Newspapers alive, now used to bury the dead

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As if suffering the death of a loved one isn’t punishment enough, skyrocketing funeral and burial costs are giving the bereaved something more to cry about.

Just thinking of the cost of a coffin—ranging from P8,000 to P12,000 for the plainest, most basic type—is enough to make the financially challenged become overwhelmed with grief.

However, a Gawad Kalinga community in Barangay Queen’s Row, Molino, Bacoor, Cavite, may just have the solution that will give grieving families some relief—a line of handmade coffins made of old newspapers and telephone directories costing about P2,500 for the infant version and P6,000 for the adult model.

The affordable, ecofriendly GKasket is one of the latest products being developed for commercial production by GKonomics, the social enterprise development partner of the Gawad Kalinga antipoverty movement that aims to provide communities in GK villages a sustainable source of livelihood.

A country of producers

The vision of GKonomics, which was set up in 2009, is to build a country of producers. It is now working with 37 communities at different levels of development, helping to transform them into sustainable social enterprises.

According to GKonomics president Cecille S.D. Manheimer, the GKaskets were developed in response to the high cost of caskets and funeral services that is making the poor even poorer. Some families even resort to holding illegal gambling sessions during the long wake to finance the high cost of the funeral services.

“GKaskets is a social enterprise that profits both the poor and the entrepreneur who will serve the needs of the poor looking for a decent and affordable burial for their loved ones. It is a business with a heart,” Manheimer said in an interview.

The poor will not only benefit from the more affordable GKaskets, they also get the chance to help the environment by putting recycled newspapers and telephone directories to good use, she said.

“It is not only a noble and social enterprise that promotes love for the environment, it is also a potentially promising business as more people become aware of how important it is to leave a lasting footprint on the planet—by bringing into consciousness the value of choosing to give back to nature and the environment in life and beyond,” Manheimer said.

From bags to caskets

It was easy enough to adapt GK Bagong Silang in Queen’s Row to the manufacture of handmade coffins as many of the women in the community are already adept at making bags out of recycled paper. With training provided by GKonomics partners, the women learned to weave and cut the recycled paper to make sturdy and fashionable coffins, thus also adding to their skills.

Thess Barrameda, GK Bagsi enterprise coordinator, said the prototypes of the newspaper coffins have been presented to the large funeral parlors, some of which have expressed an interest in introducing the product to their clients.

The Arlington group has even suggested that the community produce a prototype for an urn made from old newspapers since more Filipinos prefer to be cremated nowadays.

Barrameda said a monastery in Tagaytay has also discussed with the group the possibility of producing newspaper coffins for their nuns.

Tapping LGUs, nunneries

GKonomics leaders are also looking to forging a partnership with local government units which usually have funds set aside to finance the burial of poor residents. With the low-cost GKasket, they will be able to offer free caskets to more people with the same budget.

According to Barrameda, seven women weavers and three carpenters are currently involved in the project, but more workers can be immediately tapped if orders pour in.

“What we are looking for are connectors, facilitators, or that champion entrepreneur who can adopt the community and explore the full potential of the GKaskets,” Barrameda said.

“I believe that the opportunity is there, the community of about 100 families just needs help in expanding their market and further developing their skills,” she said.

Barrameda stressed that it takes some skill and experience to be able to produce caskets from recycled paper since the caskets have to be airtight, leak-proof and sturdy to be able to last for days. And they also have to be aesthetically pleasing as they will be put on display for the duration of the wake.

“We continue to improve on the products to take into consideration factors such as storage, production and shelf life. But we are already getting orders and that is encouraging the workers to do better,” Barrameda said.

Seeking old newspapers

GKonomics has been going the rounds of publishing companies to encourage them to donate their old newspapers to the community so the weavers will have enough raw materials to meet orders. Only newspapers and telephone directories have been found to be ideal for use as paper coffins.

“Right now we buy the newspaper from the junk shops and that is quite expensive at P30 a kilo. We are hoping to get donations of old newspapers and telephone directories so we can save on capital,” she said.

GKonomics, which is already making waves in the market through its other products like fashion accessories, wooden sculptures, notebooks, wooden bikes, candles and homeware, is confident that it will soon be flooded with orders for the paper coffins.

“As these caskets are also very affordable, I am positive that it will only be a matter of time for this enterprise to gain momentum and achieve economic success for the community of GK Bagong Silang,” Manheimer said.

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