Water hyacinths, a persistent pest, clog waterways, kill fish and rob sunlight from native aquatic plants in lakes all over the world.
A community in the Cardona area of the Philippines, just outside Manila, experienced such an infestation. In 2012, when Charito L. and her family joined the Unbound program, her husband wasn’t able to continue his job fishing because of the plant. It became increasingly difficult to support their family.
“My source of income way back then was selling fishes but, because of the huge number of water hyacinths in the lake, the fishes died out,” she said.
That same year, staff from the Unbound program in Antipolo met with parents to discuss livelihood programs they would be interested in starting.
Charito A. was among the mothers attending the meeting.
“I asked them [the staff members], ‘Here in our community there are unlimited numbers of water hyacinth floating in the lake, is there any chance that we can use it and generate income from it?'”
A few days later, the mothers learned that the Philippine government was offering training in making products out of water hyacinths. Fifteen mothers took part in the training and learned how to turn the plant stalks into large sheets that could be used as a leather substitute.
Those mothers have grown to a group of more than 50 parents working together to harvest and process the water hyacinths, generating income to support their families. They have found creative ways to use the water hyacinths to make backpacks, purses, shoes, wallets and other items.
Delia has been working on the water hyacinth effort since it started and has seen a big difference for the area.
“I grew up here in Cardona; that’s why I already witness how the water hyacinth grows this big,” she said. “It grew even more as time passed by; it almost covered the lake. But because we are now using it and turning it into a product, it’s lessened the number in the lake and fishes came back.
“Almost all our husbands are fishermen, so it is good that we are helping them by preventing the water hyacinth from piling up.”
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