“LET a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand hearts content.”
This dictum speaks well of the 17 dynamic women of Maranding, in Lanao del Norte, who organized the Maranding Women Investors’ Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MWIMPC), in 1996, with an initial capital of P19,500.
The blooming of the flowers, no matter how beautiful, pales in comparison to the blooming of the women of Maranding whose number has since multiplied to 14,817, with their capital ballooning to P84 million.
What these women envision is just to have a stable and dynamic cooperative with a heart in a progressive society. Yet it is that simple vision that did shape the future for them on the island of Mindanao that has been described as “a major performer and a primary contributor to the country’s productive capacities.” However, it is a “development characterized by exploitation, where dominant classes, distant elites and rapacious transnational corporations deplete the island’s resources, leaving the majority of the population in poverty.”
Mindanao, aptly called the “food basket” of the nation, has abundant natural resources—vast agricultural lands, teeming fisheries, huge mineral deposits, rich in forest resources—although its six regions are suffering from high poverty gap ratios compared to the regions in Luzon and the Visayas. The poor in Mindanao are the poorest throughout the nation and where 14 of the 25 poorest provinces are found.
However, the lethal combination of poverty, conflict, and gender inequalities have no match against the determined women who are working together to reclaim the future for their children. They are now serving notice to everyone they have awakened, and they will not allow poverty to strip them of their God-given dignity. Through their cooperative, they are collectively harnessing their potentials, energies, and experiences.
Gone are the days of the loan sharks who are now relegated by the empowered women into the dustbin of history. Yes to good governance as they are now participating in the decision-making for their local government. Women empowerment has, indeed, come of age.
The women are exemplifying what it is to have a heart in a progressive society as manifested in their giving of gifts to prisoners, distributing school supplies to pupils in the identified depressed areas, feeding program to less fortunate, conducting gift-giving programs on Christmas, paying tribute to parents, and getting involved in various health services and church activities. Indeed, “a thousand hearts content with the blooming of the flowers in Maranding.”
The blooming of MWIMPC has become a beacon of light and hope amid the darkness and despair of poverty and conflict. The cooperative is now well connected to government agencies and the NGOs for financial and technical support.
MWIMPC is now scaling the heights as it is into diversified and multifarious activities. It is thankful to the state-run TESDA or Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for its Bee-Keeping Project, and as extension provider of its Computer Literacy Program. It is also grateful to MIVA Netherlands for the provision of vehicle, a brand new Toyota Revo; to John Snow Research and Development Institute, with funds from the US Agency for International Development (USAid) for the establishment of the Well-Family Midwife Clinic; and to the EU through the Support to Agrarian Reform Communities in Central Mindanao (STARCM) for augmenting funds for its beekeeping project.
The cooperative has undertaken holistic programs and services. To debunk conventional agriculture, which pollutes the environment with toxic chemicals, the cooperative is conducting trainings on Sustainable Agriculture in coordination with the Agricultural Training Institute. To give a helping hand to battered women and children, the cooperative the Lanao del Norte Women and Children Development Center, with the support from the British Embassy.
With the assistance of the Japanese Embassy, MWIMPC now operates and manages the Cooperative Training Center for Women in the province. Soon, a five-hectare subdivision housing project of the cooperative for its members will rise in the poblacion of Maranding with the support from the Pag-IBIG Fund and the National Housing Authority.
The MWIMPC shows the way on how to make life better for its more than 10,800 members by promoting grassroots economic viability, proving that the poor are bankable. It has manifested its business adroitness and excellence in micro-finance service, thus, earning the trust of partner financial institutions.
These partner-institutions are the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Livelihood Development Council, Lank Bank of the Philippines, SEED Finance, Inc., Oikocredit Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society, UCPB CIIF Finance and Development Corp., the Peace and Equity Foundation, in Mindanao, and Small Business Corp.
MWIMPC is now operating four branches, six unit offices of Savings and Credit Centers all over the province of Lanao del Norte and has employed some 64 management staff under the outstanding leadership and entrepreneurial acumen of Marilou Banding, the general manager.
With its core values of commitment, honesty, oneness, spirituality, excellence, and neutrality in settling disputes in fair and just manner, MWIMPC is the long-awaited empowering and transformational leader whose wondrous holistic performance shows the way on how to have peace and prosperity in this broken but beautiful island of Mindanao.
ORLAN R. RAVANERA