Even before the break of dawn, a small bakery near the Mak-Ban Geothermal Power Plant is already bustling with activity. Mercia Domingo, 51, and Mena Reyes, 57 — along with other dedicated mothers in barangay Limao, Calauan, Laguna — start their day as early as three in the morning. With sweat on their brows, but with smiles on their faces, they meticulously prepare the ingredients for the day’s production of bread that will not only nourish the local community, but also reach the regular customers at Aboitiz Power Corporation (AboitizPower), just a stone’s throw away.
Mercia Domingo (left) and Mena Reyes serve a variety of pastries and breads every morning at their bakery in Brgy. Limao, Calauan, Laguna.
Once their work is complete at around 5 a.m., they heave a sigh of relief, knowing well that their hard work netted them an income that will go a long way in helping them meet their day-to-day needs. Later, an auditor arrives, meticulously inspecting and counting each baked item, ensuring that the highest quality standards are met.
Since it opened in February 2023, the bakery has been offering a variety of products, like pandesal, Spanish bread, ensaymada, cheese bread, and pan de coco. They also have cinnamon buns, tea rings, and made-to-order pork floss bread.
“Noong una, nangangapa pa kami. Pero ngayon, kaya na namin magpasahod ng tao at mag-ipon para bumili ng ref (At first, we were clueless, but now we are able to pay our bakery staff and even save enough to buy a refrigerator),” Mercia said.
In such a short time, Mena observes that the bakery has brought about a remarkable transformation in the community, positively impacting the women who were previously unproductive.
“Naging mahalagang ambag ang bakery sa aming komunidad kasi yung mga nanay na wala namang ginagawa ay nasa bakery na ang pokus. Marami ang natuto sa pagsama sa amin sa bakery tuwing alas tres ng umaga (The bakery has been a positive enabler to our community because the mothers who had nothing to do found purpose by focusing on the bakery. There were a lot of those who learned from joining us in the bakery at three in the morning),” Mena explained.
Flour Power From Two Women
Mercia is a dedicated mother of three. She is also the president of Serbisyong Tama Kababaihan (STK) Limao Cluster, the owner of a small ‘mamihan,’ and now one of the bakery’s managers.
The training Mercia obtained from the program provided by TESDA and AboitizPower Renewables Inc. enabled her to be one of the managers of the bakery at Brgy. Limao.
In 2022, Mercia’s group was fortunate to become a recipient of a Bakery Livelihood Kit from AboitizPower subsidiary AP Renewables Inc. (APRI), the Aboitiz Foundation, and the Municipality of Calauan. It provided the necessary equipment and materials to start a bakery. In addition, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) provided training for members to hone their bread-making skills and, in the process, empower them to have an alternative livelihood source.
TESDA trained Mercia and 25 other members, teaching them how to process the dough manually, even though a machine was available. This approach made them understand their limits, tested their patience, and boosted their confidence.
During the group’s training by TESDA, Mercia (above) brushes egg wash on savory pastries before they are put in the oven, and instructors (below) discuss merits of buns fresh from the oven.
Mercia reflected on the valuable lesson learned during the training: "Iyong natutunan namin sa training ay ‘wag susuko. Minsan, dumating sa point na sticky ‘yung ginagawa naming dough. Kahit pagod na kami, gawa pa rin kami nang gawa hanggang sa marating namin ang tama na porma ng dough (We learned never to give up during the training. Sometimes, the dough becomes sticky. Even if we were already tired, we still persevered, continuing until we achieved the desired dough consistency),” Mercia shared.
Meanwhile, Mena, a mother of four, opened a sari-sari store after retiring from AboitizPower in 2020. A few months before the breadmaking training, she had a motorcycle accident that injured her arm. Despite the setback, she took some time to rest and pursued the training.
Mena did not let her injury get in the way of becoming the co-manager of the bakery that was built with the help of AboitizPower.
Like others, Mena initially faced challenges as a newcomer to breadmaking, especially while recovering from her injury. To her surprise, kneading the dough actually helped her exercise her injured arm and alleviate the pain. It turned out to be, as she exclaimed, a “blessing in disguise.”
The bakery is a “tremendous blessing”, as described by Mercia, Mena, and the members of the STK Limao Cluster. It not only transformed their lives but they also saw its positive influence on the demeanor of the community. There is now greater appreciation for hard work and a renewed sense of purpose, with the extra income helping to finance their household expenses.
Power of transformation
The bakery’s establishment is part of APRI’s MakBan barangay Limao Livelihood Project, which began in 2022. APRI operates in three municipalities — Calauan, Bay, and Sto. Tomas — covering seven host barangays.
The Makiling–Banahaw (Mak–Ban) Geothermal Power Plant is a 458-MW geothermal power station complex in Laguna and Batangas. It is owned and operated by APRI, a subsidiary of AboitizPower.
Every three years, APRI conducts stakeholder social analysis to identify its host communities’ needs and areas for improvement. Its annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects revolve around these seven barangays and align with APRI's core pillars of livelihood, education, health, and environment.
“As the main host barangay and the location of one of APRI's plants, Limao was selected as this year's beneficiary. After conducting a social analysis, it was determined that Limao's top priority was a livelihood project for women,” says Ishtar Villegas, CSR and Community Relations Specialist of APRI. “Eventually, it was decided to be a bakery.”
To ensure the sustainability of the livelihood project, APRI sought an established group capable of managing the bakery. The STK Limao Cluster, suggested by the barangay captain and led by Mercia as president and Mena as vice president, was chosen as beneficiary.
"Sobrang nagpapasalamat ako sa kanila. Dahil sa kanila, natulungan nila kami na magkaroon ng bakery. Nagkaroon kami ng hanapbuhay dahil sa APRI at sa AboitizPower (I am very grateful to them. They helped us have a bakery. We now have a livelihood because of APRI and AboitizPower),” Mercia said.
Looking ahead, the women of Limao have ambitious plans for the bakery. They aim to expand the front area to showcase more products, as well as acquire additional skills to create more kinds of pastries and even offer celebration cakes. Their ultimate goal is to elevate their humble bakery into a full-line bakeshop that will not only bring more financial security to households but will empower more dreams of entrepreneurship in the community.