By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
Before the typhoon, women in Miriam’s village would gather in a common space at the edge of their row of houses and take turns making batches of binagol, a staple dessert in Leyte, an island in the central Philippines.
Although there’s not a perfect comparison in Western cuisine, binagol is a little like tapioca pudding and also tastes similar to sticky rice cakes found throughout Southeast Asia. It is made with talyan roots, similar to taro, instead of rice.
Binagol, wrapped up in banana leaves, is a portable treat.
There’s a smaller version of this sweet served in the northern Philippines, called “kulangot” (boogers). There’s also a variant made from rice, which is called “moron.” We have such glamorous names for local delicacies.
The women chop the talyan roots and cook them with coconut milk, condensed milk, eggs and sugar inside coconut husks with banana leaves layered on top. Everything is then wrapped in banana leaves and knotted with straw into a bun. This packaging makes binagol easily portable, and in Leyte, you’ll find it at markets, corner stores, canteens and even transit terminals. Miriam and the women of her village made enough binagol to drop off at nearby markets and make a small profit for themselves.
But when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the region Nov. 8, 2013, everything changed for millions of Filipinos. The storm, one of the worst in the area’s history, claimed 6,300 lives and destroyed half a million homes in the central Philippines.
Scarcity of food was a primary challenge, and many villagers also had to repair or rebuild their homes. Selling binagol was not an option for Miriam and her neighbors, at least for the foreseeable future. This was especially difficult for her, as her husband’s earnings as a farmhand were never enough even before the typhoon.
But after immediate needs like food, shelter and clean water were filled, ChildFund and our local partner organizations started helping people reclaim their livelihoods — including the binagol-makers, who received assistance in July. This is all part of ChildFund’s response after disasters.
Miriam felt hope for the first time since the typhoon. She was not sure what to expect from ChildFund staff when they first came, but the workshop held right at her village helped her understand that we were there to help. Still, she and the other mothers would have to work hard to restore their livelihood, but improve it as well.
Miriam received a complete set of utensils for binagol production, allowing her and her neighbors to make as much of the dessert as they could. And ChildFund provided the ingredients for their first run. Most importantly, we’ve invested capital in the business, which has helped Miriam and her neighbors escape debt.
Before the typhoon, the binagol-makers took loans to buy the ingredients, repaying loans from their profits as they’re made. With ChildFund’s investment, though, the women don’t start off in debt and are now putting 10 percent of their profits into savings so their startup capital will grow.
Now Miriam and her neighbors individually produce binagol, and they no longer labor merely to pay debt. They’re able to increase their village’s total production many times. With their increased production capacity, they’ve been able to broker an agreement with a wholesaler.
“I’m pleased and surprised how much better business is now,” Miriam says. “Life was so difficult after Haiyan, I was desperate to find a new way to feed my three children. I’m glad I can return to what I’m skilled at and provide better for my family.”
Miriam (left) prepares talyan roots to make binagol.