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How a women’s organization ignites hope after Haiyan
How a women’s organization ignites hope after Haiyan
“It was our first time to grow and sell medicinal herbs. And we didn’t expect it would change our lives.”
This was what Amy Baylon shared when asked about her community organization’s journey to recovery after a major disaster. Amy, a 55-year-old mother of seven, is the president of the all-female Pase Rural Improvement Club (PRIC) in San Dionisio, Iloilo.
In November 2013, the northern part of Iloilo was severely affected by super typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. Amy still vividly remembers how the violent winds of Haiyan swung their homes and even disrupted their livelihood. The people in her community struggled to recover due to the typhoon’s massive devastation.
“It was really hard at first especially for women because we were looking for ways to help our husbands provide food for our children. But we’re thankful that aid organizations arrived in our community and supported us to move forward,” said Amy.
The PRIC is one of the community-based organizations being supported by international humanitarian organization CARE in implementing the former’s herbal nursery enterprise. CARE is also partnering with Iloilo-based Business Fair Trade Consulting (BizFTC) to provide assistance to these organizations.
The PRIC, currently composed of 32 members, was formed in 2010 aiming to unite all the women in Pase and provide them with financial opportunities.
“We really wanted to empower the women in our community. Most of the women, particularly mothers, are rice farmers who only plant and harvest twice a year. We wanted to provide financial capital to our members through our small loans,” said Amy.
But when Haiyan happened, Amy narrated that her members lost interest in joining their activities. Most of the members also weren’t able to pay for the loans because they lost their livelihood. The women had to look for other sources of income. Some planted vegetables while some went to other towns to work as house helpers.
So Amy and her members found hope in the recovery support provided by CARE. Upon receiving the cash assistance, they rolled up their sleeves and started making their dream into a reality.
“We received cash assistance from CARE. We eventually had trainings on financial management, business planning, productivity and marketing to effectively run our herbal nursery. It is such a huge help to build new skills especially for our members who were only earning a few per month,” disclosed Amy.
Amy admits that it is PRIC’s first time to have a nursery. They were encouraged by other women’s organizations in their town to try something new like herbal farming since there is a growing demand for medicinal plants.
“Most of my members were doubtful at first because nobody knew about its marketability. But then after doing careful study and consultations, we decided to give it a try.”
“Through the guidance of CARE, BizFTC and support from other women’s organizations, we immediately prepared our nursery area and bought necessary materials. They trained us so we started planting peppermint, horse tail, stevia, gynora, serpentina and taragon.”
Nieva Biona, a member of PRIC and a mother of six, considers the support a “blessing.”
“Before, we only relied on rice farming as a source of income and we also plant vegetables. Sometimes, what we earn per month isn’t enough for our family. With this new enterprise, we are able to learn herbal farming and get additional income,” shared Nieva.
Nieva’s relative Cherry, also a PRIC member, benefits from the herbal plants too.
“We learned the plants’ medicinal effects. Sometimes when my stomach aches, I use the herbs as alternative medicine and it actually works,” said Cherry.
Amy is happy that this livelihood recovery initiative finally ignited the enthusiasm of her members after most of them had become inactive.
“I could count with my fingers those who still participated in our activities prior to this project. But through this new support from CARE, we were able to engage most of them with new activities that they all think interesting,” said Amy.
The PRIC was already able to generate income from selling herbal pots and seedlings since they started planting last July 2015. Amy is positive that this amount will increase in the coming months and is projecting that around 1,300 pesos will add monthly to each active member’s income.
Amy said peppermint and stevia are the most in-demand. A federation of community associations in San Dionisio assists PRIC in marketing and trading with Remnant Institute of Alternative Medicine (RIAM), a herbal manufacturing corporation in Iloilo City.
Cherry shared that the additional income they get really helps cover her children’s school expenses. Our husbands are also happy because we get to make use of our free time to do something productive. Nieva added that some of them are also able to convince their husbands to help them at the nursery, to remove weeds and carry pots.
But Amy and her members acknowledge that running an enterprise requires effort, time and patience. They all consider the on-going El Nino or the severe drought as their biggest hurdle.
“Some of our plants die because of extreme heat. We couldn’t help but keep on watering and checking for pests,” said Amy.
Cherry and Nieva both agreed that they could have yielded more if the El Nino isn’t harsh as it is now. But the members are optimistic that when the rainy season comes, all will be well in their nursery.
Amy knows that eventually they have to stand on their own as an association and continue working to keep their enterprise sustainable. They hold monthly meetings to discuss activity updates, enterprise’s progress, financial status, suggestions and concerns. They make decisions all together.
“The members really appreciate all the helpful trainings from CARE and BizFTC. We absolutely learn a lot especially in financial management,” said Amy. “Now we’ve learned to keep all our financial records, and track our net monthly income. We get to apply what we have learned.”
The members of PRIC are looking forward to expand their enterprise through a plantation that will allow them to generate more income.
“We got a bare land about 600 square meters from a generous woman in our community who believes in our association’s mission. She is now based in the United States and allows us to use her land for free for our plantation. Everyone is excited for this expansion,” shared Amy.
The members are indeed eager to learn more about herbal farming as they see it lucrative. They are planning to build partnerships with other women’s organizations involved in herbal farming, RIAM and the Department of Agriculture to acquire more technical and commodity-focused trainings for all the members. PRIC’s business manager is also busy looking for potential buyers.
“We also hope to learn herbal processing in the near future. That would definitely open more opportunities for our members. Sometimes our children also join us in the nursery and help us cleaning around,” said Nieva.
Amy is proud of her members who have stepped up big time to help their respective families recover. They now allot more time and effort, and share a common vision for their organization.
“We apparently became closer with each other. We help our members who are in need and sometimes give pieces of advice to those who have family problems. They feel a sense of accomplishment every time they spend a few hours in the nursery. It has been our second home,” added Amy.
“Yes, we’re all women in our organization but that won’t stop us to achieve our goals. We are just starting and I know it will be a long way ahead.”