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Women entrepreneurs make a comeback in Super Typhoon Rai-devastated Siargao Island

Normelinda Elardo Noguerraza, resident of Brgy. Salvacion, Pilar, Surigao del Norte, delivers sold rice and goods in her community (Photo: Areef Hassan / Oxfam Pilipinas)

PILAR, SiargaoIsland – To help augment the income their husband’s income amid the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 120 women from the surfing village of Salvacion formed themselves into six self-help groups (SHEGs) last year to sell rice and other goods to their community.

Each group is composed of 20 members and was organized through the initiative of Sentro Para sa Ikauunlad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya, Inc. (Sikat Inc.), a local non-government organization in Siargao Island.

The women of SHEGs embarked on rice dealerships in their island community. Depending on their available money, a member can build her capital contribution up to a maximum of P200 per week. Another option for members is to pay five pesos a week for their social fund contribution, which the women’s associations use to extend emergency medical assistance to its members. 

For every 25-kg sack, which costs P1,000 on the island, the women groups earn P50 by selling it at P1,050. Apart from cash payment, SHEGs offer credit payable in two weeks. While their primary market is the association’s members, non-members can avail if they have declared a co-maker. 

After almost a year, every member’s P500 savings have grown to P704 with about 41% interest yield.  

Self-help group members discuss their savings record. (Photo: Areef Hassan / Oxfam Pilipinas)

Daycare worker Maryjane Lucino and bookkeeper of the Starfish-Tocong team said that association members meet weekly to discuss the course of the association’s operations. 

“Three different persons are responsible for ensuring that the association’s money is not abused or wasted,” says Lucino, a mother of two. 

Lucino noted that from their capital savings contribution, members could avail of emergency or personal loans with an interest rate of five percent. 

The women SHEGs’ rice retail business helped dozens of families in the village to ease the lack of food resources and hunger. However, Super Typhoon Rai (local name Odette), which struck the island with howling winds of up to 257 kilometers per hour (kph) or 160 miles per hour, abruptly stalled their business venture. 

“We have been hit by a double-whammy. With COVID-19, many residents here lost their jobs as the vibrant tourism industry stopped. And with Odette, it’s like a nightmare with the magnitude of destruction that the typhoon inflicted on the island,” says Juana Literato, team leader of the Starfish-Tocong women’s group. 

Of the 257 houses in their village, less than two dozen were left barely standing after the typhoon’s wrath. Banagan-Bangsi Team Leader Alma Gonzales also lamented how the typhoon destroyed the coconut farms in their village, which pushed the community deeper into poverty.   

To respond to the economic impacts of Typhoon Odette on the women associations in Siargao Island, Oxfam Pilipinas provided a livelihood grant amounting to P60,000, with assistance from SIKAT workers.  

“If there’s no livelihood cash assistance, it would be difficult for us to restart our ventures. It’s a big help, and we are very thankful for the livelihood cash grant,” Literato adds. 

Through the grant, the SHEGs were able to expand their entrepreneurial venture. The different SHEGs decided to offer and sell other goods to their customers. The Banagan-Bangsi team sold chicken meat and animal feed, while the Alimango-Ganga team offered vegetables and fruits.  

“For my team, we started to diversify from dressed chicken and animal feeds to vegetables and fruits. We don’t just display our fruits and vegetables but peddle them ourselves, and they’re often sold out at the end of the day,” says Gonzales.    

Normelinda prepares fruit products for house-to-house delivery. (Photo: Areef Hassan / Oxfam Pilipinas)

Barangay Salvacion is also an alternative surfing spot to General Luna town, where the famous Cloud 9 world-class surfing spot is located. Male residents in Salvacion, which hosts a regular international game fishing tournament, also make a living as boatmen for local and foreign tourists surfing in their village.

“We want to help our husbands. We feel empowered that we can also make money and not just depend on everything to our husbands,” she adds.

Gonzales elaborated how women in the village feel empowered by their savings and business initiatives, thanking SIKAT and Oxfam for giving them another opportunity to rise from the tragedy.

Lucino said the SHEGs are hoping that the island’s tourism and the businesses related to the sector and those badly devastated by Odette can recover soon so that residents will get back their lost jobs and find new opportunities.

As they continue to rebuild their community, the women of SHEGs hope for the recovery of the island’s tourism and business sector.

SHEG members share their thoughts and experience about their businesses. (Photo: Areef Hassan / Oxfam Pilipinas)

Normelinda goes house-to-house to deliver ordered goods. (Photo: Areef Hassan /Oxfam Pilipinas)