Luz E. Soriano, a resident of Barangay Manhac, Looc, Romblon, has always dreamed of having a stable source of income to provide better for her family. So, when the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Field Office-MIMAROPA introduced a livelihood project in their community in 2015 through its Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), she participated and even encouraged other residents to also join for a chance to change their lives.
Today, Luz is the President of the SLP Manggagawang Aktibo na Naglalayong Harapin ang Kinabukasan (MANHAK), a livelihood association at Brgy. Manhac established with the help of DSWD-MIMAROPA, that manages a Blue Crab Fattening Production project.
Blue swimming crabs, most commonly known as kasag or alimasag, are a popular gourmet seafood—especially females that have fat or aligue—among restaurants not just in the country, but also abroad. This highly-priced seafood is abundant in the waters of Romblon and Mindoro.
Through Luz’s leadership and the group’s unity and perseverance, the livelihood project has grown, with crabs being supplied to several restaurants in Looc and its neighboring municipalities. Each member is able to earn dividends that help them slowly improve the lives of their families.
Because of its success, SLP MANHAK Association’s blue crab fattening production business was recognized as the champion in the Micro-Enterprise Development Model category of the DSWD SLP’s Bangon Kabuhayan Awards 2017 held in February. Bangon Kabuhayan is an annual awarding ceremony that recognizes notable micro-enterprise and employment facilitation models of the Department’s field implementers that help improve the socio-economic well-being of their sustainable livelihood participants.
But just like any other livelihood association, MANHAK encountered several challenges during the implementation of the project before finally attaining success.
A difficult beginning
“What we have gone through to achieve success in this project was not easy. It is hard when people around you do not believe in you and in your capacities. Instead of encouraging you, they put you down,” Luz narrated.
“It was during that time when I told the members of our group that we need to persevere for this project. We cannot be listening to people who pull us down,” she said.
MANHAK’s livelihood project started in 2015. Staff from DSWD- MIMAROPA conducted a training with the residents of the barangay on growing and fattening blue crabs, and created a concrete plan on how to start the project in the community.
Soon, the members, together with their families, started weaving nets, building cages, and catching crabs.
“We did not receive any salary while starting the project, so we worked together to do the necessary work. Some of us weaved nets, while others built the cage where we would grow the crabs,” Luz recounted.
The livelihood program of DSWD-MIMAROPA allotted a total of P525, 741 for the skills training and cash for building livelihood assets (CBLA) of the association, which helped them build a footbridge and bamboo cottage. But it not just the DSWD which helped Luz and her co-members in the project, as even other local government agencies extended aid.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) conducted seminars on starting a small business, while the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) shared the latest technologies in blue crab fattening.
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), on the other hand, issued a permit for the legal operation of the association, while the local government unit of Looc provided an environmental permit for the area where the members built their crab hatchery and nursery. Meanwhile, the Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWDO) provided the members with food-for-work.
Despite all the help their association received, Luz admitted that the implementation of the project was a challenge, especially during its first few months.
“Some people around us told us that this project will not survive. Because of this, many from our group got discouraged and decided to break away from our association,” she narrated.
From 23, the number of members of MANHAK decelerated to ten during the first few months of the implementation of the project.
But while many left, Luz said the remaining members of the association continued to work for the project, holding on to the hope that it will succeed and will someday help them alleviate their lives from poverty.
Of the ten remaining members of MANHAK, nine are female who shouldered all the work required for the operation of the project, proving that gender is never a hindrance in reaching success.
“We are the ones who did all the work—even those that are usually carried out by men, such as carrying heavy bamboo poles and building the footbridge and cottage. We also dived under the sea to catch crabs to put into our hatchery and nursery,” Luz narrated.
Luz said that sometimes, she and her fellow members in the association asked help from their families, who provided their full support to the project.
“We continued to persevere for this livelihood project because we want to have a better source of income to be able to give a better life for our family,” she shared.
Most members of MANHAK get their sources of living from fishing, which, they said, is barely enough to cover for all their needs.
“We were living a difficult life before this project. Our families did not make much from fishing, so we usually run out of food to feed our family. There was even a point in my life when I was forced to tell my son to quit school because of lack of money. It was really hard,” she said.
Reaping ‘fat’ success
After sowing hard work and patience and through their united effort, the members of MANHAK Association have slowly reaped success from their small business.
From earning P100 per day, each member is now taking home P225 and this will continue to increase as they expand the project. To date, the association is making an average of P140,000 every month and has already bought its own motor banca and additional fishnets.
Luz said that they are thankful to DSWD for introducing them the livelihood project, as it is slowly improving their lives. For instance, the members of the association are now able to provide better for their family and buy the things that they need at home, such as appliances like refrigerator, rice cooker, and television.
Gemma Tabaybay, one of the members of MANHAK, said that the livelihood project has helped her grant the wish of her children, which is to have a television at home.
Alita Gaita, another member of the association, said she was able to renovate and build another floor for her house through the dividends she earned.
Another great contribution of the livelihood project in the lives of the members of the association is their improved capacity to send their children to school.
To date, Luz’s son has come back to school and is now taking up Bachelor of Science in Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to help her in leading the management of the association’s blue crab fattening production business.
MANHAK has also contributed to the development of their community. The association is slowly making a name as one of the suppliers of fattened blue crabs not just in Looc, but in other municipalities in Romblon as well as in other provinces and regions. In fact, MANHAK’s fattened crabs have reached as far as Boracay.
Moreover, the success of MANHAK in the blue crab fattening production has inspired many residents in their community. Today, Luz and her co-members regularly speak before new livelihood groups to share their experiences in starting their small business leading up to their success.
“We always encourage new livelihood associations to never lose hope and to just help each other and be optimistic. They will face many challenges along the way, but if they continue to work hard and persevere, they will reap what they sow in due time,” Luz proudly said.
A community-driven enterprise development program of the DSWD, SLP aims to improve the economic opportunities of program participants through capacity-building, micro-enterprise development, and employment facilitation.
According to DSWD Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo, the Department is intensively promoting its sustainable livelihood program to give more poor Filipinos a chance to explore the different employment opportunities it offers or engage in resource-based and market-driven community microenterprises.
“The DSWD has been conducting information drive in some of the poorest communities in Metro Manila and in the regions to promote the different programs of the Department, specifically the Sustainable Livelihood Program, which aims to help the poor break from the bond of poverty and eventually become self-reliant. Attaining gainful employment or achieving self-sustaining microenterprises, just like that of SLP MANHAK Association, enhances the poor’s capacity to improve their standard of living. It helps them stand on their own feet, making them economically fit to invest in health, education and other basic needs,” Sec. Taguiwalo said.