In Kisolon, Sumilao, Bukidnon, three Higaonon women  dreamt of a better life. Their threads intertwined as they attended the 10-day training in dressmaking held by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The pandemic came in 2020 their lines may have separated, but they are simultaneously in sync with each other’s dreams. Instead of being down and out, they took this as a challenge. 

The opportunity came knocking as they used the skills they had learned to produce masks and foot rugs. The three ladies reunited and started their business as time passed and the pandemic subsided.

DSWD X gave the Livelihood Assistance Grant (LAG), a total of 30,000 Php, to help their livelihood. From earning 4,400 Php per month, they are now making 7,500 Php per month. These ladies have put the money to good use, and opportunities await them at every product expansion. 

The products that they are currently selling

Being a Higaonon

This story is about three women who may be different but share the same belief as a Higaonon.

The Higaonon is one of the lumads (indigenous people) in the mountainous areas of Northern Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Mercado (1998) has argued that, unlike the early IPs, the lumads have refused either Islam or Christianity in times of colonization. In effect, they have retained their original primal religion.

One of the practices that the Higaonons preserved is paghusay – their conflict resolution system. This practice is done with a tribal council – composed of a Supreme Datu, 11 delegates, three baes (women delegates), and 25 alimaong (tribal police); they resolve all kinds of disputes within their jurisdiction. Thievery, murder, misunderstandings, adultery, and conflicts involving rebels are some of its cases.

The public sees the Higaonons as a genuinely peace-loving community and weavers of peace due to their ability to solve conflicts within their area.

Bringing the Thread to the Needle

The Local Government Unit of Kisolon, Sumilao, wanted to empower women by giving them free training to acquire skills. In return, the beneficiaries may use these skills to start their own business.

Therefore, three women attended the 10-day Training for Women: Dressmaking NCII hoping they could shift their fates in their favor:

Letecia Bino-ong, a 63-year-old farmer;

Christie Macaday, a 50-year-old barangay utility worker; and

Nancy Macalam, a 52-year-old barangay sanitary inspector.

From left to right: Christie Macaday, Letecia Bino-ong, and Nancy Macalam

Hon. Manuel F. Zubiri provided ten sewing machines during the training to serve as their starter kit; After the training, the LGU gave one of each to the barangays. Ms. Princess Reyes, MSWDO’s focal person for Women, went further to help them by consulting Albert Gabriel B. De Mesa, Kisolon’s Punong Barangay. She has asked that they could use the Sangguniang Kabataan building for their base of operations. Mr. De Mesa agreed, and the women already had a venue for their business. The three women became excited that they could already start their weaving journey. 

Turning Adversities into Opportunities,

Unfortunately, the pandemic struck. But instead of losing hope, they took this as an opportunity to test their skills and gain income. Christie produced masks and earned 150-300 Php per day. Letecia created face masks and foot rugs- used in foot baths- and made 250-400 Php per day. Lastly, Nancy used her talent in the medical field to get customers’ blood pressure and sugar for monitoring purposes. They had found ways to sustain their family throughout the pandemic.

As the pandemic settled in September 2021, they started their business at the venue. They have begun to produce rugs, masks, potholders, pillows, and bedsheets. They were earning a rough estimate of 4,400 Php per month, 1,466 Php each. 

Luck was in their favor as the LGU brought a broken machine to their venue. They tinkered with it a bit and made it work. This additional equipment has helped them ever since.

To add on, the Sustainable Livelihood Program granted them the Livelihood Assistance Grant of 10,000 Php to each of them. They have combined the grant to buy materials for their livelihood and spend it on machine maintenance.

Ladies weaving using the two machines given by the LGU og Kisolon, Sumilao

Before sa LAG, nay gamay mahimo,” expressed Christie. “Pag-abot sa LAG, unsa ang orderon nila, mahimo na namo kay naa namay materyales.” From earning 4,400 Php per month, they are now earning 7,500 Php per month, thanks to the additional grant from  the Sustainable Livelihood Program. 

They also currently are selling at the Negosyo Center at Kisolon, Sumilao. Due to their quality, the women’s products sell out quickly.

Rugs displayed at the Negosyo Center at Kisolon

These three women have proved that with each other’s help, they could succeed and reach their goals together. They still have a long way to go as they continuously weave into each other’s lives; whenever conflict arises, the Higaonon culture of peace will triumph. Whenever doubts and adversities would challenge them, they got each other’s back.