AHON SA HIRAP, INC.
(A Microfinance NGO)
Mrs. Laarni Ditabalan
Opportunities in Laguna Lake
Mrs. Lorena Celestra
Capitalizing my family
At an early age of 13 Lorena Celestra got married to Arturo Celestra with whom she begot 5 children. Lorena was not able to finish elementary grade. The family resides in Barangay Kinagatan, Talim Island, Binangonan, Rizal. Life in the island is simple, but in the early years of their marriage, the Celestras found it difficult to support a growing family. Then, the family depended solely on Arturo’s meager income from fishing. To augment their income and be able to finance their daily needs, Lorena started weaving “kaing” – a very popular basket made of bamboo slits used for transporting fruits and vegetables. Up to the 90’s, Talim Island was the biggest supplier of kaing to Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Many families in the island engaged in basket weaving. Lorena, in fact, came from a family whose livelihood was weaving baskets so she took to it like fish in the water.
Lorena relates that the first time she joined Ahon sa Hirap (ASHI), she was very shy and seldom participated in programs and activities organized by their center and the institution. However, she was faithful in attending center meetings, was prompt in her loan payments, and over time eked a good credit rating. Her first loan was invested in buying materials for “kaing making” which she herself weaved. Overtime, as her credit rating increased at ASHI and was trusted with bigger loans, she invested in the purchase of bamboo materials not only to supply her needs but also to sell to neighbors who too were weaving kaings. Her earnings from weaving kaings and profit from selling bamboo materials helped her husband purchase fishing equipment and gadgets as well, which eased their budgetary needs such that they were even able to support the schooling of their 5 children.
Unfortunately, the “kaing” business died when bamboo became scarce and too expensive. As a consequence,consumers shifted to plastic bags. With the death of kaing making, the livelihood of many families in their community were badly affected, such that some had to relocate to other towns to look for work.What saved the Celestra’s from leaving the island was their small boat, fish cage and a fish trap. But the demise of the kaing making industry had also affected many ASHI members in the center where Lorena was a member resulting in the dissolution of their group. She rejoined ASHI in 2008,and being a former track record, she was trusted with a sizeable loan. From then on the couple expanded their fishing business with the help of their children who at that time were old enough to help their father.
Ayungin” fish grows abundantly in Laguna de Bay.Locals have discovered that it is even more tasty when dried.Demand for dried “ayungin” was on the rise because people found it delicious and was compared to dried “danggit” of Cebu City. The growing popularity of dried “ayungin” prompted Lorena’s eldest son to start their ayungin business.. He convinced his mother about the potential of selling dried ayungin fish so Lorena applied for a loan in ASHI to start the ayungin business. At first the Celestras sold dried ayungin fish just around the area, in the Binangonan market, nearby Angono,Taytay and Pasig public markets. At first sales were not impressive but they were not disheartened. They ventured and reached as far as Divisoria market and Tondo in Manila, Balintawak market and Bulacan to sell dried ayungin. Her son would have to travel early in the morning just to reach these far flung markets.
According to Lorena, the dogged patience of her son eventually paid off one day when he met a Chinese buyer in Divisoria who started buying dried ayungin fish regularly in big quantities. Her son also met buyers in Balintawak market and in some Bulacan municipalities.
In order to meet the demand of regular buyers, the Celestras started buying dried fish from nearby barangays along Talim Island which encouraged more families to produce dried ayungin as well as other kinds of dried fish. Now there are families in nearby barangays who regularly supply them with different varieties of dried fish. It can be said that the Celestra family has improved the income of small fishermen and their families in Talim.
With their growing income, the Celestras ventured on a fish pond, fish cages and a store. The pond is managed by her husband and sons plus one worker who guard the pond and cages. Their fish pond now earns P400,000.00 annual gross income. Aside from the fishpond, they have cages and fish traps that also provide regular income. Fish catch are dried and the drying provides employment to several families in the community. During harvest time they also hire locals to catch the fish and to deliver the fish to the markets which they supply. They store is managed by her in-law. The Celestras are very happy about their good fortune which enables them to help other families as well.
Resting on their Laurels
According to the Celestras, they now live in comfort which is a far cry from the penny pinching days during their early marriage life. They say now they can easily provide for their daily needs, support their children, and grandchildren. In fact, they were able to build a concrete house, which is well furnished with furniture and appliances. They were also able to buy another new house and lot from their profits.