‘Bags for Life’: Still helping women of Tuntungin-Putho make a living

by Gillian M. Sagario

“Mas kailangan pa naming gumawa nang gumawa (ng bag) kasi mas marami ng order.”

These are the words of Helen Grace Millorada, a bag maker that benefits from the ‘Bags for Life’ program in Barangay Tuntungin-Putho, when asked about the status of the activity and how it has helped change their lives.

Millorada said that her group went through changes, experienced successes, and faced challenges almost two years since an article about the program was published in 2017.

Among the changes, for instance, was the decrease in number of bag makers from six to five members. She said that a member needed to leave after getting a new job in Quezon City.

The remaining bag makers are: Dominga Mamiit, Virginia Sanchez, April Dela Cruz, Malou Lopez, and herself.

Despite one member leaving, Millorada said that they are not struggling in meeting their target output because the remaining members work hard in making bags.

SUCCESSES

Four months ago, the program had a mini stall at SM Calamba, near the first-floor main entrance door. In the said stall, their products could be bought every first Friday of the month.

In December 2018, all of the bags were sold out.

In addition, they have been receiving inquiries and orders for their other products. For instance, locals from the City of Makati requested gift baskets, and customers from Sta. Rosa ordered wine boxes.

These events led to an increase in bag orders.

Messenger and shoulder bags made by Mrs. Helen Millorada 

The group also conducts workshops for those who are interested in learning about their livelihood project. The women have already been invited by the Municipal Government of Basista, Pangasinan to conduct a training on bag making, for which they charged P800 per person for a whole-day session.

When asked how much their fee will be for future workshops, Millorada didn’t give a spacific amount but said instead, “Hindi naman kami yung para humingi ng malaki. Basta halimbawa, kung nasa malayo, mas mabuti kung sagot nila (pamasahe, matutuluyan).”

(We are not after earning large amounts. What is important to us is, for instance we will travel to a far place, the inviting party should should shoulder our transportation and accommodation.)

The group also experiments with new materials to make their bags. Last December, the barangay leadership gave them rolls of plastic-like material, which were brand labels of liquid products sold in small glass bottles, and asked the ladies to check if these can be used for the bags in the same way that newspapers, telephone directories, magazines,and other recyclable papers are used.

Millorada said that the new material allows them to be more cost efficient because it doesn’t need any bag varnish, zipper, cloth, and other decorations that the paper
bag requires. However, she said that using it can also be challenging. “Mahirap siyang gawin, kasi madulas at malambot yung plastic,” she said. (Making a bag from this material is difficult because it is slippery-smooth and soft.)

On the left is the roll of plastic-like material from the sticker labels of efficascent oil. On the right is the first bag made by Mrs. Helen Millorada out of the said material.

CHALLENGES

One challenge that they meet in marketing their product is the skepticism of other people about the durability of their bags. This is because there are people that doubt the strength of paper as bags.

Millorada said the bag can still be durable after getting wet because it is coated with varnish and it can be sun- or fan-dried to evaporate whatever liquid will remain after being wiped dry.

“Iniisip nga nila na baka raw kapag nabasa, masisira. Pero hindi. Ang sinasabi namin diyan, kapag yan nabasa, yung hindi naman basang basa, pwede mo ibilad sa araw o itapat sa electric fan,” she said.

(They think that once the bags get wet, these will break. What we tell them is that should the bag get wet, so long as it is not soaking wet, you can leave it out in the sun to dry or dry it in front of an electric fan.)

Aside from the doubting customers, Millorada recalled experiencing difficulties in 2017 and in 2018 with two batches of trainees who availed themselves of free training sessions. She said that the participants were foreign students.

She said that her group made clear with the students that they should bring their own materials because they will bring home what they will finish at the end of the session. However, students from these two batches did not comply.

She recalled that the for first batch, they had no choice but to make use of the materials that they have.

“Sari-sari nalang na mga kulay (ng papel ang ginamit namin) para may maituro kami sa kanila,” she said.

(We used different colors of papers just so we have something to train them with.)

Fortunately for them, while the students did not pay training fees and even cost them some of their materials, these student volunteers donated to the Millorada’s group their earnings from selling cooked food.

The second batch of foreign students likewise did not bring any materials, such that one of the women had to buy materials for them to use, expecting to be reimbursed for the cost, as had been arranged. The bag makers likewise informed the students that they may give any amount for the materials, but they did not receive anything.

Despite this experience, they group remains open to training foreign students but for a min minimal fee.

“Biro mo, araw-araw yun. Magsta-start ka ng 8 am tapos matatapos ka ng alas-dose. Isipin mo, magluluto pa…May iba kaming kasama na may mga sakit ang anak,” Millorada explained. “Kumbaga sinabi nga rin ng iba, bakit naman kayo magtuturo ng libre, eh yan na yung skill niyo, dapat meron (bayad).”

(Imagine, the training is daily. It starts at 8 am and ends around noon. After giving the training, one would still need to prepare lunch for the family. There are some of us who had to care for sick children. Other people ask us why we teach for free while we should be paid for our skill.)

***

To those interested in buying the products from the ‘Bags for Life’ program, you can visit
Barangay Tuntungin-Putho’s Barangay Hall, SM Calamba, or the Negosyo Center at the Los Baños Municipal Office.

You may also contact Mrs. Dominga Mamiit directly at 09387866000.

Their products are: pencil box, wine box, shoulder bags, messenger bags, etc. The price ranges from P50 to P500.

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