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Damgo: a social enterprise that rose from the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda

| November 23, 2015

Damgosakaugman enterprise

From the ashes of super-typhoon Yolanda that left a destructive path in central Visayas exactly two years ago, it has also become a liberator for change as it gave birth to NGO Damgo sa Kaugmaon, Inc. to make a difference in the lives of Bantayan Island, Cebu.

“We stay in our values because we keep our visions to empower our community, to be socially, and environmentally [conscious] by social entrepreneurship,” says Allan Monreal, president of Damgo, in an interview at the Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort.

Established on 31 August 2014, Damgo (to dream) sa Kaugmaon (future) corporation is a fifteen-minute drive from the resort. The 4-hectar of land is referred as Dreamzone since this is where all of the social entrepreneurial projects become a reality.

Damgo today employs 116 workers – one of the biggest employers in the island – where its main product is the non-traditional hollow blocks known as The Interlocking Compressed Earth Blocks (Iceb) project.

“I am a Dreamer” – Monreal

Born in Manila, Monreal says he was once a ‘bad boy’ because of his delinquent activities during his teen years. With the encouragement of a family friend, he became a soldier.

“We stay in our values because we keep our visions to empower our community, to be socially, and environmentally [conscious] by social entrepreneurship,” says Allan Monreal, president of Damgo

Monreal went on to become a former soldier of the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) of the Philippine Army and later on as a private security contractor in Iraq – all of which became transformative factors to the man that he is today.

But it was in Iraq while protecting NGOs where he realized that, “I’m no better than anyone else… I wanted to be part of something that is bigger than my life,” he says.

And because of the nature of his work, he treated each day as his last.

Shuttling between Iraq and the Philippines, it was in Cebu where he met his second wife.

And when super-typhoon Yolanda happened, it was a wake-up call for him. He quit his security consultancy firm in Manila.

“From rags to riches to fulfillment. I may not be rich now, but I certainly feel fulfilled. Because of Yolanda, we were able to do Damgo sa Kaugmaon,” Monreal says.

Welcome to Dreamzone: Green Industrial Zone of Social Enterprises

Sensitive to the eco-system surrounding Bantayan Island, Damgo produces hollow blocks by using mostly limestones as their key ingredient rather than the traditional sea sands.

According to Monreal, limestones are found in the surrounding areas of Bantayan Island and, once extracted, they’re transformed into agricultural lands and are expanded.

But there’s a bigger issue that Monreal wants to point out: the future of the inhabitants. Monreal says sea sands are unsustainable, and many don’t care if they use them for their hollow blocks. “No one enforces the law here, and the use of sea sands destroys the marine,” he says.

According to the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the excess of salt presence to reinforce concrete production severely reduces the structure’s durability and steel corrosion that occurs at a faster rate than normal.

Damgo’s hollow blocks are made of 70 percent of limestone where they undergo multiple processes from wet curing, dry curing to having the right temperature with a focus on creating resilient building blocks to help fight against Bantayan Island’s climate change.

“We like to attribute our business continuity. Unfortunately in the Philippines, this is still new. Even if you have a business continuity plan, if your community doesn’t have resilience, then there’s no connection,” Monreal says.

Workers cut limestones into small pieces by hand inside Damgo sa Kaugmaon, Inc.

Workers cut limestones into small pieces by hand inside Damgo sa Kaugmaon, Inc.

Bringing Back Social, Environmental, and Economic Responsibilities

The hollow blocks project is one dream that became a reality. Damgo also promotes the Back to Sea project where fisher folks can return to their livelihoods.

When Yolanda hit, locals scrambled for food. Monreal recalls how one man had said to him that “he’d rather bring back his livelihood [as a fisherman] than wait for relief goods.”

“What we did is capacity building project where we helped create organizations and teach them on how to deal with money. And after that, they were loaned with Php50,00,” says Monreal.

Beneficiaries are required to be involved with the production of their boats, and half of the profits earned are returned to pay back the loan.

Boats as part of the Back to Sea project that are made of fiberglass rather than wood because Damgo believes on durability rather than those boats’ keels that are made out of wood. And it’s inside the Dreamzone where the fiberglass boat-building station is found.

Wooden boats, if not kept properly, can last up to five years or two years if they’re not maintained at all compared to Damgo’s boats that can last up to the next generation if cared properly, according to Monreal.

Damgo also goes a step further. Fisher folks are taught to be their own masters.

“You control the supply, you control the lives of the people,” says Monreal. “That’s the problem. And it’s just not here. The whole country is like that. We want them to be independent with their boats.”

In the past, fisher folks would apply for a loan that has interest rates. Once they start making a living from their catch, their earnings are given back to banks, for example, and if they don’t have their own boats, they need to pay that too. It’s a never-ending cycle.

“We tell them that that they could actually own every step of fishing. There should be no more third person. That’s what we call sustainable resource book,” Monreal says.

Damgo sa Kaugmaon, Inc

(L) Allan Monreal, president of Damgo sa Kaugmaon, Inc., explains the ‘drying’ process of his hollow blocks; (R) Workers produce hollow blocks with the aid of hand-pressed machines.

Looking at Limitations as a Source of Opportunity

Aside from promoting the use of limestones rather than sea sands and the Back to Sea project, Damgo is an equal-opportunity employer where employees earn ‘decent work with decent pay’ as part of the company’s mandate to provide fair working benefits.

Other projects that have sprung up and are interwoven with each other include the Marine Product Processing where two solar fish dryers are expected to be used and a sustainable resource network where human waste can be composted to fertilize crops for livestock.

With so many ideas and projects in his mind, Monreal describes how the lack of sufficient funding handicaps his other evolving projects.

Still, Monreal hopes in the near future that there won’t be a need for the likes of him – filling the gap between the ideal situation and what is current.

“If you’re a citizen, don’t count everything on public officials. If you’re a public official, you should utilize and make your governance inclusive in participatory. Because at the corporate level, being at the public service is called corporate social responsibility. And at the personal level, I’m my brothers’ keeper. I’m your keeper. It’s not rocket science. I’m not asking you to quit your job just like I did. You commit to it. Do a difference. Do it,” he says.

Allan Monreal stands in front of fiberglass boats

Allan Monreal stands in front of fiberglass boats as part of the Back to Sea project.

 

By Jefferson Mendoza, Contributing Editor. For questions or story ideas, email him at Jefferson@hkpinoytv.com

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