Members of the Bambuhay Handicrafts weave bags, baskets, and other pasalubong items made from bamboo in Busuanga, Palawan. | Photo from DTI MIMAROPA

In the Calamianes Group of Islands, the town of Busuanga is well-known not only for its azure waters and preserved natural parks but also for the talented women weavers who live there and create works of art out of bamboo that can be used in day-to-day life.

When Super Typhoon Yolanda struck the province of Palawan in 2013, Maribel Grezo of Bambuhay Handicrafts sought a new purpose in life through bamboo.

Bambuhay is derived from the words “bamboo,” also known locally as buho, and “buhay,” which is the literal Filipino translation of the English word “life.” The members of the association find a renewed sense of purpose in returning to their roots to create modern designs using traditional methods.

Weaving, for the indigenous peoples (IP) communities in the province, is an art that binds their past, present, and future. For the same reason, Bambuhay Handicrafts’ bamboo by-products, such as baskets, bags, lampshades, and planters, are rooted in culture.

This is where Grezo’s entrepreneurial instincts and love for the island meet. Her goal in mind was not only to sell bamboo products to bigger markets, but she also envisions reviving the heritage of IP communities in modern and timeless pieces.

Grezo recalls how her social endeavors started, “Bata pa lamang ako, gusto ko ng magsilbi sa komunidad, kaya’t naisip ko na madami kami dito sa lugar na pwedeng gawing handicraft.”

Just like bamboo, Grezo embodies resiliency, strength, and flexibility as an entrepreneur. In 2020, she joined the first batch of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)—MIMAROPA Region’s virtual Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program.

“Gusto ko po kasing matutunan pano pa mapapalawak ang aming market at kung pano pa po pwedeng maimprove ang aming production and operation,” Grezo explained when asked about why she joined the KMME.

Realizing the new opportunities she could pick up while recovering from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Grezo was one of the few entrepreneurs who responded quickly to get the Bambuhay Handicrafts back on track.

Before joining the KMME program, Grezo carries with her the values of synergy and respect, which she perfectly describes in the local language as, “Synergy- sa panahon ng kahirapan, lahat ay magtutulungan; Respect- lahat ay pantay pantay ang pagtingin sa bawat miyembro”. With this, she recognizes the role of DTI as a purveyor of entrepreneurial development to boost her skills.

Throughout the 10-week extensive program with business industry leaders and experts, the KMME-mentee graduate cited three key modules that significantly helped in the rebuilding of their enterprise: (1) Operations Management, (2) Marketing, and (3) Digitalization.

As part of the pioneer batch of the virtual KMME, Grezo credits the mentorship program with the successful transition of the enterprise into the digital landscape. DTI MIMAROPA also assisted the Bambuhay Handicrafts in acquiring an IP Trademark Registration with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.