Filipino communities turn trash into cash

By Ana Puod – Days after the New Year’s Eve revelry dies down, expect colorful lanterns or wreaths to remain hanging on the windows of many Filipino homes—part of a tradition in this Southeast Asian country known to have the longest Yuletide celebration in the world.

In Barangay (village) Lower Bicutan, in Taguig City, 15 kilometers east of Manila, the ubiquitous holiday decorations are a testament to a never-say-die spirit and ingenuity. They are mostly fashioned out of water lilies that clog the town’s drainage system instead of the conventional bamboo sticks, Japanese and crepe paper that have come to be associated with the iconic symbol of the Filipino Christmas.

Taguig City outlines Laguna de Bay, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia and the Philippines’ largest inland body of water. Water lilies are known to thrive in such bodies of water, growing to a height of 40 inches and multiplying fast. Thus, they can easily displace local aquatic plants and adversely affect water quality and flow.

When Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) unleashed its wrath in late September, the village of approximately 44,000 residents found itself submerged in water as did other parts of the city.

“We are so used to flooding, but ‘Ondoy’ was different,” says resident Lolita Remillo, adding that many of her kababayan (fellowmen) died.

Water lilies were deemed among the culprits behind Taguig’s submergence in floodwater.

But city councilor Gigi de Mesa sees a bright side to this otherwise tragic event.

“The flooding even pushed the water lily nearer to the shore. This even made it easier for us to collect water lilies.”

Just a month before Ondoy hit the country, the city government launched the Water Lily Livelihood Project, which aimed to provide a source of income for the communities in the city, particularly women, while clearing Laguna de Bay of water lilies.

“The primary purpose of the project is to generate livelihood among the people of Taguig City, especially women,” says Kaye Tinga, wife of city Mayor Fred Tinga.

The project involves collecting the nuisance aquatic plants and turning them into useful products.

“We are not only creating jobs but helping the environment as well,” reasons de Mesa, one of the organizers of the project that has turned into a cooperative.

Through the training spearheaded by Kaye Tinga, community members learned how to weave products like bags, place mats, slippers and Christmas decors like lantern and wreaths out of water lilies.

Some 200 people were initially trained, followed by another batch of 800, who were then taught about various aspects of the livelihood project.


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