Finding life in the marsh: PAMANA aids Maguindanao widows in making a living
SK Pendatun, Maguindanao, May 24 – Many see the Liguasan Marsh as a stronghold of rebels, a sanctuary of outlaws. But this expansive 288,000-hectare freshwater swamp bordered by the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat has been a blessing for more than 100,000 families who live on its fringes.
Sarika Pendatun, a 56-year-old widow of a rebel commander, shared that she and the other women in her organization are able to support their families through handicraft making using water hyacinths from the marsh.
Pendatun’s community is among the thousands who have drawn from the rich bounties of Liguasan Marsh in this poor, conflict-ridden province.
Through hard work, optimism and support from the government's PAMANA or Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Peaceful and Resilient Communities) program, the women, including the youth members, from her organization are able to maximize the resources from nature and improve their socio-economic lives.
PAMANA is the government's program and framework for peace and development, implemented in areas affected by conflict and covered by existing peace agreements.
Life in lilies
While water hyacinths are usually seen as a nuisance because they can cause flooding, Sarika saw it the other way around.
Sarika, who currently chairs the Women’s Improvement Club in Barangay Pendatun, led the other widows to start the handicraft project in 2009 after watching a TV show that demonstrated how to create bags and wallets out of water lilies. “I said why don’t we do it? The raw materials are present in our area,” she stated.
The Department of Agriculture and the Maguindanao Provincial Government provided initial support to the widows. Then in 2010, following a meeting of Sarika’s group with Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles in Cotabato, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Department of Trade and Industry and Design Center of the Philippines through PAMANA gave training and funding aid to strengthen the livelihood project.
“Governor Toto (Mangudadatu) gave us P 200,000 worth of capital, while OPAPP granted us P 500,000 under the PAMANA program,” Sarika said. “We used the funds for operations and purchase of equipment, such as sewing machines, water hyacinth flattener, and sole cutter for slipper making.”
At present, there are 25 regular in-house weavers. “We also have some out-of-school youth members who help in the production of crafts,” Sarika added.
Their products include bags, wallets, fans, baskets, ropes, slippers and other useful crafts. Big bags are sold at P 880, while medium and small ones can be purchased at P 680 and P 480, respectively.
Sarika believes in the huge potential of the business.
“We can make 100 bags in one month. I see the capacity of our weavers, but as of now we do not have orders yet from the outside,” she related while expressing hope that the business sector will also see the potential of water hyacinth handicrafts in the market.
To reach other consumers, they join commercial exhibits in Tacurong, Koronadal, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Manila. “Through God’s grace, we were able to sell all our products during fairs,” Sarika said.
Longing for peace
A nurse to wounded combatants in the 70s, Sarika witnessed the war between the government forces and her comrades. “It really hurts me to see Filipinos fighting fellow Filipinos,” she said.
She did not lose her husband, the late Datu Saiduna Pendatun who was a three-term mayor of SK Pendatun, to war. But she understands the pain of losing loved ones and being displaced from one’s home due to armed conflict.
Like the rest of the widows, Sarika longs for a lasting peace to be enjoyed by her children and grandchildren.
“We need peace because the next generation will suffer if we don’t work for it.” #