Homemade, handmade, heartmade
GUESTS RANG T’BOLI BELLS MERRILY AND INCESSANTLY at the launch of the Gifts and Graces retail store at the LRI Design Plaza in Makati, welcoming good luck and celebrating the 12th anniversary of the foundation.
“We are celebrating the viability and sustainability of an idea that was just a little seed in the mind of Sandy 12 years ago,” says Gifts and Graces chairman of the board Marivic Limcaoco.
The whole social enterprise literally started with a gift – or rather, the search for a gift. “I was looking for a giveaway for my brother’s wedding and I wanted it to be the product of a livelihood program,” says Gifts and Graces president and also Philippine Daily Inquirer president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez on her brainchild. Prior to this, while pursuing her masters in Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management, she had come across several cases where livelihood programs had difficulty achieving sustainability.
With her search for a suitable product for her brother’s wedding giveaway, Romualdez realized there must be an untapped market, as well as the communities supplying the products, that would benefit.
“It got me thinking that there is a need here that needs to be served. There must be a conduit or bridge made between livelihood programs
of poor, disadvantaged communities and consumers who are looking for alternative gifts or what we would like to call ‘gifts that give a lift’,” Romualdez shares. “I noticed there was no store of this nature. That’s what started us on the road to building a social enterprise like Gifts and Graces.”
Gifts and Graces executive director Vicky Jalandoni adds, “It started as an idea to come up with a way to bridge the gap between the livelihood that communities were being taught and trying to get them into the market. We help underserved communities market their products. At the same time, we also try to teach them how to create worldclass products, trendsetting and, more importantly, we also teach them how to cost properly.”
Over the years, says Limcaoco, “We were busy getting the foundation in order, connecting to the communities we serve. After I realized that we had good connections with them and we have great products, it was time to open a store.”
There is indeed no better time to open a retail store. At the launch Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who brought with her a bag that she had purchased from Gifts and Graces four years ago, said, “I really believe in Gifts and Graces... Local hasn’t been more en vogue as it is now. Everyone is buying local.”
Puyat further highlighted the tourism department’s overarching theme during her term: sustainable tourism. “When you talk about sustainable tourism, it is tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impact, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the host communities... Fair trade represents the best practice of responsible tourism. With Gifts and Graces you are preserving the culture and heritage.” Jalandoni agrees. “Every time you buy one of our products, you take a piece of our community home with you. You allow them to continue their stories and you allow them to live in their own communities, under their own terms, with their families.” One community that Gifts and Graces has been working closely with is the T’bolis of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in Mindanao. Together with Gifts and Graces designer Marge Oligacion, T’boli women have created several elegantly crafted home accessories out of the T’boli’s popular t’nalak textile. T’boli brass artisans have also crafted items such
as napkin rings and the lovely T’boli bells that pealed throughout the night.
Representing the T’boli women weavers, Bernadette Ofong says, “Mayaman kami sa skills at talent namin, culture and tradition, hindi
kami mayaman sa pera (We are rich with our skills and talent, culture and tradition, but not money).”
She shares that the leaders of Gifts and Graces personally visited them to see the state of their community and how they can be helped. “Nakakataba ng puso ang ginagawa
nila para sa community namin (What they are doing for our community is heartwarming),” she says. “Because of the help of Gifts and Graces, we are shifting into a business.” Ofong adds, the women of the community have become more empowered.
Other partner communities of Gifts and Graces include weavers from Sorsogon; persons with disabilities from Tahanang Walang Hagdan;
sakada farmers from Heidie’s Crafts in Negros Occidental; Stardolls stuffed toy makers from Caloocan; the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong; basket weavers from Las Piñas; and many, many more.
As they look forward to many more years as a growing social enterprise, Jalandoni says there are still several challenges that the foundation faces. “We deal with far flung communities that do not have regular phone and internet service. Trying to communicate changes to a particular design, sending purchase orders, etc. can be difficult. Deadlines are a challenge in the sense that if there is a town fiesta or a death in the community, work ceases.”
Weather is also a major factor since all materials used are organic and locally sourced. “For the T’bolis to make their bells they need to use clay but if the ground is wet, the clay will not dry as quickly, thus affecting the quality of the brass produced... If there is a shortage of beeswax in the mountains of Lake Sebu, the brass cannot be casted as the T’boli use beeswax for their molds,” says Jalandoni. But the biggest challenge for Gifts and Graces is the responsibility of making sure that all their partner communities have a continuous and steady income.
“This ensures that they can focus on what it is they do well, remain in their own homes, raise their children and grow roots. Many times we find that key members of the community have had to leave to seek jobs elsewhere so they can provide for their families on a regular basis,” says Jalandoni.
Despite this, the Gifts and Graces team remains motivated to continue advocating for women and local artisans. “The knowledge that we are allowing families to stay intact, earn a good wage, teach their children a craft that sometimes goes back generations is what motivates us... Just knowing they continue to live in their communities, send their children to school and live good, simple lives is affirmation enough for us.”
And that’s the grace that the Gifts and Graces Foundation – and your purchases – gives to these communities.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette RomuloPuyat (far right) joins the women of Gifts and Graces (from left) executive director Vicky Jalandoni, board members Mariles Gustilo, Thelma San Juan, Joanna Duarte, Sheree Gotuaco, president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez and chairman Marivic Limcaoco.
The Gifts and Graces flagship store at the LRI Design Plaza in Makati City is brimming with stylishly designed bags, home decor and accessories that are all proudly handmade by Filipino artisans.
Annie Abo upcycles rolled paper into sculptures (top). The elegant woven clutches are among Gifts and Graces’ most popular items (left). The tourism secretary examines T’boli items during the store launch (above).