KOTA KINABALU: When the idea of turning corn husks into handicraft for sale came about several months ago, local farmer and trader Rosmine Matunda from rural Kota Marudu district had her reservations.
The 42-year-old mother of six felt that even if it was possible, the results or the end product would not be good enough to attract serious buyers.
“I thought, ‘Is this a joke?’ Do I want to waste time learning this ‘never heard before’ project?” she said in an interview.
It was at the last-minute that Rosmine decided to sign up for a corn husk handicraft-making programme and found herself not only amazed by what she could do but also by how much income she could earn from it.
She said the process of gathering the husks discarded at markets, those disposed of in rubbish bins and anywhere they could find, was hard and somewhat uneasy at first.
“But when I did it with the other participants later on, we had fun and laughter all the way,” she said.
After collecting the husks, they would sort them out and the clean and good ones would be taken and dried under the sun.
Water and humidity are their number one enemy as corn husks would easily rot.
“After they are properly dried, we then take time to dye, cut and style it according to our creativity,” said Rosmine.
The above programme is a women empowerment initiative by upcycle craft artist and environmentalist Tressie Yap, together with community leaders in Sabah.
Janet Dalinsi, 43, recalled how embarrassed she felt scavenging through litter bins for thrown husks and asking for them from corn sellers.
“After a while, especially after learning how to turn corn husks into craft pieces like flowers, baskets and selling them, there’s no shame anymore,” said the single mother of three.
She said learning about turning corn husks into something else opened up her mind and eyes to a whole new level, making her see the value in almost every plant and every discarded piece of trash.
“It’s like my mind is full of ideas now and I see things differently, knowing that what used to be rubbish or unwanted leaves can be used to make something useful. This is just mind-blowing,” Janet said.
She also learnt how different flowers and even ginger or turmeric stems can be used as dye for her products, although she is still learning and perfecting her craft.
“The group involved in this project is still finding ways to better preserve our products and make them more durable,” she said, adding that every product they make is a trial-and-error project.
For ideas and designs, they depend on their creativity as well as guidance from YouTube, among other platforms.
Recently, their products gained attention in an exhibition held in the city where buyers and environmentalists stopped by to learn about the production process and purchased them for decorations.
Yap said that apart from protecting the environment, programmes and knowledge on upcycling could also help to empower the community, especially those needing extra income.
If explored further, she said upcycling could be a trend, an economic boosting agent of sorts and also as part of any plan to conserve and preserve the environment.
For now, 20 women from five villages in Kota Marudu are involved in the corn husk upcycling project.
So far, they have earned over RM6,000 in sales as they started small and only produce products when there are orders for them.