For many Filipinos, the Christmas lantern, known locally as the parol, is a colorful reminder of the season. Both iconic and ubiquitous, the parol symbolizes the star of Bethlehem, a shining light in the dark night. It comes in different sizes, is made from various materials, and is used to adorn houses, streets, commercial establishments and office buildings.

This year, the parol also becomes available at select Kultura stores and at www.kulturafilipino.com. It stands out in Kultura’s roster of uniquely Filipino products for these are in partnership with Kababaihan ng Maynila, a social enterprise operated by women artisans.

“Kultura has always been a partner of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and a supporter of social enterprises. The benefits of this collaboration trickle to various communities,” says Ivy Yap, President of Kultura.

For 72-year-old Araceli Ramiscal, and other members of Kababaihan ng Maynila, their foldable parols are more than just a Christmas symbol. They are a potent source of their livelihood.

Coming in red, green and gold and made from recyclable materials, these parols are also foldable, making them easy to transfer, ship to different parts of the country and the world, put up, and store after the Christmas festivities.

For the women behind these products, these parols are more than just a symbol. They are a tangible source of income.

Since founding Kababaihan ng Maynila with husband, former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza more than 30 years ago, Beng Atienza has been teaching livelihood opportunities to women from impoverished areas of Manila as a way to empower them.

Empowering women through livelihood projects

For more than three decades now, Kababaihan ng Maynila, founded by Beng Atienza and husband former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, has taken under its wings women from impoverished areas in the nation’s capital. Some of its members are jobless, breadwinners or single mothers. Yet, through the organization’s poverty-alleviation programs, they feel empowered. “We teach them crafts and other skills so they can help themselves. We don’t believe in dole-outs. Gusto namin maramdaman nila ‘yung self-respect at dignity when they work for their money. We see that they are proud of their work,” Beng says.

It was only last year when the Kababaihan ng Maynila started making and selling their foldable parols. Their parols are now available at Kultura stores and at www.kulturafilipino.com

The foundation comes up with various livelihood projects for its members. It would also lend them capital for their own small business ventures. It was only last year when they started making their unique foldable parols. The proceeds of the sales from the lanterns go directly to the women and give them an additional source of income for their families.

“Sa edad naming ‘to, mahirap na maghanap-buhay. Pero dahil sa project na ito, natututo kaming manahi at mag-sulsi. Malaking tulong sa pamilya namin dahil dito na rin kami nakakakuha ng ipon namin,” says 58-year-old Cristina Miranda, who has been a member of Kababaihan ng Maynila since 1998. “Ang laki ng tulong sa amin ng mga parol. Nakakatulong ako sa mga anak ko at sa mga apo ko. Napalitan ko pa ang sira naming TV,” says Araceli Ramiscal of Tondo, who, at 72, is one of the pioneering members of Kababaihan ng Maynila.

With their earnings from the parols, the members of Kababaihan ng Maynila are able to provide for their families

Shining the light of hope

Kultura spotted the potential of the parols and immediately ordered from the foundation supplies to sell in its retail and online stores. Continuing serving as an incubator for MSMEs and social enterprises, Kultura is the first, and so far, only, commercial distributor of these unique Christmas lanterns. “Kultura is always on the lookout for products that Filipinos can be proud of. We believe these parols from Kababaihan ng Maynila help spread the Christmas cheer not just to our shoppers but also to the women who make them,” says Ivy.

The women of Kababaihan ng Maynila are elated that their parols are now available to a wider market through Kultura.

When they learned that their parols were going to be accessible to a wider market through Kultura, the members of Kababaihan ng Maynila could not help but be elated.

“Masaya kami kasi mas makikilala na ‘yung mga parol namin. Lahat kami ay nagtutulong-tulong para makagawa ng magagandang parol,” says Maria Fe Tan, 57.

When people buy these parols from Kultura, they not only get a festive Christmas decoration. They also shine the light of hope on the women behind these products.