A transformation has occurred in the town of Salay, a rural oasis on the Philippine island of Mindanao. It began with a pesky plant and an inspired idea.
Cogon grass, a rapidly spreading weed, had long been the scourge of local farmers. But when Salay founders Loreta and Dr. Reynaldo Rafisura began looking for ways to create jobs in their civil-war ravaged region, the solution quickly became clear. “Cogon is a pest,” says Dr. Rafisura, “but if it can be made into something beautiful, something that could help our people, then we have to exploit its potential.”
While initial attempts at papermaking using cogon were disappointing, a small collective persevered in their experiments until a winning formula was found. Since those first experiments, the workshop has innovated the production of handmade paper from a wide array of natural materials like abaca fibre, pineapple leaves and even sawdust and bark. Skilled artisans craft handmade cards, journals, boxes and lamps from the paper and the workshop’s designers ornament these crafts using dried and pressed flowers and fossilized leaves.
A Fossilized Leaf Producer’s Story
Over 300 co-op workers and several hundred artisans now earn their livelihood through employment with Salay. Salay’s impact on the community extends far beyond income earned - artisans benefit from a range of economic development projects, school scholarships, medical aid and computer and English classes on offer. And recently, Salay arranged for four of the area’s brightest students to enrol in university medicine and nursing courses.
Loreta Rafisura, who co-founded the organization with her husband, explains why Salay is so unique. “Our members take pride in being Filipino and creating beautiful things.” Perhaps the greatest effect has been in the level of confidence, particularly for women. “Women have improved their self esteem by two-hundred percent,” says Rafisura. “They are prouder, more beautiful because they can now work.”
Born of inspiration and fuelled by the determination and dedication of its artisans and leadership, Salay’s transformative influence has spread outward from the workshop like the roots and limbs of a tree, gathering and sheltering the community in its fold.
The Salay’s artisans often whisper a gentle message to shipments as they leave the workshop. “Go, give joy to whoever you touch.”