Light the Life (LTL) candle-making livelihood project was initiated by Lay Missionary, Hyein Noh in 2015 to provide job opportunities for women, often mothers, in poor urban areas who have limited job prospects and access to regular income. The programme aims to empower women; enabling them to support their families, educate their children and improve their standard of living. In addition, it encourages them to attend Mass, be involved with Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC); small communities organized by Church workers seeking to transform Philippine political and social relationships by empowering the poor, as well as inspiring spiritual recollections during Lent or Advent season to develop their spiritual personalities.
The building that houses the project has a special learning centre for children. While their mothers work, children can study and play. With Columban funds, computers were upgraded to so that children had reliable access to the internet meaning they could attend their online classes, which became particularly important during the pandemic.
When the project first began, we discovered the best way to create the candles through trail and error. We began by making small tea light candles and after some time our candle designs gradually evolved, before long we were making baptismal, pillar, scented and customized candles. We ran everywhere to find markets where we could advertise and sell the candles. Thanks to the women’s perseverance during these challenging first few months we were able to keep the project going!
The project faced a big challenge during the Covid pandemic. Mothers were forced to stop working when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was implemented by the government. Mothers had to stay at home without income and their husbands were not much different. They had no choice but to rely on cash aid and relief packs from the government, but even this was not sufficiently distributed. This situation lasted for several months. It was during this time that I proposed the Columban Society help this community. I suggested we distribute food subsidies and prepare the learning center so that children could access online classes. Thankfully it was approved and these families gratefully received aid for several months.
Our work resumed after the quarantine regulation was eased, but experiences financial struggles because we had no orders from our customers who were focused on buying basic essentials. The majority of our orders come from churches, and of course, they remained closed. Despite this, we resumed the work. Instead of closing completely, we decided to cut down the working hours, making shorter working days. This ensured the women still had some money to buy food for their families.
Two years later we’re still going although we have fewer orders than we did pre-Covid. Mothers keep making candles to stockpile for a rush orders that may be around the corner. We take opportunities when they arise and have tried to find alternative ways to increase our income. One idea has been to expand our catalogue of products. The women chose to add dishwashing soap and peanut butter as new lines. The other idea was to take our business online. Since quarantine was implemented, online sales have grown rapidly in the Philippines. We are planning to explore new marketplaces, but of course this is very new to us and it is not easy! Not only do we have limitations because we are the small project that is not registered, but we are beginners when it comes to being an online business. Nevertheless, we are up for the challenge and keen to persevere!
Together, since the project first began, we have experienced many difficulties which we wouldn’t have overcome if it weren’t for the affection and faith of the mothers and without the physical and spiritual support of those around us. We will continue to grow and I look forward to the future of the project.
“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. Excerpt from the project introduction included in the candle packaging