RIZA GAYON is a 27-year-old banig weaver with two very young kids. She has been weaving for fourteen years; her mother taught her the art of lara when she was just thirteen years old.
In a community where the average age of a weaver is between 50 and 60 years old, Riza stands out not just as a young craftswoman but also as the youngest president of a weavers’ association. When she was entrusted with the task of leading the group in the village of Bariwon, she was hesitant to step into the role. “I felt nervous; I kept thinking I was not ready to take on such a big responsibility. I didn’t know the first thing about managing people,” said Riza in Tagalog. “But I remained steadfast, believing in myself and my abilities.”
Today, she manages the Old San Agustin Tikog Workers Association, which was established in 2014 and has thirty-two members, most of whom are her elders. Getting their respect and cooperation was a challenge in the beginning – most saw and treated her as a granddaughter or niece, someone to teach and mentor rather than the other way around. Though she was afraid, Riza rose to the challenge, believing her youth to be an advantage in a trade that needed revitalizing.
Riza’s hope for the craft was sparked anew by the support that poured in following super typhoon Yolanda. Many organizations began buying banig mats and products again - one of them was Woven. The social enterprise’s involvement, however, went beyond buying and selling. “Our lives changed significantly because of Woven,” the young mother said. “First is that they organized us into a group so that we could be united in our goals. We were taught how to manage our group. Woven gave us assistance in our livelihood and trainings so that we could improve our organization.”
“I felt nervous; I kept thinking I was not ready to take on such a big responsibility. I didn’t know the first thing about managing people,” said Riza in Tagalog.
The young weaver also mentioned the economic benefits brought about by the enterprise’s interventions: “It was Woven that enabled us to raise the prices of our banig mats.” Because they were taught how to fairly price their products, the weavers became wiser when it came to dealing with entrepreneurs and consolidators who had kept prices down in previous years. As a result, the women stood to gain more from their labor as artisans, understanding their worth and the value of their work.
Image courtesy of CHARLES & KEITH (find out more about the collaboration)
As a president of the fledgling group, Riza’s daily tasks include monitoring orders, keeping track of raw materials, and managing the members’ concerns, which range from craft-related to personal. According to her, part of her responsibility is to broaden the members’ perspectives so that they see the opportunities in doing their jobs well. “As president, I am challenged by how to help make each member’s life better and continuously engage them in our activities. I want to see our association succeed,” she says.
Working as a full-time mom and leader, Riza is the kind of empowered woman who places others before herself. Her own dream is simple but, as is the case for most young women in her community, difficult: “I dream of someday continuing and finishing my studies,” mused Riza. “And for my family, I hope to raise my kids properly and also see them finish their studies.”
Riza teaching kids how to weave at the Woven on the Move workshops in Manila