By Rex Rubio

“In painting our dream to real canvas of life, we need hard work and perseverance, trust, strong determination coupled with sincere prayer,” this is how Mae Joy Cadangin-Cornelio, 30, describes her journey as a family and one of the members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) from Barangay Dualing in the municipality of Aleosan, North Cotabato.

Mae shared that her husband Ever used to be an all around worker whose jobs included tilling rice as a tenant farmer, making charcoal for living, and being seasonal laborer just to make ends meet. “A lot of people put us down because we are poor. We need to work hard to earn for our daily needs. That is why, we really wished to be one of the beneficiaries of 4Ps, and God allowed us to become part of the program in 2012.”

The negative criticism the family of four received from people in their neighborhood became their motivation and inspiration to go on living and find the right livelihood for them to thrive.

“When my family became a 4Ps member, we were very happy and felt lucky. We did not need to worry anymore about the extra allowance and school needs of our children because of the regular support from the government,” Mae said.

Based on a briefer of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) is patterned after other developing countries countries’ conditional cash transfer programs which aims to invest in the health and education of poor Filipinos with children ages from 0 t0 18 years old. It is a part of the national government’s human development program.

Turning a temporary setback into a business opportunity

“We had been receiving the cash grant from February 2012 until February of 2013, until the DSWD required all the members to use the cash card instead of the over-the-counter cash grant. Since the cash card is processed in Metro Manila and due to the bulk of cards that needed to be sent to the provinces, it took us almost four years before we finally received it in 2017,” Mae said.

She further added, “Even with that situation, I religiously attended our scheduled family development sessions which tackled cash and time management, gardening, and some other life-engaging input. After a few months of regular attendance, I was able to absorb a lot of information and practical tips. Eventually, it influenced me in terms of my perspective as a mother, caregiver, wife, and being part of the government program,” Mae narrated.

She added that within the span of those years, their unclaimed money in the cash card had accumulated to ₱30,000 when they received it 2017. “Although I could see our payroll regularly, I was still surprised by that large amount. We didn’t know what to do and it was our first time to literally receive and hold that large amount of money in our entire lives.

“Since balut is one of the feasible businesses in our municipality and almost everyone loves this street food, we gave it a try [as a business]. My husband fabricated an improvised incubator for balut making with the help of my father-in-law,” Mae shared.

Mae Joy Cadangin-Cornelio poses with her father-in-law Ignacio Cornelio who taught them the value of business and the promising technology of balut making. (Photo by Rex Rubio)

At the start, her husband used to sell at least 50 balut every day and the journey was not that easy. “We can vividly recall that my eldest son said one afternoon that his father only sold eight balut from 5pm to 11pm, but that experience motivated us to keep our business going.”

She added that after a few months as persistent entrepreneurs, they were able to sell two trays at 30 eggs per tray and this continued to increase over the next months. “With the help of my father-in-law who gave us the improvised egg incubator, we were able to produce more balut. Now we already have four incubators which are able to produce at least 1, 500 balut a day and we sell all the stock with the help of our regular customers and some neighbors as our retailers.

“With this blessing, our balut now reaches nearby municipalities [like Midsayap, Pikit, Libugan, Pigcawayan, and Kabacan] in the province of North Cotabato. Just recently, we started delivering as far as Bansalan municipality, part of Davao del Sur Province,” Mae said.

Ever Cornelio shows his improvised incubator which can load more or less 6000 eggs for balut making. LoVer Balut Maker now has four customized incubators that help supply balut in the nearby municipalities of Kabacan, Pikit, Midsayap, Libungan, and Pigcawayan in North Cotabato. (Photo by Rex Rubio)

Making a name in the balut industry on a local level

In just three years, the former 4Ps recipients have made a name for themselves in the balut industry of the first district of North Cotabato Province.

“We were able to rent two store spaces in our town’s public market and display our own

balut, named ’LoVer’ [a combination of couple’s name—Lo stands for Loving, Mae’s her nickname and Ver from Ever] Balut Maker,” Mae shared.

“Our store opens at one o’clock [in the afternoon] until eight o’clock in the evening and we offer our cooked balut at ₱15 per piece or seven pieces (small size) for ₱100, while cracked balut [with cracked egg shells] can be sold at ₱10 per balut. What makes our balut extra special is the secret ingredients in our vinegar plus our own extra spicy salt. My sister-in law actually makes it for us,” Mae added.

Mae and her nieces wash the raw balut to remove dirt and get them for cooking. It takes them 20 to 30 minutes to cook the balut so it’s ready for serving. (Photo by Rex Rubio)

Paying it forward

From a small-scale balut-maker, Mae’s family was able to expand their business and start helping other farmers in the community earn extra income.

“We are blessed to have this kind of business. Our egg supply for balut making is already not enough and there is already a need to buy additional supply from other farmers in the neighborhood, especially from the nearby municipalities,” she happily narrated.

Although putting up a business is not easy, especially in a developing municipality in North Cotabato, Mae’s business continues to improve. “We were not expecting that this kind of simple business will prosper and for the past years, we have been helping other farmers as well. It is always a humbling experience to help and to inspire other poor farmers like us to keep on dreaming and working.”

She added that through the gains from their business, they were able to repair and re-establish a water system once started by their barangay officials and which now supplies potable water to at least six families with minimal payment for maintenance. The business also enabled them, not just to stay afloat, but to help others as well during the pandemic. “During the community lockdown brought by the pandemic, we were able to share some cooked balut and some duck chicks with the nearest security outpost in our area. This is our own way of thanking them in ensuring our safety and the rest of the families in the neighborhood,” Mae shared.

Mae and a youth who started to retail balut in his own village. This young man started to purchase balut for selling during the height of community quarantine to save for his school allowance. Lover Balut Maker products now reach far as part of Bansalan, Davao del Sur. (Photo by Rex Rubio)

Keeping afloat in the midst of the pandemic

Like any other business industry in the country, LoVer Balut Maker was also affected by the nation-wide community quarantine. “Our business was not spared by the impact of the crisis. It significantly trimmed down our daily earnings. During that time, I was getting worried about what would happen to our business. One afternoon, I decided to post on social media that we were selling our balut for P10 from P15 as a promo price. Thank God it was effective, and we were able to capture customers who were previously not buying our products because of the price rate,” Mae said.

She underscored that as a local entrepreneur, the need to be honest and care for customers are some of the most important elements in running a business.

“Every time we supply balut to our regular retailers, we see to it that the eggs are in good quality (without crack or damage),” May shared. “During this challenging time, and for almost three months of community lockdown, our suppliers who usually deliver their raw eggs to us also ordered trays of eggs and had been helping us surpass the crisis while maintaining our business. We are forever grateful to their support during those challenging moments. I realized that putting [up a] business entails an environment with good partners who do not just care for their profit and interest, but for other retailers as well.”

She added that as of this time, LoVer Balut Maker is now helping 15- local retailers, mostly homemakers who want to help their husbands earn extra income for their family. “We actually help them have fixed incomes and they don’t need to stay in the farm under the heat of the sun all day long. With this balut business, they can start selling it after lunch until evening,” Mae narrated.

“As neophyte entrepreneur, I realized the need to be wise in our spending, even if we are earning every day. I always share with my husband the importance of prioritizing our needs than wants and the significance of savings.”

The store location of LoVer Balut Market in the Public Market of Aleosan in North Cotabato now employs more or less 15 local farmers, mostly women, as their ambulant vendors in the area. LoVer Balut Maker serves fresh-cooked balut from one o’clock in the afternoon until eight o’clock in the evening every day. (Photo by Rex Rubio)

A challenge to other 4Ps members

“Yes, we are just a few out of the millions of 4Ps members in our country, but this anti-poverty program of the government is touching our lives to be better citizens, especially for our growing children. Let us use responsibly the cash grant that we receive regularly for the benefit of our family. If you happen to receive an amount, as a suggestion, please spare a small amount for savings or you can buy vegetable seeds that you can start growing. If this small project will grow, I am sure you will have your own safe food for your family and if will prosper, an added income as well in the long run,” Mae said.

She is also forever grateful to the program of the DSWD and the support of our municipal link, Mrs. Darlene Gelay- Dohinog, RSW, who continuously guides and coaches [them] parents under the 4Ps through their regular life skills sessions. “I hope and pray that my simple story will also inspire other members of 4Ps to be responsible and thankful to the support of the government. Together, let’s make a difference in our own little ways and light our success and inspire others,” she happily said.

Photos by Rex Rubio

For more information, visit LoVer Balut Maker on Facebook.