Wednesday, Mar 03

Taking the first step in alleviating suffering

December 04, 2019 | Jonas Trinidad

In her last few days as a Livelihood Training Program student, Melanie Mapili makes a bunch of pillow cases and covers with her classmates. Although she was fond of sewing,but it was her first time to learn how to use a sewing machine in the Sewing Course. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Sewing Course graduate Melanie Mapili is on a mission to alleviate the suffering of her fellow villagers in her hometown of Mercedes, Camarines Norte. With her hometown’s primary livelihood dying, she hopes to teach them sewing as an alternative livelihood.


Along the coast of the province of Camarines Norte is a small fishing town called Mercedes, which is closest to the sea, where fishing used to be the main livelihood until unchecked illegal fishing diminished the industry. The village was named after a Spanish woman who was known for her unconditional kindness toward people in need according to legend. Even as it grew from a barangay into a full-fledged town in the late 1940s, the name remained in honor of the virtuous life she led.

Melanie Mapili, a 35-year-old housewife hails from Mercedes, graduated from Tzu Chi’s Livelihood Training Program Sewing Course in October, she now works at the program as an assistant; but she has big dreams of her own. Tzu Chi is only the first step in her journey to achieve those dreams since she understood that poverty is such a grave issue in her village that rampant cases of theft is so normal.

“Around the cold season, for example, cooking pots tend to go missing. Imagine a family with no means of income, the children forced to borrow a pot from a neighbor just to be able [to cook]. That’s the reality in my hometown; pots are getting stolen with cooked rice inside,” Melanie said.

Seeing the suffering of her fellow villagers every time she comes home, she took it upon herself to find them a new livelihood. To do that, she must first undergo livelihood training. She settled in Mandaluyong City with her husband, who works as a jail guard at the Correctional Institution for Women.

One day, she stumbled upon Tzu Chi’s Livelihood Training Program via Facebook. She initially wanted to take the Business Processing Outsourcing Course, but her interest in sewing swayed her to take the Sewing Course instead.

Asked what keeps her focused on her dream, she has two people in mind. The first is her late father who has spent his entire life helping people in need, even when he’s fully aware that he would be exploited.

“It dawned on me that, despite the cooperatives he had built not one of them succeeded. Maybe because he was too kind. Every time he found an organization, he’d pay out of his own pocket,” Melanie narrated.

The second is Dharma Master Cheng Yen, specifically the story of how Tzu Chi had begun and grown under her guidance. Despite the hurdles, the Master’s indomitable will to help those who are in need brought Tzu Chi to what it is today.

“More people are in need of help today more than ever, and sometimes others don’t realize it. But through Tzu Chi, it can be the eyes and ears for those going through all kinds of sufferings in their lives. I’m blessed to be a part of Tzu Chi and will treasure every second of my life here,” she added.

Melanie admits that she still has a long way to go before being able to teach her fellow villagers. But in the immortal words of Laozi: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It only takes the will of a single person to be the change he or she wants to see in the world.

  • Melanie's house in Metro Manila is inside the Correctional Institution for Women compound in Mandaluyong City since her husband works as a jail guard. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Melanie prepares her husband's uniform for his work the following day. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • She and her husband raise some poultry outside their home. However, they only do so for their eggs; they don't slaughter the poultry. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Melanie picks up a few fresh chicken and duck eggs. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】