Home­made, hand­made, heart­made

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By IDA ANITA Q. DEL MUNDO

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.

STAR pho­tos by GEREMY PIN­TOLO

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).

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