VICTORIA, LAGUNA—CESAR PASCO, 60, still exudes enthusiasm when talk turns to business or training potential entrepreneurs.
A former head of a Laguna-based nongovernment organization (NGO), Pasco has not lost interest in extending help to those in need—particularly those who are unemployed.
In early 2009, Pasco, with partner Renel Batralo, 29, put up a venture called Sarilikha to produce native bags and accessories.
Sarilikha products have already started to penetrate the international market.
It took only P255 to start up the venture. The amount covered the raw materials they needed.
Sarilikha products are made of indigenous materials, such as water hyacinth and pandan leaves. There is a showroom in Barangay Balite, Victoria, Laguna, where products are on display.
But the venture does not only produce native bags and accessories. Since its inception, Sarilikha has also trained budding entrepreneurs, most of whom come from impoverished communities.
It was an exhibit in 2008 that started what turned out to be Sarilikha.
Pasco was still with an NGO that he had established himself, when he decided to join an exhibit in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.
The exhibit had a theme that called for a cleaner Laguna Lake and the development of economic opportunities in the vicinity of the lake. It was a year before the issue of the overflowing lake was brought to the public’s attention.
Pasco says that even before the onslaught of Tropical Storm “Ondoy,” he was already concerned with the problems not only of Laguna Lake but of other lakes in the province.
He was referring to the seven lakes in San Pablo City, where he used to initiate employment opportunities for residents.
“Several years ago, I observed how certain factors had affected the means of living of those who were dependent on the lakes. One of their problems was the presence of too much water hyacinth,” Pasco says.
He then thought of how he could help the residents get rid of the problem. One solution was to turn the surplus of water hyacinth into a profitable venture by using the material to produce bags.
According to Pasco, the main issue then was massive job loss.
The government at the time was trying to provide jobs for displaced workers, so an emergency employment program was relevant back then, he says.
Pasco and Batralo decided on promoting their water hyacinth idea in an exhibit. Their booth caught the attention of provincial officers of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
“DTI saw the potential of our projects and products to help displaced workers,” Pasco says.
This also signaled the start of Sarilikha.
Eventually, the two were tapped as affiliate trainers of the government agency. From then on, they would be frequently invited to train people how to produce native bags and accessories.
They have also been tapped by a number of private institutions and nongovernment organizations such as the Child Fund International (CFI).
After the devastation of Ondoy, Pasco and Batralo were asked to train CFI beneficiaries in Laguna. Most of the trainees were badly affected by the storm, but they were taught how to make native bags, which helped them earn additional income.
“Orders from our clients are outsourced to our current and former trainees so they could apply their acquired skills and earn at the same time,” Batralo says.
The products that were bought by clients were actually the result of a collective effort of Sarilikha and their current and former trainees, he explains.
Sarilikha keeps in constant touch with their trainees, past and present. In this way, Batralo says, the trainees are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned.
He clarifies, however, that students are highly encouraged to start ventures on their own, with the guidance and support of DTI and Sarilikha.
High-end native bags
Pasco claims that he feels both humbled and proud that their products are now starting to penetrate the international market.
Sarilikha has become a partner of Cora Jacobs, a designer based in the United States with an eye for high-end bags made of water hyacinth.
Now, Sarilikha is into producing native bags with a leather look.
Batralo shares that it merely takes trial and error to come up with products that will sell.
Sarilikha blazed the trail in producing native bags with a leather look, Batralo claims. The bags have caught the attention of buyers from other countries like the United States.
Pasco and Batralo continue to share their innovations with their former and current trainees.
“Through motivation and values formation, we were able to create jobs for people,” says Pasco.
They have also asked their trainees to share their ideas and designs with others, he adds.
Sarilikha buys raw materials like water hyacinth and pandan leaves from residents around Laguna Lake, helping them earn extra income, according to Pasco.
“Your talent is useless if you don’t know how to share it with others,” adds Pasco, who cites self-fulfillment as the greatest profit a man can get from his business.
“In a way, this venture can also be considered financially rewarding. But this did not make us filthy rich. Still we are happy how this effort has turned out.”