GarBAGs: Rural Filipino women's livelihood project

Santo Domingo, Philippines · 1 Sale


GarBAGs: Rural Filipino women's livelihood project

Santo Domingo, Philippines 1 Sale On Etsy since 2012

Maricel Pelen

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Maricel Pelen

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Transforming lives by transforming trash into treasure

// Setting the Scene: Salvacion and Reming

In November 2006, super typhoon Reming landed on the coasts of Bicol in the Philippines. The storm not only devastated the small town of Santo Domingo in Albay province, but its residents as well. Many of the families of Santo Domingo were sustained by their income from either the agricultural or fishing industries. In the wake of typhoon Reming, the citizens reluctantly succumbed to the aftereffects. The year’s crop yield was wiped out. Homes sustained irreparable damage. Fishing boats were tossed and turned and reduced to splinters. Families lost their livelihoods and their spirits were bruised.

Despite the havoc and subsequent challenge of rebuilding their lives and their town, the people of Santo Domingo remained indomitably optimistic. What was once a pristine shore with calm waters reflecting the majestic Mount Mayon volcano was now reduced to a smattering of debris from landslides and refuse washed out to sea, ravaged, then washed back ashore. Tattered child’s rubber sandals, destroyed fishing outriggers, and food packaging plastics littered the area.

It was the women of the Salvacion neighborhood that viewed this destruction as an opportunity for creation. The brightly-colored foils and plastics stood out in sharp contrast to the biodegradable debris. The mothers’ intuition set to motion a recovery effort that would quickly gain momentum and reach out to the community in ways that were not thought of directly after Reming.

// The Beginning: Transforming Trash into Treasure

Born and raised in Naga, in Camarines Sur, Mrs. Glenda Newhall has always been an active member of the community. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer during the 1970sin the health sector, she retired to the village of Salvacion. It was there that Newhall frequently volunteered at the health clinic in the Santo Domingo area and realized the need for development. She participated in regular meetings with the women from the community where the Salvacion Mothers’ Club was formed in 2005. Through this, the mothers of the community would have a forum in which to discuss and ideate solutions to the challenges and needs of the town. Priority issues were health, nutrition, and child welfare.

That following August came the Salvacion fiesta for which Newhall issued a challenge to the mothers—to create products from recycled materials. The mothers set up a booth to showcase their creationstothe public. After selling some of their items to locals, the mothers’ confidence grew and the possibility of generating substantial income from such an alternative livelihood seemed a promising venture.

The club quickly began growing in membership and strength, and the tragic event of typhoon Reming only helped to unify the mothers. Less than one year after the typhoon, the Salvacion Mothers’ Club was registered and became recognized as a legitimate non-profit organization under a new name, Barangay Salvacion Mothers’ Society, Inc. (BSMS) in 2007.The mothers’ original initiatives of health, nutrition, and child welfare were maintained and expanded to include education, environmental stewardship, entrepreneurship, and women’s empowerment. They began by focusing on developing the idea of recycled commercial products as an alternative livelihood for the families affected by the storm. And the small business idea of GarBAGs was born.

Non-biodegradable waste was collected by the mothers. Chip bags, coffee sachets, juice packs—anything and everything they could gather. Together they processed the discarded materials—cleaning, cutting, weaving, and sewing—and finished with a marketable product for sale. Clutch purses, messenger bags, sandals, wallets and more were some of the original designs created by the women. Their creative drive and innovation produced items that were not your average consumer good. The end products were not only surprisingly attractive with meticulous attention to detail, but were also a social statement for women’s empowerment, environmental awareness, and free trade.

Later that year, the BSMS gained an opportunity through the Ladies of St. Jude wherein they received a ten-thousand peso start-up donation, one sewing machine, and their first considerable order to be sold in Manila. A few months afterwards, GarBAGs availed of an in-kind donation from the Italian government of sewing machines and materials for their products. The group was gaining exposure and sales were increasing. Their creativity brought hope, figuratively and literally, to a bright and colorful future...

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Shop members

  • Maricel

    Owner, Treasurer

    Maricel is the treasurer of the Barangay Salvacion Mothers Society. She is a horticulturalist by training and is working at Mirisbiris garden and nature center in Salvacion, Sto Domingo. She has a one daughter.

  • Myrna

    Maker, President

    Myrna is the current president of the Barangay Salvacion Mothers' Society. She has been a seamstress for many years. She has three daughters and two sons.

  • Weng

    Maker, Former President

    Weng was the first president of the Barangay Salvacion Mothers' Society. She is a kindergarten teacher who has also been sewing for many years. She is the project manager of the Barangay Food Terminal, another BSMS project. She has two daughters.

  • Salve


    Salve is one of the makers of Garbags products. She studied business and finance in Legaspi City and is now trying to learn how to use computers. She has four daughters and one son.

  • Glenda


    Glenda is a retired nurse practitioner and teacher who now serves as the BSMS adviser. She has two grown children.

Shop policies

Last updated on November 5, 2012

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