Bamboo face shields provide livelihood to group of weavers, workers during COVID-19 crisis

DAVAO CITY -  After losing their jobs due to the health crisis, a group of local weavers and workers in a cooperative exporting bamboos in Cotabato province are now overwhelmed with the exponential increase in the number of orders they get for producing face shields made of bamboo.

“We received a huge number of orders in almost all parts of the country,” said Manuel Jayme, the business manager and a co-founder of the Central Mindanao Green Workers Association in Kidapawan City.

Jayme, who also manages and co-founded Community Halal Producers Cooperative, said their group advocates the use of bamboo for protection and development of the environment against the current global warming”, and was supposed to export bamboo slats to the United States.

”We had planted some 7,000 bamboos in Cotabato Province. We also supported the processing of bamboo led by Community Halal Cooperative in Kabacan,” Jayme told Manila Bulletin.

However, due to the health crisis brought by the coronavirus disease pandemic, their American buyer temporarily suspended the importation of the bamboo slots, causing workers to lose their jobs since February this year.

But these days, they get a minimum of 3,000 orders of face shields a month from their existing non-government organization (NGO) buyers. Jayme said seven workers can produce 150 to 200 bamboo face shields a day.  They currently have 14 workers.

"The challenge, therefore, is our ability to provide the required
number of face shields in the market," he said.

Jayme credited the increase in orders to Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Secretary Emmanuel Pinol whose Facebook post about the bamboo face shields garnered at least 44,000 shares, and to the NGOs BAMBUHAY and The Bamboo Company.

READ MORE: MinDA promoting use of bamboo face shields

Their production for bamboo face shields started when they visited the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) office in North Cotabato.

“They showed us a picture of a medical worker wearing this facial shield and asked if we can produce the same. Knowing that it is in line with the current COVID needs for protection, we grabbed the opportunity,” he said.

Jayme explained that face shields require flexible materials to hold the plastic cover around the head.

“As advocates of bamboo, and knowing well of its flexibility, we therefore tried and tested bamboo at first. And yes, as thin as 2-3 mm it can be bent effectively into this U-shapes for its frames,” he said.

“We, initially, tried to use the heavy equipment in Kabacan. Unfortunately, hindi nagkatugma ang thickness planer sa sobrang nipis ng face shield requirements,” he said.

This led them to tap the local weavers called Manug SUKDAP to do the stripping of the bamboo slats, and produce the right thickness of bamboo strips.

Jayme said the bamboo face shields production not only help protect front liners, but also support bamboo farmers whose incomes were augmented. He said it will also mitigate global warming and climate change.

Jayme said one of the challenges they were facing was purchasing raw materials that are not available in Kidapawan City.

“We have to buy them from the nearby Davao City under Region 11.Travel to Davao, nowadays, is costly and tedious with the stringent health protocols in the boundaries,” he said.

Aside from this, Jayme added shipment was more expensive, and took so much time.

Jayme said their strategy to date is to “train more people in viable rural communities.” They also hope to provide employment to women and out-of-school youth.