Jed Nykolle Harme

About 20 kilometers away from the capital of Aklan is the municipality of Balete where artisans with disabilities (PWDs) have been earning through weaving Nito products.  

PWD Balete Association, with its 735 members, started its operations in Nito crafting before the pandemic to give a source of income for their members. 

The association's focal person Wooddy Francisco said that it started after they conducted data gathering in their barangays town to see the potentials of PWDs they have in the area.

LIVELIHOOD. PWD Balete Association displays the various handwoven Nito products of their members. Photo Courtesy of Jude Navarrete/Eamigas Publication.

"Rikato ta namon nakita nga abo gali sa among sector ro artistic ag mayad maubra it facemasks, gantsilyo, ag kantigo mag ubra it Nito products," he said. 

(There we saw that most of our members are artistic, and can sew facemasks, craft crochet, and can weave Nito Products.)

Francisco said that the association started with some P6,000 initial capital from the P50 fee of its members. Since then, they venture into fashion, home decors Nito products which have become the source of income for their members. As of now, they have P300,000 revenue from Nito crafts alone.

"Adlaw-adlaw, gaagto sanda iya kamon, ginadaea nanda riya ro andang products. Sa sang-adlaw, makatapos sanda it sambilog o daywa nga 8-inch (nito plates), nga gakahaega it P100. Nakakabakae eon sanda it pang bugas-bugas dahil rikaron," he said. 

(Every day, our members bring their Nito products here. Some of them can craft two 8-inch Nito plates a day, and we buy them for P100 each. With the earnings, they buy rice out of that.)

Francisco said that the association's mission is to give the PWD sector in their municipality a sustainable source of livelihood. "Kami mismo gabakae kanda, kasi kalisod kanda makausoy it trabaho. Kaya kami mismo ro gausoy kung alin do pwede namong maubra para kanda."

(The association itself buys their products, because it is hard for them to find a job. We ensure that we are the ones who give them opportunities and find ways what we can do for them.)

'Person with This Ability'

Ron R. Martesano, 46, a person with physical disability due to polio virus, has been weaving Nito Products for 25 years. According to him, he started to get interested in making one to help his family meet their ends. 

ARTIST. A person with disability demonstrates how to create the base of Nito products in Eangay-eangayan PWD Building, Balete, Aklan. Photo Courtesy of Jed Nykolle Harme.

"Gusto ko eang makabulig sa akong ginikanan kato, agud indi ako maging pabug-at kanda. Hay syempre, makara eon ako, dapat magkantiguhan ako bisan papaalin agud makakaon kami," he said. 

(I just want to help my parents at that time, so that I will not be a burden to them. I felt that I am already a PWD, I should acquire some skills to survive.)

According to him, crafting Nito ferns requires endurance, patience, and creativity, as it took him an hour to create one hand woven plate. On tough days, the process can go beyond up to one week to create a single customized handicraft. This passion becomes a source of income for their family, and supports the needs of his nephews and niece.

When asked about the challenges, he shared that sometimes, he finds Nito ferns himself in the mountainous areas in Balete. "Habang gaubra ako kara, akong gaoy, pamatyag ko lugi ako, ako pa gausoy it Nito ag kalisod mag-usoy karon. Pero kapag nakakabaligya ako ag nailaan ron ko akong customers, gaugan akong pamatyag."

(Sometimes when I make Nito crafts, I feel like it's a loss, because I find my own Nito ferns. And it's so hard to find them. But when I finally make a profit, and my customers like it, I can say my efforts are worth it.)

Martesano also shared that sometimes, he feels insulted when they encounter people who question a P50 product, telling them it's costly and will then try to ask for a discount or bargain with them, not realizing how hard it is to produce one. On good days, he earns P1400 per week or P5600 per month out of it. 

Former association President Emer Robin Dalida shared that during the pandemic, he was chosen as mentees in the online Kapatid Mentor ME - Money Market Enterprise (KMME) of Department of Trade Industry - Aklan. This 10-month program has paved the way for the association to upgrade their products, from processing to marketing. 

"From that, we started to have linkages and platforms. We attend various local and regional trade fairs where we display our products." Dalida said. Through trade fairs, this helped them find their international market. Currently, they supply to their international clients in Korea and to some hotels in Boracay Island. Local government units and Balikbayans also buy their products for tokens and pasalubong.

Dalida said that weaving is a form of human artistry not everyone can create. “It’s not about the disability that people should look at, but the ability of the people that are beneficial to the community.”