• When disability is no reason for poverty

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    TARLAC CITY: Forty-five-year-old Susana Alcantara refuses to stay in their house in Barangay Buenavista here and just wait for her children to provide for her needs. Instead, she wants to show her situation would not hamper her desire to make a living. She is without hands, literally.

    Despite her handicap, Susana, a widow with seven children, ably provides for her family through banig (sleeping mat) weaving using her feet, and does it faster than her peers’ method.

    “I need to work to provide the needs of my family. A handicap is not a hindrance to do things,” she said in local dialect.

    The same goes for Sheryl Botiquin of Barangay Sapang Maragul with distorted wrists but manages to do the job well.

    “We want to show that we can also do things despite our disability. This helps sustain our home expenses,” Sheryl said in Pilipino.

    Susana and Sheryl are only two of the 32 persons with disability (PWD) benefiting from the water lily livelihood project of Tarlac city government to meet the demand of the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (SIPAG) Foundation for the production of one million sleeping mats, which will be distributed to poor communities in the country.

    The sleeping mats are made out of waterlilies. The city has identified three barangay (villages) – Banaba, Buhilit and Armenia – where water lilies are abundant to invite residents in the livelihood program.

    The City Cooperative and Economic Development Office also invited other weavers from the said villages who underwent training. At P120 per sleeping mat, a weaver practically earns about P840 a week or more, depending on the number of mats they produce daily.

    When dried, the water lily stalk can be as strong as abaca but softer and easier to weave. The good thing is there is no cost for raw materials with only the labor – from harvesting to weaving – as capital.

    For some, water hyacinths or water lilies are a scourge for freshwater fishermen and a cause of flooding but in Tarlac, it’s a good source of living.

    Cynthia Chuidian, head of the special projects for water lily and citronella livelihood program, said they are tasked to maximize to use of such plant.

    The foundation also donated a boat made of plastic bottles to be used in harvesting water lilies.

    Aside from sleeping mats, water lilies are also good for the production of numerous other items such as bags, wallets, baskets and slippers but the city government is focused on making the mats in the meantime.

    Meanwhile, Adonis Tipay, waterlily project coordinator, said that aside from providing livelihood to indigents, harvesting hyacinth is a good means to clean the waters, helping preserve the environment in the process.

    “They (water lilies) also serve an important purpose in the waters, mainly in aiding its ecosystem while keeping the pond and the creatures in it safe and healthy,” he said.

    “But most of all, we found the means to help our people get a decent source of living out of things that are mostly ignored,” Tipay said.

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