IN the past, the Matigsalug women were used to just staying home and taking care of their children but as time went by, they started finding means to earn and help their husbands make ends meet.

While the men tend to their farms, the women create and sell handcrafted baskets, accessories, tribal wear, and bags, among others.

But the lack of resources to buy raw materials and the women's lack of knowledge to improve their craft and products hamper their growth potential and sustainability. The ingenuity to integrate their culture into their handwoven tribal costumes, handicrafts, and accessories is a gift their tribe is proud of.

So when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, they lost the means and opportunities to be able to contribute to the family income due to mobility restrictions and financial constraints.

Amid the economic struggles that their families experienced, the Matigsalug women of Davao City’s Marilog District found new hope to better their lives through the Uplifting of the IP Women Project in Davao, a capacity-building project aimed at equipping and empowering them to have a sustainable livelihood for their families and community.

Through the project, some 100 Matigsalug women — students, young moms, middle-aged, and even senior citizens, underwent skills and product development training, entrepreneurship workshops, health and wellness seminars, and digitalization training to hone their skills and talents in creating unique, creatively-designed, and culture-rich handcrafted products that are more marketable on online.

The Uplifting of the IP Women Project in Davao is funded by the New Zealand Embassy to the Philippines in partnership with Go Negosyo, Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Region 11, Zeald, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Region 11. They brought industry experts to train Matigsalug women beneficiaries in two batches with everything they need to know within four months.

Maricel Laglagan, Matigsalug IP Women president, shared how life amid the pandemic has been extra hard for her family. Thus she wants to help augment the family income in any way she can.

"Epekto sa pandemya dili mi kaayo makagawas-gawas, dili na namo mahimo ang mga himuonon, walay panginabuhi. Excited kaayo ko maka-avail ani nga project. Gitudluan sad mi unsaon mag-operate sa Facebook para makanegosyo (Because of the pandemic, we can rarely go out, our mobility is limited, we can no longer do our usual routine, and we have lost our source of livelihood. I’m excited to learn how to operate Facebook to start a business),” Laglagan said.

Luisa Tumindog, in the vernacular, said was enticed to join the training, seminars, and workshops because she wants to learn how to augment their family income.

“I am so thankful this has been realized so we can learn how to do business to boost our livelihood. Before, women would just stay at home. But now this is an opportunity for us, Matigsalugs, to know about doing business, and how to earn a living so that we can help our families and provide our children with a better future,” Tumindog said, adding that they have learned how to make handcrafted products more attractive and sellable as this will pave the way for them to reach our dreams.

While they used to idle away and were unproductive without a care in the world, with their new knowledge and honed skills, they can start earning a living for their children’s future, she said.

Ma. Reinalyn, a mother of two, for her part, learned how to create beads accessories about a year ago, but through the Uplifting the IP Women Project of Davao, she was taught how to make it more appealing.

She said, “We are encouraged to learn new knowledge and capability that God provides. I'm blessed with this program as it taught us how to improve the bead products we make to make them attractive. I hope that the support given to the IP women will continue for the development of the women in our tribe.”

Gloria Banayo hails from remote Barangay Gumitan in Marilog District where residents would either walk or ride a motorcycle to access necessary services, and consumption needs, or go to school or work. It would often take her two to three hours to reach her destination and about the same number of hours to go home due to bad roads.

So when she joined the first batch of the Uplifting the IP Women Project in Davao, she said it was worth the trip.

“We have bad roads, but we endured them for this training for the benefit of our livelihood as IP women. I understand that what we have learned here can really help us. We didn't just learn how to make handicrafts, we learned that it can help us start a business as a means of livelihood for us women,” Banayo said in the dialect.

She added, “Sometimes we take things for granted but I've understood that this is important for us, we can use this to help our families. Thank you to those who trained us, to the sponsors, and speakers. We are very thankful for our new learnings and for all your sacrifices to come here.”

Ruth Dayaras, a senior citizen, was also among the project’s proud graduates. She said she was hesitant to join the series of training and workshops because of her old age. But she’s happy that she did as she learned a lot.

“We were assigned to sew but we also made beads. It’s a great help for us that even if we stay at home, we can earn extra by creating these handcrafted products,” Dayaras said.

Nida Pandia, president of the Traditional Costume Handicraft and Development (TCHAD), said the Uplifting of the IP Women Project in Davao is an opportunity to enhance their products to the highest quality standard, securing themselves a sustainable livelihood.

"We have handwoven products, handicrafts, tribal costumes, and beads and accessories. We're praying to God that we can learn a lot from the training to improve our livelihood as Matigsalug. We want to learn much from this livelihood training to end the cycle of begging and loitering in the streets," a teary-eyed Pandia said in the vernacular.

As a tribe, she added: “We need to stand since I’ve seen that Matigsalugs have the potential to showcase to the world. Our tribe can stand if somebody guides us.”

Go digital

Selling online is no longer just a trend but a necessity for businesses, whether small or big, to adapt and thrive in the ever-changing business landscape.

After a series of capacity-building training, seminars, and workshops, beneficiaries of the Uplifting the IP Women Project of Davao now make their indigenous products available to the online world.

Zeald, New Zealand's largest and most experienced digital transformation agency, equipped project beneficiaries on the basics of website development, social media marketing, and other digitalization tools to expand their handcrafting business online.

During the training, a Facebook page was created for them (https://www.facebook.com/matigsalugdavaocrafts).

The Matigsalug Davao Crafts, a collaborative e-commerce website of four Matigsalug Groups - IP Salumay, MACOEMADDACI now known as Nasabeka, Tchad (Traditional Costume & Handicraft Development Association), and Pegsabeka, is now live.

Project partner Zeald, New Zealand's largest and most experienced website development company, built the site for free.

Zelad CEO Andrew Forsyth said, “We see a big gap between those in digital and those who are not. And the gap is getting larger. So we see, through our CSR programs, our responsibility is to try and make that gap smaller. We have been working with an agribusiness in Davao for the last year or so. But we’re particularly delighted to be asked to join this project, working with IP because that's something very close to our hearts. Because in New Zealand, we do a lot of work with the Maori people, the indigenous people of New Zealand. It’s an honor for us to be able to work with them.”

The four groups’ joint e-commerce website (www.matigsalugdavaocrafts.ph) was launched on August 5, 2022, at the Abreeza Ayala Mall. The website showcases initial products that the project beneficiaries have created during their skills and project development training where customers can browse products, add them to a cart, and checkout. It also features the origins of the four Matigsalug women’s groups, an About Us page, the background of the Uplifting of the IP Women Project in Davao, FAQs page, and a Contact Us page. Potential customers can also place bulk orders and inquire from the site.

The Matigsalug Davao Crafts joined the annual Mindanao Trade Expo (MTE) from August 12 to 19 at the Abreeza Ayala Mall Activity Center in celebration of the 37th Kadayawan sa Davao Festival

The “Buy Local, By Lokals” expo featured 150 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) from all over Mindanao and the Visayas. Exhibitors showcased their handmade crafts and accessories, home decor and housewares, traditional attires, colorful textiles and artistry, locally-sourced fresh and processed agricultural commodities, and beauty and wellness products, among others.

NZ Support

New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines Peter Kell, who graced the Batch 2 culminating activity of the project’s Batch 2 graduates on June 9, 2022, said that New Zealand, as a country, also had its journey in acknowledging the rightful place of its indigenous people.

In 2021, New Zealand was chair of the APEC and the government of Aotearoa New Zealand committed to inclusive and diverse societies, and economies, and a commitment to help. The theme of APEC is to “Grow and Prosper Together.”

As part of that commitment, he said, “The New Zealand Embassy to the Philippines looked for opportunities to focus on key areas of society, those members of society that have not had quite the chance or opportunities to improve their economic situation. And so we were looking to support IP communities, particularly their women, their girls, to engage in economic activity because we know, in Tagalog, when we support the women, we are strengthening the community, the society, and the economy.”

He believes that investing in women’s hopes and dreams has a multiplier effect and direct impact on the younger generation.

“We were delighted to partner with Go Negosyo and Zeald, having the New Zealand experience also reflected through the active involvement of Zeald, to support female entrepreneurs in tribes here in Mindanao,” Kell said, hoping the project would continue. “We recognized that we’ve helped the two batches on their journey. We pushed them along a bit but we recognize it’s very hard to do anything on your own if it’s new.”

Dyan Mabunga Rodriguez, Aid Manager of the New Zealand Embassy-Philippines, said the Uplifting of the IP Women Project in Davao is very important to the government of New Zealand.

To the women beneficiaries, she said, “This project is possible because of you. We hope that this project will make you happy and not burden you as it can support you and strengthen you in your day-to-day life, not just through food or your dreams for your children but as a lumad, you would really feel that you and your role are important in our country and the city of Davao.”

The support of the New Zealand Embassy to the Philippines, however, did not end there as the Matigsalug women beneficiaries received a special grant as seed capital for their online business, the Matigsalug Davao Crafts.

From time to time, project stakeholders continue to meet to discuss how to expand their assistance to the Matigsalug women who have started dreaming again for better lives for their families, and their tribe’s future. MLSA