THROUGH the Camiguin Coastal Resource Management Project (CCRMP), Isabelita Portrias, 42, Pilar Portrias, 49, Wilma Pabillore, 28, Eva Portrias, 21, Robelyn Portrias, 21, and Marilyn Portrias, 37, became the project's first group of women to benefit from the project's interventions. Their families used to live in Mantigue Island, an islet identified by the local executives as a marine eco-park and which has been made a home for scores of illegal settlers from neighboring provinces.
Launched in 2007, the CCRMP which is funded by the New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) seeks to address the complex issue of sustainable management of coastal resources and the promotion of sustainable economic activities in Camiguin Province, including Mantigue island.
Administratively, Manitigue falls under Municipality of Mahinog, one of the five municipalities of Camiguin. Families who have settled illegally in Mantigue island are voluntarily being relocated by the local government to a decent housing project located very close to the economic center of the municipality.
The relocation package also includes free transport off the island, livelihood opportunities, and a certain amount of cash to help the relocated families start anew. In addition, they have been assured to be the first to benefit from livelihood projects that would result from the rehabilitation of Mantigue Island.
A few months after they relocated, the women were organized and encouraged to attend a series of weekly trainings, designed to enhance their skills, particularly in cooking. Eventually, they were given the opportunity to cater to the meals of tourists and visitors to this island. As a group, they help each other in preparing and serving the meals.
Initially unsure of themselves, they have developed more confidence with every passing day and every meal they prepare. Receiving positive comments from their clients, made them more enthusiastic.
"Malipay jud mi kung muana sila na lami among luto," Wilma shared. (It really makes us happy when people commend us for our cooking).
What makes the whole thing more appetizing is the fact that these women have helped their families financially to the point that their husband have given up fishing to assist them full time in their catering venture.
"Dili na kayo mangisda amo mga bana kay tungod pud ani. Mutabang na lang sila namu dire," Wilma stressed. (Our husbands don't really go fishing anymore. They opt to help us here instead).
This reversal of roles has given the women of Mantigue a renewed sense of purpose, a deeper appreciation of their capabilities, and a stronger sense of security in their femininity.
"Daku jud kayo natabang. Makapalit na jud mig bugas ug gas," Wilma pointed out. (It has really helped a lot. We could now buy rice and gas)
"Nakapa-eskwela pud tawon ko sa akong mga anak," Marilyn shared. (I have been able to send my children to school as well).
Aside from the daily income they earned as caterers in Mantigue, the group sets aside twenty percent of their daily profit for debt servicing and capital. In less than three months, they have acquired several pots, cooking utensils, silver and china ware, and a cellular phone.
"Nakakat-on pud mi unsaun pag-atubang ug mga bisita. Sa una kay maulawon man mi," shared Pilar. (We also learned how to entertain and interact with both local and foreign guests. Before we did not have the guts to do so).
They admitted that due to the communication barrier, they found foreigners hard to deal with. In response to this, the CCRMP has been conducting an English language development program that they enthusiastically attended.
Another thing that they have learned is the value of sanitation in food preparation and in the home.
Most importantly, they have learned to value their harmonious camaraderie. They have realized that they need to work together as a team in order to sustain their efforts. Though there is still occasional argument, they are now quick to resolve their differences and forgive each other.
The twinkle in their eyes and their appreciative smiles reflect the gratitude they cannot articulate. The way they now carry themselves reflects a new sense of purpose and a new level of confidence. Their enthusiasm to learn and to improve all possible facets of their lives indicate hope that tomorrow will now be better for them and their children.
"Nagpasalamat gyud mi ug dako, kay ug wala pa ni, ambot nag unsa na lang kaha mi," says Pilar, the eldest of the group. (We are so grateful for this opportunity, without it, we wouldn't know what to do with our lives). (Mahinog IO with reports from CCRMP)