By Reynard Magtoto, VERA Files
Don't just throw away those old tarpaulins.
Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Makati are in need of used tarpaulins which they convert into shopping bags and laptop cases.
They have formed the Green Cooperative, whose main goal is to turn trash into reusable items. Its members from every barangay in that city were taught how to sew bags at a recent capability building training, dubbed as "Tulong-Pangkalikasan at Pangkabuhayan ng may K."
Orthopedic-impaired Jocelyn Broqueza makes it a habit to pass by at the North Side Barangay Hall near University of Makati before she proceeds to the cooperative in the amphitheater to pick up the old tarpaulins in the barangay hall.
For almost 23 years, this is Broqueza's first time, again, to use automatic sewing machine. In her younger years, she was a sewer in a factory making gowns, pants, and other dresses for export. Now,47, she is a bag maker.
Broquesa feels lucky to be a member of the cooperative after she became registered PWD about two years ago. She underwent trainings that enhanced her skills just like other PWD sewers of the cooperative.
Hazel B. Punla, case worker of the Makati Social Welfare Department (MSWD), said that 20 automatic sewing machines were donated by Rep. Mar-Len Abigail Binay last year for the Cooperative's use.
Every sewing machine has a number and the name of the sewer attached to its leg. This will easily identify who uses the sewing machine regularly. This identification will indicate who will maintain the machine. If the machine malfunctioned, it is the responsibility of the user to fix it guided with training and instruction.
Using an automatic sewing machine is not an easy task, according to 40-year-old Criselda Bulawan. She has an injury in her left leg bone, which makes her unable to walk straight. But since the machine only requires a foot to press its pedal in order to work, she can manage it.
The automatic sewing machine is friendlier to the PWDs like her than the manual sewing machine which requires both feet to function.
Gloria Estipona, treasurer of the Cooperative, said there are no professional sewers in their group and they only learned basic sewing skills in the cooperative's training program.
The PWDs in Makati undergo training to master the art of sewing. As part of their training, they make shopping bags out of used tarpaulins. This is in preparation of the Ayala Foundation's project which aims to use tarpaulin bags in all shopping malls in Makati City.
The Green Cooperative is waiting for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Ayala Foundation for them to fully operate on tarpaulin bag making.
PWDs believed using tarpaulin bags are stronger compared to eco bags used in malls. These will also minimize pollution in the city.
"Minsan kumukuha ako (ng tarpaulins) sa Taguig sa lower Bicutan (Sometimes I get in Taguig in lower Bicutan)," Bulawan said.
"Instead of burning it, they gave it to us," Estipona said. "Nababawasan ang pollutant; in a way nakakatulong kaming mabawasan ang polusyon (Pollutants are decreased; in a way we help to lessen pollution)." Estipona is also the Committee Head on Education Training and Sports Development of the Makati Persons with Disability Federation, Inc.
However, donations of tarpaulins are not continuous. They can only make bags based on the available materials of the cooperative.
The cooperative also accepts sewing orders. Last February, they were able to sew 180 sport blouses that were delivered to their buyer in Antipolo in April.
"They are paid per piece," Estipona said. However, the price varies depending on the order.
PWDs in the cooperative work mostly on a voluntary basis. They only receive P50 pesos for transportation allowance for two weeks. They take care of their own food and other expenses.
"Ok lang para magkaroon ng trabaho, training kahit walang sweldo (It's ok just to have a job, training even without salary)," Bulawan said.
She believes that eventually they will be able to earn more once their cooperative progresses. The Cooperative is under the office of Makati Persons with Disabilities Federation (MPWDF),a non-stock, non-profit organization registered under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that serves as the umbrella organization of all PWD groups or associations in Makati City.
The MPWDF already submitted proposal to take part in the government project Libre Skwela, Libre Uniform. The project aims to give free uniforms to all elementary and high students in all public schools in Makati.
According to Jean De Asis, secretary of the federation, all PWD sewers in every barangay will be tapped in the free uniforms project.
The Cooperative was established during the PWD Green Cooperative Livelihood Seminar on July 29, 2011in Makati City. Those interested can visit the Cooperative at the Amphitheater, Makati Park and Garden, Dr. Jose P. Rizal Extension, Makati City.
Broqueza and Bulawan said being part of the cooperative, they have learned the virtue of patience. They are just starting and job orders are not aplenty yet. But as they progress, with the help of many people, they are hopeful for more projects to enable them to have a steady income.
(The author is a journalism student of Bicol University, who is writing for VERA Files as part of his internship. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")