MARAWI CITY —– Three years ago, they were displaced by the Marawi siege.
They were vendors at Padian area in Marawi City before the siege. Though community is not oneof the city’s 24 barangays (villages) and hardly affected by the five-month war, these 32 women fled Barangay Timbangalan since it is adjacent to the village where heavy fighting was happening.
They were displaced and had to seek safe refuge in some parts of Lanao del Sur and neighboring provinces in Northern Mindanao. Some of them even stayed for a while in an evacuation center before finding a more comfortable place for their family.
In March 2018, residents of the non-affected areas, including Barangay Timbangalan, were allowed to return to their homes. But life has not been the same for them.
They struggled financially because their businesses were not operating like before.
“We were told by our barangay chairman to organize ourselves into a cooperative so we could join a seminar for a livelihood. There were three groups who get listed for a seminar with the MARADECA, one group to train for farming, one for cooking and we are for dressmaking,” said Tahira Aragasi, the manager and master cutter of the group.
A non-government organization the MARADECA (Maranao People Development Center, Inc.) organizes livelihood trainings and peace and conflict mapping analysis.
Aragasi’s group, dubbed the Timbangalan Women’s Association, started with 20 members. Today, the association has over 30 members .
Although many are already knowledgeable in dressmaking, they still accept members who needed a livelihood even if she has to start from zero.
“May mga mananahi na talaga sa amin simula pa noong bago ang giyera sa Marawi, pero mayroon rin mga gusto pang matuto,” Aragasi said. (Most of us were dressmakers before before the war in Marawi, but still many more want to learn)
The group started a dressmaking cooperative selling traditional and artistic Muslim dresses through a P200,000( USD 3,941 ) grant from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the partner agency of MARADECA. This helped them to access technical trainings, buy sewing machines and fabrics to help kick-start their businesses.
Demand for their dresses have start to steadily increase, with orders coming in from tourists staying at the local hotel helping them gain a significant profit.
They specialize in ceremonial dresses for the enthronement of sultans and princesses each of which sell for as much as P4,000-7,000 pesos. Still others make dresses for rent.
The business has helped the women earn on their own, feel empowered, and improve the status of the whole household.
Anisah Dima, 60, is a solo parent with four children, one of whom is already an adult. She has been a widow for 20 years. Of the four , only one was left alive, the three others died of various sicknesses when they were small.
Anisah joined the cooperative months after it started. Before she joined the cooperative as sewer, she was farming a small parcel of land some kilometers away from Timbangalan.
“I only knew a little about sewing because I am more a farmer. Now that I am older, I asked them if I can join the group because my body can no longer endure farming. She (Aragasi) taught me how to sew,” Dima said in Filipino.
During the pandemic
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the Philippines, the women’s livelihoods were greatly affected. Due to social distancing and the ‘no mass gathering’ protocols, the women were unable to keep their business like before. The village that they live in is also quite isolated and they were unable to access the face masks and hand sanitizers they needed.
While they received cash aid from the government’s social amelioration program (SAP), it was not enough for most of the families with five to seven members .
With a leftover inventory of textiles that MARADECA gave them, the women decided to instead start stitching face masks.
“May mga tulong na natanggap pero hindi sapat kasi kailangan pang bumili ng gatas at diaper ng anak. Lalo na at Ramadan, kailangan ng maraming pagkain,” Aragasi noted.
(The food packs we received were not enough because we still have to buy other needs like milk and diapers for infants and we need more food for the Ramadan.)
The masks they made have been certified by the Department of Health (DOH).
Aragasi said the first batch of facemasks she made was for personal use.
She posted it on social media and as a locally trusted business, orders for their masks started coming in.
The first order they received was from the Army’s Civil Military Battalion who ordered 200 pieces which was distributed to their personnel.
“Then the LGUs (local government units) in Lanao del Sur ordered for their frontliners. It was a big help for us to survive during the pandemic,” Aragasi said.
MARADECA’s chief executive officer Salic Ibrahim said Timbangalan is one of the eight barangays in Marawi City they support.
When they consulted the beneficiaries on what kind of livelihood they preferred to engage in, MARADECA was already preparing them with trainings.
“Before we give them projects, they should be trainef on how to sustain it. They must be prepared especially in terms of business to change their mindsets to be able to sustain their business,” Ibrahim said.
MARADECA also trained youth volunteers who helped their beneficiaries in their various businesses as business consultants.
But because of the pandemic, Ibrahim said he is apprehensive that the income they have before the community quarantine was spent for their daily needs.
“Mao nay among gikabalak-an kay naa sa ilaha ang ilang income, Dili sila maka lihok og maayo, wala silay income, daghan nila ang wala naapil sa SAP, maong tan-aw namo nagastos nila ang ilang pondo. Hinaut nga duna pa mi maapsan,” Ibarahim said.
(We are worried now because with movements curtailed they cannot earn, many of them are not beneficiaries of SAP, so we expect they spent their earnings, I hope we can still save their livelihood.)