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Move over, Barbie; Make Way for Nenita

December 18, 2008

FOR 32 YEARS NOW, BALIKATAN sa Kaunlaran (BSK, Shoulders Together for Prosperity) National Foundation has been empowering underprivileged folk by teaching them how to make holiday décor and dolls. This non-government organization trains poor women, jobless men and out-of-school youths.

“Our group’s mission is to improve the quality of the Filipino family,” says Guia Gomez, BSK national president. She joined the group in 1979 as chapter president in San Juan.

Established in 1977 by the late Dr. Leticia de Guzman, BSK aimed to show women how to embrace their own power and set their creativity free. Since then, it has trained more than a million women for different jobs.

“If you just get 5 or 10 percent of them interested in what they’re doing, we’re already lucky,” Gomez says. “Our lack of sophisticated technology is more than compensated for by the high degree of craftsmanship of what they produce.”

In 1995, the project became a “family organization,” with men getting trained to mold figures and children to make bags from newspapers and magazines.

Sought-after

BSK hires subcontractors from Paete, Laguna for the molding of the figures’ faces and hands. It also trains the designers of the Christmas figures, who are mostly Fine Arts graduates of the University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas.

Results of these largely unheralded efforts have become highly sought-after by international and local stores.

Besides making Christmas decorations and dolls, BSK has also been involved in agriculture projects, promoting herbal medicines and garbage segregation in all San Juan barangays for a year now.

For BSK, Christmas is a time of invention and innovation.

Its hand-painted creations have “soul,” says Gomez. “This could be attributed to our country being the only Christian nation in the Far East and to our wealth of artistic heritage.”

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way for BSK. Before China became the export capital of the world in the 1990s, BSK had 300 workers and used to export to 11 stores in the United States. Now, the group has only 10 workers and two American clients. For one Christmas ball design, BSK used to get 2,000 to 4,000 orders.

“Since we lost most of our exports to China, we’ve upgraded to the A market and decided to have a strong local base,” Gomez says.

Homegrown values

BSK starts the production of holiday décor in August. By January, it holds an inventory sale then creates a line of dolls called ‘Nenita,’ which aim to showcase Filipino values and traditions.

Conceptualized in 1999 by BSK fashion designer Patis Tesoro, the Nenita dolls were inspired by Barbie, but now in Filipiniana attire. “If Barbie can dress up in such clothing, why not a Filipino figure to revive our lost Filipino culture?” Gomez says. “For these dolls, we have to study the Filipino face. And we found out, there is no real Filipino face unless you go to the mountains.”

The Nenita dolls include My First Teacher, inspired by Jose Rizal and his mom, Doña Teodora Alonzo; Bordadora (Embroiderer); Mano Po; Vendors; Ilustrada (Educated Lady); Maria Clara; Peasants; and Ang Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (The Stories of Grandma Basyang), the most saleable item.

Gomez proudly notes that BSK is the only organization selling dolls that showcase Filipino heritage.

BSK has even been commissioned to do tableaus for doll museums in San Juan and Marikina City. The San Juan doll museum, located at the site where the Battle of Pinaglabanan took place, has been open for two years now. BSK is now also doing the doll museums in Valenzuela, Bulacan and Las Piñas.

BSK’s Christmas decor and Nenita dolls are available at SM Makati and Megamall and at the BSK showroom at 170 A. Mabini St., Barangay Addition Hills, San Juan. Call 7238503, 7212277 or 7238504.

E-mail balikatansakaunlaran2003@yahoo.com.

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