It takes a Filipino village for foreigners to uncover ‘The Genius of the Poor’

Thomas Graham, 3rd from left, with FACC and COFACC officers: Sec. Ed Cansino and Pres. Merwynn Montenegro (Tri-County); Pres. Gerry Palon (Coalition of FACC); Board Member Jeffrey Bautista (Orange County); Sec. Connie Mapue and Board Member Doreen Remo (Greater Los Angeles).
COALITION AND THOMAS GRAHAM

A British journalist immerses himself in the social entrepreneurship of the agri-urban, self-sustaining Filipino village, eco-friendly business startups begun by non-profit Gawad Kalinga (‘to give care’ in Tagalog), and instead of staying a few months, he stayed for nearly two years starting GK’s social tourism group, MAD (Making A Difference) Travel.

Writer of ‘The Genius of the Poor,’ Thomas Graham, introduced the MAD Travel enterprise with GK Founder Tony Meloto, and then-Philippine Dept. of Tourism Sec. Ramon Jimenez at the World Travel Market in London in 2013.

Thomas, a London-born reporter, parlayed an assignment covering Gawad Kalinga into a personal and entrepreneurial journey in which he was uplifted by the resilience, innovation, collaboration and family spirit held by the Filipino poor; so much so that he wrote ‘Genius of the Poor,’ and even got his father, a British pensioner in his 70s, drawn to helping the cause.

THOMAS GRAHAM

“As I have witnessed throughout my journey, when the rich and the poor come together, it is not just the poor who are enriched,” Thomas wrote about the inherent dignity of all persons and the Catholic Christian emphasis on the preferential option for and partnering with the poor.

‘Genius of the Poor,’ holds many triumphant stories of walangiwanan (‘no one left behind’) and bayanihan (‘sense of community response and responsibility’). Some of my favorites include a chapter called ‘Dignity Restored,’ about a women’s prison renamed Ray of Hope Village where the inmates have called themselves bakasyonistas (vacationers) since 2008, with the help of Gawad KalingaThe women make bags, coin purses, coasters, cellphone pouches, from recycled plastic straws by weaving them together. Thomas Graham’s father did a lot of shopping there helping send inmates’ children to school.

I also liked the chapters about locally-sourced products (‘Making Farming Sexy’) and was bowled over by the breadth of products:

-Bayani Brew, an antioxidant-rich drink made of lemongrass, sweet pandan leaves and calamansi juice, with the logo: ‘Changing lives one bottle at a time’; coffees such as Kape Maria, Café de Sug.

-Gourmet Keso, chevre (feta or salty goat cheese) with olive oil, garlic, herbs, cashews and truffles and kesongputi (carabao or water buffalo cheese).

-Golden Duck turmeric-infused boiled duck eggs, foie gras, duck burgers and duck-filled sisig.

It reminds me of my elder daughter’s foray into social tourism. She visited a seaside village in Palawan, where my co-AFSer friend PerlaManapol had relocated. (She’s president of the NGO Sustainable Rural Enterprise; Tony Meloto is also an American Field Service alum). My daughter said she had to sit in the back of a chicken fertilizer truck with bags of stinky fertilizer, for the seemingly hours-long drive. Perla convinced her that with a generous donation, the village could have its own mulcher to grind down unwanted vegetation into compost and eventually fertilizer. The village was so grateful, it called the machine the LowinaMakina after my daughter, Louinn.

If you’re ready to make a change in your life and the lives of others, check out the GK Website at www.gk.usa.org or email for [email protected].

Joel Jacinto, City of L.A. Public Works Commissioner, seated center, witnesses birth of the Coalition of Filipino American Chambers of Commerce, Inc.

ABOUT COFACC

GLENDALE, CA – ‘A Story of Hope,’ a workshop on social entrepreneurship and social tourism, featuring guest speaker Thomas Graham, author of ‘The Genius of the Poor’ and co-founder of MAD Travel, was presented on July 27, by the Coalition of Filipino American Chambers of Commerce, Inc., in cooperation with the FACC Greater Los Angeles, and hosted by Christina Camiling of New York Life Insurance Co. at their office here.

Appreciation for Tina Camiling from Jerry Palon and Connie Mapue

The symposium was attended by PH Dept. of Tourism in Los Angeles, Business Development Director Richmond Jimenez, who thanked Michelle Narvaez of Gawad Kalinga for her ‘enduring support of Philippine Tourism,’ and Philippine Airlines for assisting Thomas in his West Coast tour.

“And we also want to thank Thomas, Gawad Kalinga USA, Ms. Maricel Villanueva, and Seafoods City,” announced Gerry Palon, COFACC president, “for making this event a successful one.”

Accolades for Thomas Graham from Merwynn Montenegro and Gerry Palon

“COFACC, Inc.,” stated Gerry, “was created by a group of highly principled men and women of the Filipino American business community, bonded and united by the belief that integrity, transparency, and adherence to the highest ethical standards can never be compromised, these being the cornerstone values of any successful business organization. Officially registered on May 24, COFACC, Inc. commits itself to be sensitive and proactive to the real needs of the local business communities it serves. Members are unselfishly devoting their time in the pursuit of this worthy endeavor,” he added. Gerry, the president emeritus of the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Los Angeles, and one of COFACC’s founders, truly believes that ‘the birth of this new organization, established to serve as a central organization at the national level to provide collaboration and coordination channels for the various Filipino American Chambers of Commerce across the nation, will change the landscape and image of Filipino American Chambers of Commerce.’

The founding Board of Directors from the FACC GLA: Gerry Palon, Ellen Samson, Lois Klavir and Angelo Varsobia. FACC Tri-County (Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino): Merwynn Montenegro, Atty. Abraham Lim and Ed Cansino. FACC Orange County: Neil Estrada, Joseph Joseph and Jeffrey Bautista. FACC South Bay Los Angeles Area: Cynthia Carolyn Tan and Janice Jimenez. FACC San Diego: William Peetom, and FACC Hollywood: Craig Wilson.

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