Story by Dennis Amata, Information & Communications Manager, CARE Philippines
“And for our next speaker, let’s welcome here in front… Daisy Albao,” excitedly uttered by the event’s master of ceremony. Everyone in the room gave a warm round of applause as Daisy, a 50-year-old mother of six, walked towards the stage and started to compose herself.
“I am Daisy Albao from San Dionisio, Iloilo. Like most of you here in this room, I also survived typhoon Haiyan. I am here to share my story through a song,” then she started singing.
Daisy was one of the invited project participants of CARE to share in an organized conference her personal recovery from super typhoon Haiyan as well as her association’s journey towards economic empowerment. Her jolly personality was undeniably noticeable and everyone was inspired by her leadership, passion and commitment to help her community bounce back from the tragic experience.
“I composed that song for everyone here. It’s all about our experience after Haiyan, how we struggled and how we managed to slowly get back on our feet. I didn’t expect the crowd would be touched by it,” Daisy shared in an interview after CARE’s conference for its livelihoods recovery program participants.
Daisy hails from the coastal village of Agdaliran in Northern Iloilo. Her husband works as a fisherman while she also supports her family through seaweed farming. She is also the president of the newly formed Agdaliran Women Rural Improvement Association (AWRIA) which is being supported by CARE to provide livelihood opportunities to its 68 members.
Agdaliran is one of the most heavily affected villages in Northern Iloilo. Daisy recalled that Haiyan’s strong winds mercilessly destroyed their houses while the storm surges or big waves swept away their boats and livestock.
“That was our biggest challenge. We lost our house, our belongings and our livelihood. It was very depressing,” shared Daisy. “My family stayed in a shanty hut for two months because we struggled to earn money.”
But more than two years after Haiyan, Daisy has proven that recovering from a major disaster is absolutely possible. Her village received shelter repair support from CARE and after a few months the people were mobilized for the livelihoods recovery assistance.
To support communities heavily affected by Haiyan, CARE implemented the Community Enterprise Fund program that provided financial and training assistance to community-based associations. This is to restore their damaged livelihood and provide economic opportunities to the affected people. In Iloilo, CARE has partnered with Business Fair Trade Consulting to carry out the livelihood projects. The initiative is supported by the Canadian Government through the Global Affairs Canada.
“We were asked by CARE to form an association for this project. Fortunately, I was chosen by the women in my community to lead them probably because of my experience before with other local organizations,” she said.
Daisy narrated that there’s already an existing community organization in their village called Agdaliran Fisherfolks’ Association (AFA) prior to their formation.
“AFA is actually male-dominated. Their officers are all men so we decided to form another organization where women could actively participate,” said Daisy.
Upon receiving the financial support from CARE and BizFTC, the women of AWRIA has engaged in seaweed production. They bought needed materials and seaweed seedlings to start planting.
In the Philippines, seaweed is one of the most important aquaculture commodities. Seaweeds are exported either in raw form (fresh or dried seaweeds) or processed form used in food, pharmaceutical, beverage, and cosmetic industries.
“We saw the potential of seaweed production. Based on our assessments and planning sessions, our location is ideal for planting seaweeds. And also there is a big buyer of seaweeds in our area,” she said.
But Daisy and her members were tested by nature. They didn’t expect that things could suddenly turn to a different direction.
“One month after we planted, our seaweeds were destroyed and washed away by big waves. That was November 2015 when we also experienced typhoons. We replanted but after a few months we experienced long dry spell caused by El Nino which also decreased our production,” she recalled.
Daisy and her members couldn’t hide their frustration after what happened. She said that her members somehow lost enthusiasm and even received feedback from some men in her community that they couldn’t do it.
“I took it as a challenge when I heard that comment. I wanted to prove to everyone that we could do it. Good thing that we were able to save some seedlings so I mobilized my members and encouraged them to replant,” said Daisy.
Fuelled by determination, Daisy and her members participated in various enterprise management and technical trainings organized by CARE and BizFTC.
“Now we understand more the nature and types of seaweeds. We were taught how to properly plant, clean and harvest them [seaweeds] to increase our yield and protect them from various disasters,” she added.
Daisy also said that they have started consultations with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. They learned about the specific type of seaweed most suitable to be planted in their area.
Learning has been non-stop for Daisy as she was selected to join a cross-visit activity organized by CARE in three other provinces involved in seaweed production.
“I had the chance to go to Cebu where we visited a huge cooperative that produces seaweeds. Then we went to Bohol to learn about processing. After that we also visited Agusan to learn more practical techniques. The trainings were all hands-on so it really helped me develop my skills,” shared Daisy.
Daisy ensures that whenever she attends a training, she gets to pass the obtained knowledge to her members. She also conducts a monthly meeting where she provides them with updates and also receives feedback and comments from her members.
Since the Philippines has been consistently hit by typhoons, the women of AWRIA started preparing for possible disasters. They have invested in perimeter fences, floaters and storage containers for their seaweeds.
“The perimeter fence is used to guard our seaweeds from strong waves while the floaters are needed for the seaweeds to grow in good quality. We’ve learned also from CARE that whenever there’s an upcoming typhoon, we need to harvest early and keep the seedlings in case we need to replant,” she explained.
Daisy admitted that at first their husbands were doubtful of them to manage a huge enterprise. The men were also complaining about their time spent in their seaweed plantation but Daisy and her members assured them that they would balance their time.
“We’re all mothers in our association and we all together dream for our children’s bright future. We want them to finish their studies. Eventually our husbands embraced our new role and realized what we’re doing is for our respective families. They now even help us in harvesting whenever they are available.”
For more than a year, AWRIA has experienced a lot. They may had a shaky start but determination has been their key to overcome such hurdles.
“We used to be plain housewives. We just stayed in our house to do household chores. But eventually we’ve realized our potential to also help our husbands provide income. We are absolutely benefitting from this project.”
AWRIA is currently supplying seaweeds to a local federation involved in seaweed trading also supported by CARE. They were able to sell 1 ton of seaweeds already.
“The money we earned helped us pay for our children’s school expenses as well as provide for their daily allowance. Some of my members were also able to pay their electric bill and pay debts from their income. We really thank CARE and all their donors for this opportunity,” said Daisy.
AWRIA is now a registered women’s association. This also becomes easier for them to access services and benefits from the government. And Daisy’s work doesn’t stop as she and her members are planning to venture too in seaweed processing.
And just like the message of her song, Daisy is optimistic that her association will flourish. She only has one advice for other women who experienced the same struggles.
“When you feel like quitting, think about why you started,” Daisy said.