WATCH: Nanay Ely, the 82-year-old crocheter of Tayuman

Raisa Serafica
WATCH: Nanay Ely, the 82-year-old crocheter of Tayuman
Nanay Ely is just one of thousands of Filipino indigent seniors who continue to work to make ends meet

MANILA, Philippines – Many vendors line Tayuman Street in Manila, selling second-hand books, street food, and trinkets and accessories – all driven by the common goal of make ends meet before day turns to night.  

In that long stretch of vendors, Luisa Pagindian stands out.

Amid faded buildings and a trash-strewn street, Pangindian sells colorful crocheted products that she made herself. Each one, priced from P100 to P300 ($1.96 to $5.88), is unique, she says with pride.

That is not the only thing that sets her apart from other vendors: Pangindian, who is turning 83 on August 24, is the oldest vendor on that street. 

“Ang paggantsilyo ay isang libangan. Bukod sa libangan, isa na ring hanapbuhay na rin na kinakabuhay ko rin  (Crocheting is a hobby. Aside from a hobby, this is how I make a living as well),” she says.

Crochet is life

Nanay Ely, as many of her customers call her, would sometimes wake up at 2 am or 4 am – never later than 5 am. For a street vendor like her, waking up early increases her chances of selling more products.

Pangindian lives alone in a cramped room in Caloocan. Her living space of 15 meters holds her bed, cabinet, kitchen, and bathroom. At sunrise, she would head to the streets, tugging along a big bag with all her yarns and products – bottle covers, sling bags, purses, and even shoes.

Once she finds a nice spot on the streets, she would fix her mat, carefully display her crocheted products, and start crocheting her day away. 

Natuto ko po ito sa sarili ko lang, sa sariling isip ko. Wala hong nagturo kasi ‘di naman ho ako napag-aral (I learned this on my own. Nobody taught me since I wasn’t able to finish school),” Pangindian says matter-of-factly.

Nanay Ely only reached Grade 1. She says when she was growing up, it was okay for girls not to get formal education.

Pangindian says she already considered earning her keep from crocheting when she was only a teenager. Even then, she knew she had to work hard to survive since she had no education, and that retirement was a luxury she could not afford when she turned 60.  (READ: FAST FACTS: What benefits are senior citizens entitled to?)

Sole breadwinner

Before learning how to crochet, however, Pangindian said she ventured in all sorts of small enterprises just so she could raise her 8 children.

Nagluto ako ng halayang ube, leche flan. Hinahatid ko sa city hall ng Maynila. Nagtinda ako roon. Dati, wala pang pintuan ‘yun eh, eh ngayon may pintuan na, mahigpit na ngayon ang city hall. Hindi basta nakakapasok ho,” she recalled.

(I made ube jam, leche flan. I would bring them to the Manila city hall. They did not have a door then. Now, they already have one and they became stricter since then.)

HOME SWEET HOME. Nanay Ely lives alone in a 15-square-meter apartment

When she was pregnant with her 8th child, Pangindian discovered that her husband was having an affair. This was the start of her story as the sole breadwinner of the family.

“Ay hindi ko na pinakialaman. Eh ginusto niya eh. Sabi, kapag mahal mo raw hindi mo guguluhin. Hindi ko ginulo, hanggang sa namatay (I did not bother him. He wanted that. It’s been said that if you love someone, you will just let them be. So, I let him be until he died.)

This is the love advice that she followed her whole life.

Standing both as mother and father, Pangindian showed her children tough love. She once tied her son near an ant colony with the kind of big red ants that bite and leave painful bumps on the skin, after he disobeyed her order not leave the house while she was at work.

Her biggest achievement, she says, is sending all her children to school. None of them had to beg nor work.

“Kaya awa ng Diyos, wala akong anak na naglimay sa kalye at mag apo (By God’s grace, none of my children or grandchildren begged on the street),” she says. 

Her children are all grown up, some with their own families. She refused to take money from them even if they offered.

Eh ang mga anak ko naman hihingian ko, namerwisyo pa ako. Dapat napupunta na lang sa mga apo o anak nila. Basta kumikita ako, okay lang (If I ask money from them, I would be a burden. They could give the money to me instead of spending on their child or grandchildren. I am okay as long as I can still earn),” she says.


Besides, Nanay Ely enjoys her work. She’s 82 but she says she does not feel her age at all.

“Alam ‘nyo kahit itong edad na ‘to, hindi pa rin to mahina. ‘Yun nga lang napinsala tenga ko no, pero malakas pa ‘to….Dapat talaga kumita. Maganda ang kumikita (Despite my age, I am still able. Aside from my poor hearing, I am still strong. I can still earn on my own. It’s nice to make a living),” she says.

Her earnings vary. On a good day, she earns P1,000 to P1,500 ($19.60 to $29.41). On other days, she can only sell 3 products and earn only around P300 ($5.88).

The old crocheter added that she can finish creating one bottle cover in less than two hours.

Pero kapag napa-tsismis umaabot ng 4 ng oras. Siyempre kuwento-kuwento ‘yun, ganon ho (If I get into gossiping, it would take me four hours to finish one product),” she says.

CROCHET. Nanay Ely sells her knitted products for P100 to P300 each

When she was young, Nanay Ely suffered hearing loss in the right ear after an accident. Her old age has also weakened her hearing in her left ear, but this has not deterred her from talking.

She would take visual cues from her customers and would just keep on talking about her products until she would end up telling bits and pieces of her life that has spanned 8 decades.

This was how she went viral online.

Early in July, Sean Aleta posted photos of Nanay Ely on Facebook and promoted her products. At least 9,600 netizens reacted to the post, praising Nanay Ely for her hard work, while 3,300 shared it. 

Day-to-day survival

While inspiring, Nanay Ely’s story is not all that pretty. (READ: Without pension, senior citizens forced to continue working

There are laws and policies in the Philippines that are supposed to ensure that indigent seniors – those who are old and sickly and do not receive pension from state-run pension agencies – like Nanay Ely would not need to break their backs just to continue living a comfortable life. 

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), of the 7 to 8 million senior citizens in the country, an estimated 5.5 million are indigent. 

To  “augment [their] daily subsistence and other medical needs,” the DSWD gives P1,500 ($29.41) to poor senior citizens every quarter under its  Social Pension Program for Indigent Senior Citizens (SPISC).  

Only 2.8 million seniors, however, are currently enrolled in the program, according to DSWD Undersecretary Hope Hervilla.  

Nanay Ely is not one of them. She even does not know that such a program exists.

Why is there a gap between the estimated number of indigent seniors and the total number of beneficiaries of the program?

In a phone interview, Hervilla explained that local government units, with the help of the local social workers, are responsible for making sure all the indigent seniors in their community are enlisted with the Office for Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) desk.

“Sa atin naman, under the P19-billion ($372,468,683) program that we are proposing, which is good for 3 million beneficiaries, tumutulong tayo sa LGU at tumutulong tayo sa OCSA para lahat ng senior citizens na maregister nila at matulungan nila,” Hervilla said.  

(Under the 19-billion program that we  are proposing and that is good for 3 million beneficiaries, we are helping LGUs so we can cover and register all senior citizens.)

Hervilla said that ideally, LGUs should be able to enlist would-be seniors, or constituents who are about to turn 60, to make sure that they will be considered when the department submits its budget proposal for the following year.  


More than the program’s reach, is the support for senior indigents enough?

The program allocates only P500 per month to beneficiaries, released  quarterly.

Hervilla agreed that that given the medical needs of seniors, the amount is not really enough. 

“Ang goal natin ay kasama sila sa vulnerable section na mabigyan ng proteksyon, na mabigyan ng pension kasi that’s the DSWD’s goal. Kung titingnan talaga, saan aabot ang P500 ($9.80) a month? Sana madagdagan pa natin ng quarterly,” Hervilla said, appealing to lawmakers who will deliberate on budget proposals beginning this month.

(Our goal is to include them in the vulnerable section that should be given protection and provided with pension. That is DSWD’s goal. If we take a closer look, how far will P500 a month reach? We hope that we can augment this quarterly dole out.)

The DSWD said it has also partnered with other private and like-minded organizations to make sure beneficiares get as much support as possible. Under the Centenarian Law, seniors who reach 100 years old will also receive P100,000 ($1,960) and other rewards and incentives. 

Notwithstanding the reach and budgetary constraints of the program, Hervilla encouraged seniors like Pangindian to enroll in the program. 

Nanay Ely, however, has no plans of retiring her small crochet business any time soon. 

“‘Yung mga bumibili sa akin, ang mga masasabi nila? Natutuwa raw sila dahil sa edad ko raw, nakakapaghanapbuhay pa raw ako. Nakakagawa pa raw ako ng paraan. Dapat nga raw nagpapalimos na ako eh. Di ako nagpapalimos. Eh kasi meron naman akong [libangan],” she said.

(My customers are usually amused because I can still work despite my age. They say I can still find ways. They said I should be begging. I won’t beg for money as long as I can still do my hobby.) –

 $ = P51.01

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Raisa Serafica

Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.