Story and photograph by: Maria Jose De C.S./National Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, Fundasaun Alola
MARIA DA COSTA CABRAL, who is known as Mana Mery is 40 years old and from Quelikai sub-district, Baucau district in Timor-Leste. She married a man from Maubara and now lives with her family in Maubara. As well as caring for her family, Mana Mery likes to weave as she can earn money to help her family and also support other women in the community that participate in a weaving group.
For many years, Mana Mery and a group of local women have been making handicrafts such as mats, bags, wallets, necklaces, rings, bracelets and tais, which they sell by the roadside. However, the group experienced challenges engaging with the economy that included low income due to a lack of business and access to markets, and inconsistent product quality.
Over the years Fundasaun Alola has advocated for gender equity, promoted the role of women in the economy and understands that their participation leads to greater trade justice. The Economic Empowerment Program at Alola matches objectives of improving the status of women in economic enterprise and promoting their economic independence with the skills to deliver activities that understand the local context. Many of the activities also contribute to maintaining cultural traditions and identity and the Government of Timor-Leste recognizes Alola's expertise providing funding through the Ministry of Solidarity Social (MSS) and the Ministry of Tourism.
The Hakbit Economi Feto Rural Project (Economic Empowerment for Rural Women Project) supports the creation of opportunities for poor producers, capacity building and sustainability. The group started as a small stall on the roadside and have now become a thriving business. The co-operative group established a formal structure, assigned the name Moris Dame and decided that Mana Mery would be the coordinator. Alola then provided training that focused on improving her skills in quality control (how to identify and use good colors for products); management (to improve skills to manage the group's money); leadership (how to lead the group as a business); and gender equality (how to share responsibilities between men and women in the home). Mana Mery shared the training material with the co-operative members, ensuring that the entire group can have an understanding about leadership, management, gender equality, and how to weave tais with good quality.
The members are dedicated and this has assisted them to gain support from their husbands sharing workloads within the home. This in turn assists them to focus on their work and contributes to the sustainability of their small business.
Alola hasalso linked Moris Dame to other market opportunities. These included trade fairs organized by the Ministry of Tourism, and other commercial and industry fairs. Alola also supported Moris Dame to be involved in international fairs, including a recent industry exhibition in Korea that Mana Mery attended to showcase their products.
The continued support from Alola has empowered Moris Dame and Mana Mery said that "After (we) get support from Fundasaun Alola, our family life is better and some of our sons can continue their studies to university level, like at UNTL and UNDIL in Dili. And from our income, we can buy one microlet (mini-van). So when we want to participate in a fair or some invitation out of Maubara, we can use our private transportation to bring all the group members and also our products. So Alola support really help us also our family member."
The group's success is broad and Mana Mery later added "Now, our group is very famous not only in Maubara but also in other Districts. We are also especially well known with the government because the group is very committed and organized.... famous because group very compact, committed and organized. So now we can continue to weave and also tailor products using tais material."
The financial independence that the group now possesses fills them with confidence for the future. They understand that there are challenges ahead and they must think about other ways to promote their products and connect their business to potential buyers. Alola believes that Moris Dame is a shining example of how the status of women in enterprise can be enhanced and that success can be sustainable through continued advocacy towards greater fair trade.***