Congratulations Mary Mediatrix Vallejo Villanueva: 2012 Gawad Saka Most Outstanding Agri Entrepreneur

Considered as one of Bikol Region’s most important resources, abaca put the Philippines on the world map starting in the mid-1600s when it was cultivated as raw material for ropes and woven clothes. Since then, thousands of Bikolano families made a living from abaca. Under the languid gaze and sometimes fiery, beauty of the perfectly-coned Mayon Volcano, abacaleros or abaca workers continue to grow abaca and create and design a myriad of beautiful abaca products.

One of the most successful, progressive and socially responsible abacalero families are the Villanuevas, of which the articulate and indefatigable matriarch is Mrs. Mary Mediatrix V. Villanueva, Bikol’s Gawad Saka Outstanding Agricultural Entrepreneur for 2012.

Med, as she is fondly called, is a full-blooded abacalera. Her father was the first to use braided abaca fiber to make floor mats which were introduced in the market as “Vallejo” rugs. Her mother focused on weaving abaca fiber into sinamay. The Vallejo couple was among the country’s pioneering exporters in the 1950s.

True to her abacalero family tradition, Med, then in her early twenties, married Sheldon Villanueva and the couple established Shelmed Cottage Treasures in 1973, becoming the country’s youngest abaca exporters.

Under Med’s keen business sense and Sheldon’s innovative designs, Shelmed then expanded its product lines from placemats and rugs to dinette accessories, pouches, baskets and storage bins and exporting them to about thirty counties.

The high-quality and innovative abaca products and the commitment and dedication shown by Med and her husband have not gone unnoticed. They received several business awards, notably the 1983 Golden Shell Award for outstanding performance in exports from DTI, the 2001 Gawad Saka Natatanging HVCC Entrepreneur award from DA, and the KATHA Award for product design from CITEM.

But disaster struck. In November 2006, Albay was hit hardest by Typhoon Reming, one of the deadliest and most destructive tropical cyclones to ravage the Philippines. Communities came under tons of rocks and mud that rushed down the slopes of Mayon Volcano. Many houses and schools were buried, hundreds perished and over thirty thousand hectares of abaca land were damaged in the region.

It was the worst year for Med’s town of Daraga, which was hit three other major typhoons. The company building was destroyed and needed much repair. Almost all of their raw materials and products stored in the bodega, including company papers and documents, were rendered useless. Another great loss was the materials distributed among abacaleros working in their homes which were also destroyed by the typhoon.

Though recovery was slow, difficult and costly, Med now stands at the helm of the forty-year old company, with husband Sheldon retired from the family business. Shelmed currently generates considerable employment, with 70 regular employees, 120 artisans and around 2,500 families directly dependent on abaca for a living.

The company’s core values of quality and innovativeness remain unshaken. Med continues push for product research, staff development, and design functionality. She ensures product upgrading by combining abaca with non-traditional materials such as metal, terracotta, leather, paper, glass and tin.

Upon her children’s prodding, Med is steering Shelmed towards women’s fashion and accessories. The company is producing fascinators, or headbands with fancy abaca designs, for European women and providing semi-finished products and raw materials to some London milliners who designs hats and head accessories for the ladies of Britain.

Med remains uncompromising in her demand for quality and has established a nine-step quality control system to cover all stages of production, starting from fiber grade classification down to packing of finished products.

Med is a strong advocate for abacaleros working together with government agencies to sustain the abaca industry. Shelmed has sponsored an industry forum and Med has led consultations with abacaleros, covering concerns like skills trainings, extension services, credit, abaca nurseries, pricing, transport, storage, worker’s benefits…

Shelmed works with Philippine Textile Research Institute and Fiber Industry Development Authority to increase abaca production, develop natural dyes, and promote abaca as a natural fiber for eco-friendly products. She coordinates trainings for abacaleros from the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Science and technology, department of Labor and Employment, Social Security System, PhilHealth and HMDF Pag-Ibig.

Raising social responsibility higher as one of the company’s core values, med is involved in many charitable and social causes and has been given due recognition. She was nominated in 2009 for the 3rd Gawad Haydee Yorac Annual Award for Outstanding Public Service. In 2010, she received the Gawad Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Pilipino Award and the most Inspiring Bicolano Entrepreneur Award.

Among the good works of Med, her family and Shelmed are the provision of funds for student scholarships and faculty incentives for Don Bosco Agro Mechanical and Technology Center. She has sought assistance from USAID, through its Action for Enterprise of AFE, to train persons with disability or PWDs in the Sagip Kapamilya Simon Village and Tambak an Biyaya Dumpsite in her town. Both FIDA and AFE support her work with indigenous people in developing an abaca plantation in their ancestral domain. Land was donated to their employees for free housing. Shelmed partnered with Li and Fung, an export buying agency, to repair an elementary school.

After the typhoon disaster, the Villanueva family, with Med as Chairperson, founded the Dios Mabalos Po Foundation, whose mission is to feed, heal and teach. Med is also active in the Assisi Development Foundation’s Hapag Asa Integrated Nutrition program and the Simon of Cyrene Children’s Rehabilitation and Development Foundation which assist PWDs. Shelmed trains them in abaca braiding and weaving and hires them later as skilled workers. Shelmed also conducts trainings on sewing, stitching and other hand skills for making placemats, rugs, bags and other abaca products for the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Legazpi. Med works with the Bicol Small Business institute where women are encouraged to be abaca entrepreneurs and processors.

With plans to put up a vocational-cum-crafts school soon, sixty-ish but energetic Med continues to manage Shelmed as a company serving the global market while remaining firm in its commitment to grow and work in service to the community. (Yolly A. Diokno, http://www.bicol.da.gov.ph)

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Published in: on March 13, 2013 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  

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