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n the island of Palawan two women from very different backgrounds share a passion for weaving. Eva Vallador is a shy, soft spoken island native; city-bred Czarina Lim is articulate and outspoken. Their two businesses have introduced weaving to the island and provide an income for rural families in the province. Like many others, Czarina Lim and her family opted to drop out of the hustle and bustle of city life to live in Palawan and start a new life. Czarinaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s husband Ernie Lim comes from a notable family whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been involved in the founding of institutions such as MapĂşa â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the first school of technology in the country, and the Girls Scouts of the Philippines. The coupleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s decision to break away from city life has not deterred them from living out what they believe to be their social responsibility, and setting up the Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation (www.rurungan.org) is one of the ways theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve found to assist the community. In native dialect rurungan means weaving place and tubod means spring, or life source.

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In Palawan, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also used to describe a cluster of women, related or living in close proximity who pool resources and work together for crafts, planting and other economic activity. Established in 2001, the board of directors has various Lim family members and Czarina is executive director. The foundationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s goal is to help communities grow by giving women 430@C/@G;/@16 &"#


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began to earn money from weaving, gradually others followed. By the time the project was a year and a half old, 50 women had signed up and formed the basis of the project. Since the looms are in the midst of their homes, the job was woven into their daily lives, and their earnings augment the familiesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; income. The Rurungan sa Tubod Foundationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s funds, sourced from the family members, are handled as an investment in an endeavor which must eventually be self-sustaining. The foundation also helps the women overcome the obstacles in their new jobs, but increasingly the women themselves take the initiative to teach others, such as setting up the Barangay Babuyan in Anilawan which processes fibers. Presently, there are 70 families involved and now, in its sixth year, Czarina explains that the project has become 80 per cent sustainable. The fabric is even beginning to be sold in fashion markets locally and abroad. The brand name Tepina (from the Spanish word

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Women began to weave with the wild grass, which has been adapted to add texture and color. Dyeing transforms the homely brown weedsâ&#x20AC;? livelihoods. Most communities in rural Palawan rely on farming and fishing, which are seasonal and subject to the vagaries of the elements. Women are tasked with household and farming chores and also, when the income falls, have to find ways to augment it. Until 2001, weaving was non-existent in the barrios but the Fiber Industry Development Authority had identified indigenous resources for piĂąa and abaca, two kinds of material. The first women groups were tasked with raising the plants that can be weaved into these fabrics in their backyards, and the foundation brought in Government trainers and weavers to teach the craft. Initially, the women were not too enthusiastic, but as the more daring ones

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meaning â&#x20AC;&#x153;from pineappleâ&#x20AC;?) is an all-natural fabric, gossamer-like with the brilliance of silk and tensile strength from pineapple fiber. It can be handpainted, embroidered and dyed to meet specific requirements and is now used in shawls, bags and material for dresses destined for luxury shops in Manila. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s even used by top international designers for formal and office wear. Czarinaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s daughter Rambi Katrina trained in Italy especially to take care of Tepina sales. There is also a growing recognition globally â&#x20AC;&#x201C; only this year, the Rurungan sa Tubod was honored in Stockholm as an enterprise that adapts technology to a rural environment. The women weavers are from different communities in Palawan and stay connected by cellphone â&#x20AC;&#x201C; weavers text their queries to the headquarters and the designs are explained in detail by text. In the past, it would have taken a day for a woman to make her way to the main Rurungan HQ to clarify the job. Elodie Brunet, from the ateliers (studios) of Paris came across Tepina at a Manila wedding party where the principals wowed everyone with their outfits. Now she visits Palawan at least twice a year to work on a

special product line. Her products carry the brand name Sli-on, from the Palawan word â&#x20AC;&#x153;uselessâ&#x20AC;?, which refers to the piĂąa growing wild and without use in the barrios until the weaving project began. Much of the attraction of her delicate, gossamer-like products comes from the fact that they are strictly organic, termed â&#x20AC;&#x153;ecological textiles.â&#x20AC;? The plants are tended, gathered and prepared by the women, the fibers are washed in clear streams, sorted and handwoven. They are eventually bought as Parisian-made screens and decor such as

homes are well equipped with timesaving kitchen gadgets and, most importantly, the women have selfesteem and confidence.â&#x20AC;? Elodieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s brochure declares to jaded Parisian clients that the fabrics: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Breathe humanity â&#x20AC;&#x201C; represent the soul with its natural imperfections of its sensibility, the light reflected in the evanescent silk and pineapple gauze responds to our intimate wishes.â&#x20AC;? Before the Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation, these women were only subject to the vagaries of weather and want. Now they transform wildness into grace and beauty and realize a sense of power. Going towards fulfilment from futility is perhaps the most palpable gift of Tepina.

07<C/B/< As part of her job as a Government civil engineer, Eva Vallador from Cuyo, Palawanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s old capital, travelled around the island, identifying resources for development. In the mountains and rural areas she observed wild grass and weeds that had no apparent use. She had learnt to weave baskets for rice storage from her lola (grandmother) as a child, and she spotted the potential in weaving the native grasses to create useful products. Her job developed until she began to assist local women in weaving the grass. She also helped them to market their wares. However, saddled by bureaucracy, the businesses couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take off; there were orders, but systems had to be set up, expertise honed and someone had to be in charge. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I was so frustrated, I left my Government job, did a lot of soul searching and decided I would set up a partnership with the women who were now depending on me,â&#x20AC;? she recalls. These resources â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the women and the wild grass â&#x20AC;&#x201C; became the two main ingredients behind the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Binuatanâ&#x20AC;? brand name. She got together the deposit of PHP50,000 (about USD1,200) by putting together her savings and separation pay from her Government job, and the company was born. Binuatan is a Cuyonin (the native Palawan dialect) word for creation. Now, in Puerto Princesa City, it has become synonymous with Evaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s woven products made from Buntal fibers such as mangrove grass, amumuting, buri

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Tepina is used in shawls, bags and dresses for luxury shops in Manila. It is now even being used by top international designersâ&#x20AC;?

cushions, curtains, table sets, tablecloths and window shades. Brunet has group of 12 women who execute her designs. ;WRRZSZSTbOBS^W\O A premium is placed aVOeZ4O`ZSTb BS^W\OW\TcaSR on the special work TOP`WQO\RZSTbbVS as Czarina explains e][S\PSVW\RWb the fabric is quite BVWa^WQbc`S:]Zg /ZeW\U]\S]TbVS expensive, so the women eSOdS`aeV]aSe]`Y workers are handsomely U]Sab]>O`Wa compensated. Loly Alwing is one of her team. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s able to afford a new motorcycle, home appliances and, most importantly, quality time with her husband and kids. Now the economic and social effects are tangible. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The husbands are the best arbitersâ&#x20AC;?, says Czarina. â&#x20AC;&#x153;One of them says jokingly: â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Now she no longer beats me up!â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;? Everyone in the family benefits: â&#x20AC;&#x153;The children plan college, the 98

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sprigs and vetiver. Considered weeds, many of these names were given by the tribal people; some were unnamed as they had no function. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We would name them after the women who were with me at that time â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Florica, Isay, Yayena and Mondy grass, because we found it on the land of Mondragon,â&#x20AC;? Eva laughs. Having started with traditional storebought material, the women began to weave with the wild grass, which had been adapted to add texture and color. A special dyeing process transforms the homely brown weeds to irresistible shades of fuschia, mauve and other rainbow colors. The women had been trained in basic handloom-weaving, and further training honed their skills and their confidence grew. Eva learned the business side by consulting with established entrepreneurs and the Tagumpay (Winner) Multi Purpose Cooperative was established, in which every woman was co-owner. Evaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lack of learning in design is, in fact, a valuable creative asset. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I have no rules, no set color combinations. I just put the materials on top of the table and kind of play with them â&#x20AC;&#x201C; lime greens alongside mauves, oranges and pinks, with browns matched with waste buri cuttings and seeds of all sizes and shapes. Some of the designs come from the women weavers who have also developed an eye for what works,â&#x20AC;? she explains. The combinations are fresh and exuberant. Binuatan is both practical and beautiful, "&430@C/@G;/@16 &

sturdy and ephemeral, depending on the combination of material. Presently, the co-operative makes placemats, window shades, screens, curtains, blinds, flower arrangements, handbags, cellphone holders, portfolios, wall organizers and lamps; but buyers can design what they require. The weavers can customize. At its most productive, Binuatan had 130 looms spread out over various communities servicing orders for a PHP1 million (USD23,900). However, currency fluctuations of the Dollar versus the Peso have flattened out the export markets and adjustments have had to be made; they are now opening more domestic outlets. Despite this, the financial rewards are evident. As with the Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation, women felt the financial benefits and, most of all, the communities gained in confidence. The women work from home, which allows them to do household chores while working, and also involves the whole family in the process. When one husband, whose wife was part of the Tagumpay Cooperative, was eased out of his job, he began to weave and others soon followed suit. Binuatan also

trains students who work to earn tuition. Eva put herself through college with the help of relatives and friends who mentored her by giving free board and lodging and financial help, so she gets a big high when she is able to help others. Even the tribal people who live close to the forests earn PHP0.25 per twig for the dried flower arrangement. Each window shade that is bought, benefits not only one person or one corporation, the ripple effect reaches right back to the source. Today there is one main showroom with a shop and looms in Santa Monica and an outlet in town near the airport. In October 2007, traditional weavers from the Mountain Province in the north were brought to Palawan by the Government to listen and learn how the neophyte weavers had broken the dependence on storebought materials and gone back to the natural sources. Eva says she felt humble and proud at the same time lecturing to the experts, not realizing that she had become an expert herself. Binuatan has a Manila buyer that sells abroad, but the Dollarâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s weakness has impacted on the business. Concerned for the weavers, Eva says she will have to train herself not to be shy, to learn to go out and face her buyers, and open up new markets herself. The Government offices of trade and industry have helped with training, design and now, marketing through the web. Again, it is up to her. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I have to go beyond myself again, I realize that so many women and their families are counting on my next moveâ&#x20AC;? she says. This interview was rescheduled as former Secretary of Trade, Mina Gabor was coming to highlight Binuatan products in a road show in the US. Her inventory is ready, the stockrooms are bursting with creations, and the looms are set for more work. As both co-operatives prove, wild grass will travel far. 98

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Wild Weaves