SPARK’s professional fellows, the AMICITAS Business Group, represented the Philippines in the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Seminar on Participation of Youths and Women in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development on December 5-6 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The Seminar aims to provide a platform for youth and women from ASEAN Member states and the Republic of Korea to exchange views on challenges and opportunities in the SME sector as an integral part of the economic development of ASEAN and the ROK, as well as to encourage the role of youth and women in SMEs participation in supplying networks and strengthening competitiveness, flexibility and business sustainability.
Below is the full text of the speech given by Rica Ruperto to the event. What is most admirable of these women is their desire to create lasting changes in their communities especially in ending violence against women (VAW). We are very proud of their participation to the international conference. But we are more inspired with their individual and collective stories as women helping other women. We thank the Philippine Commission on Women for extending the invitation. – ED.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon! I am Atty. Niña Rica Ruperto-Teves, the current Treasurer of our organization. There are only two of us from the Philippines today. We were contacted to participate in this seminar by the Executive Director of SPARK Philippines, a non-government organization based in the Philippines which is focused on women empowerment. SPARK Philippines is an acronym for “Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran, Inc.” which in English, translates to “association of Filipino women for reform and progress”. The topic for the seminar interested us so much that we gladly took this opportunity to come even on such short notice. In fact, we were only recently informed that we had to prepare a presentation so I was not able to prepare anything except for a short speech to give you an idea of what we do.
Our organization, ABG stands for Amicitas Business Group. Amicitas is a latin word which means friendship and our group goes way back to our college days. It started as a sorority actually. So we are actually sorority sisters who have long graduated from college and still meet with each other from time to time.
Early this year, as our get-togethers started to become more frequent, we began discussing about how we wanted to bring purpose to our passion. We wanted to start giving back to the community. All of us in the group felt blessed in so many ways. There are 11 of us in our group. We have a doctor, a nurse, a physical therapist, an engineer, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, and all, except one, are mothers. It was time to pay it forward. That is how our group, the Amicitas Business Group or ABG, came about.
Amicitas Business Group aims to help women who are victims of domestic violence. And since children are closest to a mother’s heart, we also include children in our advocacy.
I am a lawyer by profession, and also a mother. Our president of the organization is also a lawyer and a mother as well. And we both happen to be lawyers of another Non-Government Organization in our city in the Philippines. Because of our work in that NGO, we get to meet so many victims of gender-based violence—wives who have been battered by their husbands, wives who have been left by their husbands for much younger women, wives who have lost their self-worth because almost always, these women end up feeling helpless and hopeless especially since they had always been dependent on their husbands for financial support. When they try to look for jobs, there are no more good jobs available to them since they are already in their 30s or 40s. In the Philippines, there is usually an age requirement in Help Wanted ads. Companies usually advertise that they want fresh graduates, or applicants who are 18-25 years old. Our group wants to give hope to these women by providing opportunities for them. We want to empower them so that they would feel that they do not need to beg for financial support from their husbands. That they do not need to endure physical, psychological and even sexual abuse from their husbands in exchange for financial support for her and their children.
Our group is still quite young, and we are still working on getting funds for a livelihood project for these women. But in the meantime, we try to help them get jobs by referring them to people we know who have businesses.
As for our projects involving children, we have just recently helped renovate and fix-up the Child Protection Unit in our city. You see, when a child is raped, he or she goes through a lengthy “process” in order to file a case in court. Aside from having to deal with the emotional trauma, the child is made to relay the incident over and over again as he or she is being interviewed by the police, then the doctor, the psychologist, the social worker, and then the lawyer. With each interview, the child is asked to re-live the painful incident which obviously can be stressful to a child. The Child Protection Unit is established so that the child rape victim could be brought there as the team composed of the examining doctor, police, social worker, prosecutor, and psychologist, conduct just one forensic interview—they all gather there to listen to his or her answers and take down notes. That way, the child has to relay the incident only once and it would reduce the trauma on the child’s part.
The Child Protection Unit then is an important venue and our group chose to help fix it up to meet the standards required—we repainted it, donated old furniture, toys, books—enough to make it comfortable and welcoming to a child.
So this is what our organization is all about. We are a group of eleven (11) women who endeavor to help other women including the children. That is our advocacy.
So now let me get on to the topic. You might be wondering how our group has anything to do with SMEs and enhancing the roles of youths and women in such sector. Let me give you an account coming from the grassroots level.
At present, our group has partnered with another local organization from our city. That organization is the Silliman University Alumni-Dgte Chapter in cooperation with the Dumaguete Business Park, Inc. With this partnership, we organize monthly bazaars or flea markets in our city which will serve as an avenue for local small enterprises to showcase and display their wares or products. A lot of these small enterprises which are tapped and invited by the organizers to join the bazaar or flea market are either owned by women or comprised of women workers and some youth.
Allow me to cite a couple of these small enterprises and share what their products are to you.
For one, we have the LALIWA or the La Libertad Weavers Association. This is comprised of a group of women coming from the Municipality of La Libertad, who have been trained and taught to produce woven mats, bags, baskets and other similar products. Their craftsmanship is world class and they are even exporting their products abroad.
There is also another small enterprise named LUMAGO. This is a group of women coming from Barangay Candau-ay of Dumaguete City. Their products are made of thrown materials such as paper, gift wrappers, and thrown leather. These materials would have already been considered trash if these women do not make use of them. They upcycle these materials and transform them into wearable art such as jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, bangles and earrings. Their group not only provide a sustainable living among themselves, but also, they help save and preserve the environment in their own little way by reducing the trash that gets thrown into the dumpsites or landfill.
There is also the association of local farmers who grow organic fruits and vegetables. These farmers are comprised of both men and women.
Local female entrepreneurs also join the flea market. We have one who produces tablea, or native cacao tablets, which is used to make the native chocolate drink called “tsokolate”. Another female entrepreneur produces bottled gourmet “bulad”. Another produces jams and jellies such as mulberry jams and peanut butter jelly. There are also baked goods such as cupcakes, cookies and other pastries; as well as various knick-knacks such as key chains, wallets, and bracelets made of leather being sold by female entrepreneurs.
For a start, our group is very fortunate to be able partner with the Silliman University Alumni-Dgte Chapter because by doing so, we are able to access a wider range of people to invite to join and experience the bazaar or flea market. Since our partner is an alumni association, they have access to most of the alumni of Silliman University, which is the largest university in the province if not the Visayas Region. Because of the wider reach, they can draw a larger crowd. And the larger the crowd in attendance, the greater the exposure these small enterprises can get. Also, most of the alumni are already abroad and thru social media, we are able to share pictures of the products being sold so that those abroad may also see them.
These bazaars will give the women behind these local small enterprises something to look forward to. It will inspire and motivate them to work harder and improve the quality of their products knowing that they have the opportunity to introduce their products to a bigger crowd instead of just marketing their products by themselves. Also, it will encourage other women to follow their example and organize themselves into livelihood groups, increasing the number of SMEs in the country. These bazaars will also help them sustain the life of their businesses so it will not just die down eventually because of lack of marketing and networking with other groups. Sometimes, the reason why people are discouraged to start their own businesses is because they worry that they do not have the means to market and advertise their own products, or their target market reach is just limited to their close friends. With the monthly bazaar or flea market, they now have a venue for selling their products. Thru these bazaars, exporters may also recognize their products and choose to export their products abroad thereby increasing their market reach.
Our group, the ABG, is not only limiting ourselves to gathering existing small enterprises and livelihood groups. We are also looking into providing training for livelihood projects for women who are eager to start their business, but do not know what to produce. In fact, for early next year, we intend to provide a trainer for noodle-making to a group of women coming from Bayawan City, one of the cities in our province.
We also intend to educate our younger sorority sisters who are still in college about the advocacy that we are into right now, so that as soon as they graduate from college and later on make a name for themselves in the community, they will be able to continue our advocacy and we will be rest assured that the women in the community will always have opportunities, thereby closing the gender gap between men and women.
And so you see, this is why we feel so privileged to be a part of this seminar. We are able to gather more ideas about the development of SMEs and use this knowledge to help women and youth empower themselves thru the development of these SMEs.
Thank you very much for listening.