Katie Howard, who works in the Columban Mission Office in Solihull, reflects on a visit by the Invitation to Mission group to the Light the Life candle-making project, a livelihood project for mothers in the suburbs of Manila in the Philippines. And, of course, the group could not resist giving candle-making a go!
The project was first set up 4 years ago at St Peter’s Parish in the Diocese of Novaliches, on the outskirts of Manila. Initially, the mothers began a training programme at weekends over a period of two months. During this time they experimented with colours and shapes and were able to research and establish the best method of candle making. Today there are 20 women employed and the Columbans have now been able to pass the running of this project over to the Parish. The women from the first project have shared their knowledge and skills so that another project could be set up in Quezon City.
There are 9 mothers working at the project we visited and we were privileged to listen to their emotional stories and to learn how this project has turned their life around. It has empowered these women by giving them the ability to support their family, to fund their children’s education and to assist them in owning the land their home is built on.
We soon learnt that the project is not only about providing financial support. The spiritual side of the project involves the organising of recollection and retreat days, attending Masses and bible sharing. One mother shared that the Light for Life candle project has given her new life spirituality. Recreational activities are offered such as field trips, meals out, watching movies plus activities for their children to join. We met one mother who has two young children. Her husband is employed in the construction industry but his salary wasn’t enough to support the whole family. She expressed her gratitude to Anna for founding this project, which has provided her with an extra source of income to buy items such as school uniforms. She said that the candles are unique because they are made from love and sweat of the mothers.
I was impressed to see that used candle wax from nearby churches was collected in order for it to be recycled. A large bag of wax is sorted into colours, melted down and reused. The candles are sold to many local churches – Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Remedies (the Columban parish in Malate) and Our Lady of Fatima. They have the option to customise the design of the candle and can now sell online, with many orders shipped to the USA. The candles are packaged in beautiful handmade boxes covered in floral paper. On the back of the boxes is a perfect summary of their work:
‘Our candles are made by women in urban poor areas under the shrine of Our Lady of Mercy. In each candle that we make goes with it our sweat, love and prayer for the heart of the person who lights our candles. Lighting our candles means lightening the life of the working mothers and their families.’
As we walked around the building we discovered a real sense of unity and community. One of the rooms was a learning space for the children so that they can have help with their school work here while their mother earns a living.
Once we finished our tour of the building we went out to a well ventilated balcony, where it seemed most of the work took place. We rolled up our sleeves and helped pour the melted wax from a metal teapot into the home-made silicon moulds, poked the wicks into the tea lights, then placed the completed trays on a cooling rack that was specially designed to save space. A couple of members of our group had the job of dipping the string into wax to create the wick of the candle. Excess wax is scraped from the string and swung around like a windmill then hung to dry.
We only spent a short while helping the mothers but I found it very therapeutic and caught a small glimpse of what it must be like to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and of the pressures of family life to work here in this special community.