Nanay Leny: Empowering communities through art and education

Niki Payuyo

Nanay Leny Morilao’s journey into the sand art and weave business is a story of passion, grit, and resilience.

Nag-start ako as in talagang wala akong pera. Mayroon lang ako kakayanan (I had no money when I started. I only had my capabilities.),” she said.

Leny, 50, is based in Quezon City and a solo parent to five children, the youngest now 16 years old. Arts and crafts had been a long-time hobby until she decided to turn it into a business.

Libangan ko lang ‘to dati. Kaya ako nagsimula niyan dahil sa laruan ng mga anak ko. Ang idea o konsepto ng sand art ay mula sa mga laruan ng mga anak ko na nabibili sa labas ng school na ikakalat lang nila sa bahay. Inipon ko ang mga buhangin na ‘yun kasama na alikabok,” she joked.

(It used to be just a hobby. The idea or concept of sand art began with my children's toys—sand art kits typically bought outside schools which my kids would leave lying around in the house. I remember scooping out all the sand in our home, along with the dust that came with it.)

Before starting Curves and Lines Graphics, Leny worked as a secretary at a private firm in Quezon City. She then moved to Cavite where she worked as a radio broadcaster and voice talent for two years.

In 2010, Leny introduced her art into the market at around the same time she lost support from her husband and needed to make ends meet. She designed activity kits and supplied materials for schools and organizations, with the intention of incorporating these in art subjects and livelihood trainings. Then she came up with a business proposal and consulted a friend.

Ang purpose ko noon is i-tama niya yung mga English ko. Nung nakita niya, sabi niya, mukhang maganda 'to ah. Magkano ba kailangan mo? Ganoon agad. So napahiram agad niya ako ng Php 10,000 hanggang sa nakabili na ako ng raw materials,” Leny shared.

(My real purpose then was for my friend to correct my English grammar. When she saw my proposal, she said, this looks promising. Then and there, she said, how much do you need? So, she lent me Php 10,000 which I was able to use to buy raw materials.)

Nanay Leny's sand art activity kits featured at Ali Mall's Activity Area for the Araneta City Bazaar in December 2020

She went to 20 schools in Metro Manila to promote her product. But getting schools on board proved to be an arduous pursuit.

Mayroon akong 20 proposals na hawak, iba’t ibang eskwelahan ito. Out of 20, 19 doon, rejected ako. Kasi nga iisa pa lang produkto ino-offer ko. Sabi ko nun, nasa kalagitnaan ako ng Commonwealth, Lord kung hindi ito yung business na para sa akin, last na proposal ko na ‘to, hindi ko na ‘to itutuloy,” she recalled.

(I had 20 proposals for different schools. Out of the 20, 19 rejected me because I only offered one product. At that point, I was somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue and said to myself, Lord, if this business isn't for me, I'm down to my last proposal. If this gets rejected, I'll take it as a sign and drop this pursuit.)

After being rejected by 19 schools, her last remaining proposal got accepted at the New Era High School.

Working with New Era High School was an eye opener that helped Leny realize her business could be something that not only empowers her, but the students as well.

Noong nakita ko yung finished product ng mga estudyante from New Era, natuwa ako. Doon ko lang naisip, pwede kong bilhin yung mga produkto nila, and at the same time, ibebenta ko rin sa mga bazaar,” she said.

(I was pleased when I saw the finished products of students from New Era. That's what gave me the idea of buying back their finished products and selling these at bazaars.)

Leny supplied activity kits at Php 50 to Php 75 for public schools and Php 100 for private schools. The do-it-yourself activity kit became part of school requirements to enhance the creativity of students with the use of colorful non-toxic sand. Then she would buy back the finished products of selected students at Php 100 to Php 150 and sell these at bazaars for Php 200.

The mass closures of academic institutions during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020 came as a shock to Leny, whose business largely depended on schools.

“Number 1 market ko mga schools. Nawala sa akin yun. Ang delivery ko sa bawat school per day is 1,000 to 1,500 pieces of art materials sa iba’t ibang eskwelahan. Can you imagine? Hangga't mayroong eskwelahan, mabubuhay sana ako. Kaso nung nag-stop yung school, paano na ko? Ano'ng gagawin ko?” she said.

(My number 1 market is schools. The pandemic took that away from me. My deliveries to each school per day is 1,000 to 1,500 pieces of art materials. Can you imagine? As long as there were schools I would survive. But when they closed down, I couldn't help but think how I would be able to cope.)

That was when Leny thought about joining online shopping seminars and coming up with more products for her customers.

Since wala na kong choice kundi mag-online katulad ng ginagawa ng iba, ginawa ko na. Di ako marunong masyado sa bagong tech. 'Yun ang kailangan ko gawin eh. Mag-adapt ka. Mag-aral kung paano ‘to gawin,” Leny said.

(Since I had no choice but to sell online like everybody else, I did it. I'm not quite knowledgeable with new tech, but that is what I had to do. Adapt. Learn how to do business online.)

To further improve her foray into e-commerce, Leny completed the DTI-Thames Management Certificate for MSMEs on digital skills and foundational skills for online enterprises.

Nanay Leny participated in several seminars to gain insights in doing business under the new normal.

Eventually, it reached a point when known establishments would tap her to hold livelihood talks and workshops in different parts of the country, including Camp John Hay in Baguio City and in Camarines Norte.

Late last year, Araneta City featured Leny’s arts and crafts through the J. Amado Araneta Foundation, where she was given a booth to showcase her products for two weeks at Ali Mall.

She also did livelihood talks for the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) of Rizal for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and inmates in Bahay Aruga.

Apart from these opportunities, Leny said joining Iskaparate significantly helped in making her product more visible.

Ang ganda ng link ng Iskaparate. Hindi lang siya doon mismo sa lugar na ‘yun o sa platform na ‘yun. Naging daan siya, hindi lang to showcase our products, naging daan din siya to meet with Vice President Leni Robredo dahil sa Angat Buhay,” she said.

(Being linked to Iskaparate is nice because it opened up opportunities for us beyond the platform itself. It became a way for us not only to showcase our products but also for us to meet Vice President Leni Robredo and be part of the Angat Buhay project.)

Leny finds fulfillment through her livelihood workshops and speaking engagements with fellow mothers and aspiring entrepreneurs, as she hopes to empower them with skills she learned in putting up her own business.

Dati lang ako natitira sa bahay. Pero nung wala na akong choice at kailangan ko na lumabas at humarap sa iba’t ibang klase ng tao, doon pa lang ako natuto kung paano. Kasi hindi madaling mag-business. Kung mayroon kang maayos na pakikisama sa lahat ng tao, ang daming gustong tumulong, ang daming gustong mag-invest,” she said.

(I used to be homebound. But when I had no choice and needed to approach people from all walks of life, that was when I learned how to do business. I learned how getting along with others goes a long way because that is how you get more people to invest and support your business.)

Check out Nanay Leny's products at🌱

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the English translation to the quotes in Filipino.)

Published date:
April 8, 2021
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