and Natural Materials. His dedication to the art has paid off and now channels his passion through developing and teaching weaving techniques.
“There is no shortage of things to teach and learn in the handicraft business, there are always new ideas, new challenges. Weaving has put me and my children through school. Sharing my knowledge to the young weavers of my community is my way of paying back what I owe to the craft.”