Carmelite Missionaries Bamboo Crafts: Helping the poor, preserving Ilonggo culture
Trendy, environment-friendly, religious and intimate – those are the words I would describe the place where I saw these bamboo products were made. But there’s more to the CM (Carmelite Missionaries) Bamboo Craft Center than meets the eye. So let me take you on a journey of a fresh green bamboo turning into a work of art and love.
I arrived at the shop at 9 in the morning and Sister Julie is already busy entertaining guests at her office. Asked to wait in the showroom, I busied myself looking at pieces of bamboo products on display. It’s not your usual souvenir or crafts store – CM Bamboo Crafts is a social project by the Carmelite Sisters in helping the poor and the out-of-school youth by providing them with livelihood. I was nervous and at the same time excited to explore the shop and see for myself how these lovely products were made.
Behind the Scenes of Bamboo Crafts
Sister Julie, the head of CMBC, toured me first at the “assembly area”, where treated and already processed pieces of bamboo are being assembled. I was lucky to observe their latest order being completed – the official Dinagyang Dolls ordered by the city government for next year’s festival. At the table are miniature head dresses made of raffia, and plastic dolls on which they were fit in. Sister Julie told me that these tasks are handled by women since it’s light but equally meticulous. Other tasks also include assembling frames, packaging and others.
Outside the assembly area, finished products are placed on a long table and waiting to be packed and placed on inventory.
Continuing with the tour, we entered the work shop where the bamboos are cut and made into different products. The shop is a large room filled with work stations, each assigned with different tasks. It’s interesting to note that most of the designs are now being made by their employees (they previously had a designer who exclusively works on the product models).
As to the source of the bamboos, I was told that they procure their materials from Jaro market. Unlike in other countries like China, CMBC does not have their own bamboo plantation. This presents a problem since bamboos coming from the market are not of equal value and must strictly inspected for quality control. The bamboos are then dried by sunlight outside the shop (a drier donated by the DOST is now out of order). Once dried, the bamboos are then chopped into different shape and sizes depending on the design of the product. The pieces of bamboo are then smoothened manually using sand paper (they had mechanical sanders but due to electrical problems most are now malfunctioning).
Inspired by Religiosity and Ilonggo Folk Culture
A separate building at the back of the shop contains the dormitory, painting area, and the designer’s work station. We first entered the designer’s station where decorative items such as frames and religious icons are made. At the table are worker’s source of inspiration – pictures of Jesus, the Last Supper, churches and other religious images. I did not miss the guitar sitting at the other side of the table – another source of inspiration — music during break times.
Upstairs is the painting room – workers spray painted pieces of bamboo according to their specs while others are painted with brush. While seeing the raffia being painted blue, I asked Sister Julie about the spiritual development of her employees. She said that every day, before starting their work, they gather and pray and do some sharing. She usually gives a talk for 3 to 5 minutes for guidance and inspiration. Quarterly they also have retreats especially during Lent and Advent.
Roots started out of need to provide livelihood
CM Bamboo Crafts was started by Sister Natividad Martines, a Spanish missionary, on 1974. While traveling from their convent at La Paz to their communities in Dingle, Sister Naty saw lots of bamboos idle along the way. With intent to alleviate the poverty, the plight and suffering of the poor, she was inspired to use the bamboos to provide livelihood and create jobs as many as possible. Thus the social project started.
Sister Naty and another Carmelite missionary underwent training on bamboo crafts. With six youths, Sister Naty started CMBC inside an old building in La Paz. The other Carmelite missionary started a shop at India, but was later closed down. Today, CMBC is widely known nationwide and internationally. They are sustained by orders from LGUs and private individuals such as tourists, interior designers, convention organizers and religious store owners.
Problems confronting Bamboo Crafts
The rise of China’s cheap products had greatly affected the operations of CMBC. With its cheap labor, heavy government subsidies, and high-tech equipment, China’s products have greatly reduced the value of bamboo crafts. Overall, bamboo crafts industry in our country faced setbacks in their businesses as competition grew fierce.
With few personnel, Sister Julie noted that they had difficulty completing orders from retail giants which order bulks on small time allowance. She noted that they’re faced with a dilemma of meeting the orders and reap profits while employees experience hazards on their health. Sister Julie said that their number one priority is the welfare of their employees. If her employees got sick from their work, what’s the point? she says.
Another problem they experience with retail giants are the high price markup while paying meager to the manufacturers such as CMBC. Sometimes while visiting malls, Sister Julie said she saw some of their items sold 300% higher than the suggested retail price. Due to intense pressure and unfair business practices of some retail giants, she said they refused some of their orders.
How can we help?
What can we do to help CM Bamboo Crafts? One is to patronize their products. I would encourage tourists to instead buy at their store rather than at retailers inside malls. By buying directly at manufacturers such as CMBC, we are assured that what we’re buying are truly Pinoy and are work of love and human hands.
If you plan on giving away souvenirs during conferences, conventions or just simply provide gifts to family and friends, look no farther and visit the CMBC shop.
Think green! Bamboos can easily be replaced as compared to forest trees. Aside from its stylish designs, crafts in bamboo evoke a tropical feeling. This is especially good if you’re working to have that atmosphere on hotels, restaurants or at your own home.
Truly, CMBC is not just an ordinary crafts store. It has become a vehicle for us to do good to others while appreciating quality products. CMBC is also a living conservatory of Iloilo culture, ingenuity and compassion.
For samples of their products, visit my other post:
CM Bamboo Craft Center
2 Jereos Street, La Paz, Iloilo City
Tel. No. (033) 320-0053
CM Bamboo Craft Center Display Center
Tatalon, Quezon City
Tel No. (02) 740-8655
19 Sct Madrinian Stree, Quezon City
Telefax (02) 924-1020