The products are produced by a small community of young people ages 16 – 36 years old. There are now about 25 artisans, composed of young people, who earn a decent income enough to help themselves to go to school and make a living, and some people from the village, where the workshop is located. They produce high quality handmade fashion accessories made mostly of softwood and indigenous materials that are locally available. The livelihood project started in 1988 through the initiative of Fe Garces, who organized a small group of young people who were skilled in producing handpainted crafts. In 1992, three other persons, including a former nun, joined Fe Garces in her small livelihood project.
The four enterprising members exercised their leadership abilities in the community and started to work together in assembling fashion accessories. That was during the height of the demand for fashion accessories and similar novelty items. As the project expanded, there was a need to register their small business as a small community enterprise. They took the first letter of their surnames being Garces, Esparcia, Fajardo, Alleria and coined the name GEFA which after two years became Genuine Fashion Accessories. The other two left Garces and Esparcia when the demand for fashion accessories was greatly reduced. The two persevered and continued to assist their neighbors and migrant workers from a distant region in Mindanao. Since more and more migrant workers came to join them, they set – up a small house that doubled as the production area.
At present, there are about 28 artisans. Six of them are neighbors whereas most are migrant workers who decided to stay together as a small community with Fe Garces and the ex – nun, Tina Esparcia.
Those who are living within the work area are provided with accommodation with complete meals. Since most of them are young people from remote areas of Mindanao, they were offered by Fe and Tina to go back to school to start a new life. Everyone acknowledged that fact that they could not be handicraft makers all their lives and regarded their work as a stepping stone to finish a course and learn new skills to make a living. Aside from providing them with board and lodging at the workplace, part of the income from the project is set – aside to subsidize their school tuition fees while they have to pay the other school needs, pocket money and cost of living.
The project takes pride in helping at least three workers who finished Nautical Engineering and Radio Communications Engineering. Another three graduated from technical courses after finishing high school. There are intense difficulties such as when there were no regular orders. At times, when there are no orders, they have to look for menial jobs in order to continue to go to school. Fe and Tina who manages the project had to resort into fully subsidizing their full expenses until they recover. The neighbors who are out of work had to beg for small loans in order to survive and at times assisted with at least enough food everyday.
Knowing that orders for such items they produce is on the decline, they sought the assistance of PREDA Fair Trade whom they supplied with new samples. In order for PREDA to assist the group and continue the project, they had to organize themselves better as a formal association, cooperative or a formal community enterprise. They had to apply for a business permit and to register it as a formal organization with the purpose of alleviating poverty by providing alternative industry among young migrant people searching for opportunities in the urban area of Cebu (second largest urban metropolitan area to Metro Manila).
The formation of a formal association is in the process and consultations with the organizers are held regularly aside from visits conducted by PREDA. However, besides the organization itself, what is even more important is to maintain or increase the volume of orders so that they can sustain the benefits derived from it especially for those who are going to school until the end of March. Without regular orders, they will have to look for temporary jobs just to continue going to school. PREDA Fair Trade is now assisting them with new designs and promotes their products to more buyers. They are also being assisted to join the Canada Assisted Community Enterprise Development, Inc. (CACEDI), a national network of People’s Organizations and NGO’s engaged in assisting community enterprises. CACEDI can assist them in developing a domestic market.
After assessing their immediate needs, the group decided to request for a facsimile machine to facilitate better communications between PREDA and themselves, especially with regard to the purchase orders and production instructions. Another immediate need is the improvement of their workshop and dormitory facility for those who are staying – in. These are now being considered by PREDA Fair Trade as part of its assistance to accredited producers.