It's morning, the sky is gray, and you can hardly see the sun. It's going to rain today, and you can smell it in the earth. Your first thought normally would be how there's no work today, since work is usually outdoors - but for the weavers in the outskirts of Lamitan City, Basilan, it's the third day without work.
Every meter of weave takes up to four days to make and only nets about PHP120 (2USD). You think about how to budget your remaining money, before you can work again and finish your next meter, while rain clouds pour out for the rest of the day.
Meet Ate Alma, a weaver from the Yakan community in Barangay Buahan in Basilan - a boat ride away from the port of Zamboanga. Being so far away from the rest of the Philippines, life here is quiet and simple, if not sometimes hard, due to unfair wages. Although for Ate Alma, this is how things are. She was in good spirits when we talked with her one Wednesday afternoon.
"Medyo okay naman," (It's a bit okay), she tells us about her life, "Pero minsan pa rin mahirap." (But it's sometimes hard).
Ate Alma has been weaving ever since grade 2. She's now 31 years old, meaning she's been weaving for close to 18 years now. Her husband is a tricycle driver and with both their combined salaries, it's a little hard to make ends meet, especially with five children relying on them to support their education.
For Ate Alma however, this is life and it doesn't fetter her as much. She told us she just wishes she can weave more regularly at least, so she can earn a little more to provide for her children and to save up for some small luxuries of life, like to see the country she's lived so far away from.
"Gusto kong pumasyal sa Boracay o sa Tagaytay (I want to visit Boracay or Tagaytay)," she tells us, smiling. "Gusto kong magkaroon ng magandang kinabukasan ang aking mga anak (I want my children to just have a good future)."
There are about a 100 other weavers in the Yakan community. All Yakan women are taught how to weave early on in their life. Many of them are just like Ate Alma, weavers whose work take them outside and stop when it rains hard, which commonly happens in the tropical island.
Despite everything, Ate Alma is hopeful for the days ahead. She told us that she's pinning her hopes that one day, their wages will increase, they'll have a roof over their heads at work and her children will grow up happy and well-fed.
As a part of our mission to support local indigenous groups and to preserve Philippine traditions, we have been supporting numerous communities in Mindanao by engaging in fair and sustainable trade. Our goal is to augment each artisan's income to up to four times for their current yield of handwoven fabric.
We've also started to send trainers to teach weavers how to augment and improve upon their already intricate knowledge on loom weaving.
Your purchases allow us to sustain our initiatives in dozens of weaving communities all over the Philippines. To learn how to support weavers, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also find all AKABA bags made with Yakan tennun (weaves from Basilan) at our online shop.