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The Visionaries

Behind the scenes photos by Sonny Espiritu • Additional behind the scenes photos by Patricia Topacio, Clarence Manaois, Noime Dagohoy, and Rey Porras

“Traffic na naman,” “Blame APEC,” “Wala na yata talagang pag-asa ang Pilipinas,” “Let’s all go abroad,” “Haay look at all our presidentiables, you don’t know who to vote!” “OMG, did you read what Kris posted again?!” – rants, complaints, negativity. We all see this on social media or hear our friends rant on the dinner table. It is disheartening that we all love to dwell on the negative things than look at ourselves and see what good things we can do instead. 

LIFE at The Standard’s editorial team together with photographer Dix Perez traveled to so many parts of the country the entire October to meet people who give the Philippines more reason to breathe and smile. For almost a month, we interviewed and captured the lives and profiles of 21 amazing visionaries in their respective fields, a perfect testament for change – people whose vision and passion exceed far beyond their milieu. 

For the first time in the history of The Standard, we are mounting an event to honor these men and women who are catalysts for change. Our vision is to bring to light their stories to the public, and somehow inspire our readers to change within themselves and create ripples that can change our way of thinking. 

They say personal experience sparks the fire to help others – you were born in the slums and you want to get out of that environment and help others do so as well; you have a friend who is sick and this changed your life and now you want to help others find cure.

 

Catching the sunset in Zambawood

For Rachel Harrison, our awardee for Autism Awareness and Education, her advocacy stemmed from her son Julyan,  a 23-year-old handsome young man with the height of a matinee idol and the looks of a surf-board model, but born with autism. Rachel created a haven in San Narciso, Zambales called Zambawood, a boutique resort that supports sustainable living, health and wellness, and a safe haven for men and women like Julyan who can experience camp and other interactive activities around the resort, supported by a staff that knows how to handle their special needs. Zambawood is just the start of a bigger vision Rachel hopes to accomplish. 

And if we have a community of individuals with special needs,  “What do we need to do to get them employed?” A question that Chef Waya Wijangco tried to create a solution for with her school Open Hands – operational for four years, created for autistic graduates who are currently employed or running their own family businesses. 

“Good afternoon ma’am, let me get you a seat,” are the words that greet you as they open the door. I was ecstatic that these kids are very polite, but Chef Waya said they weren’t like that when they started; the training and education really molded them. 

It's like a secret garden–Hindy Tantoco leading us to her farm
Magtanim ay di biro! During the photoshoot with Charlene Tan in Tarlac
Feeding organic snacks to Hindy Tantoco’s black pig

From Manila, to Zambales, we then flew to Sarangani Province  and met Casimiro Olvida during the height of the Indonesian haze hovering over Mindanao. They call him “Mer,” a Bachelor of Science in Forestry graduate who is trying to reforest 7,500 hectares of land (twice the size of Makati bigger than the city of Manila) in the municipality of Maasim. As we descended to the airport of GenSan ,we saw the bald mountains greeting us, and we realized the daunting task of rebuilding a watershed whose trees been harvested since the Spanish era and torched by kaingineros. Another amazing visionary from Mindanao is Jaafar Kimpa, a man who ensures that undocumented Muslims are recognized, registered and counted. This inspiring man helps Muslim tribes and displaced families get access to every Filipino citizen’s benefits by making sure his fellowmen have the proper certificates and registration. 

Planting with Mer Olvida and the B'laan tribe

Back to Sta. Ana in Metro Manila, we met a young man under 40 named Quintin Pastrana, the guy behind Library Renewal Partnership (LRP). His love for books started his vision to cultivate a literary culture that can inspire Filipinos to empower and motivate themselves to reach their dreams. After our interview, he then led us to Pasig river to show us his other advocacy – rowing, much to our surprise as we weren’t dressed for the occasion and loaded the boats in our heels and not-so-comfy clothes. He said if people developed love for rowing, they’d keep Pasig River clean. 

Rowing in Pasig River with Quintin Pastrana

“You know what keeps me up at night? That people don’t blink at buying an expensive bag but they won’t pay more for their food,” says Holy Carabao’s Hindy Tantoco, our awardee for Sustainability. 

Now many would say that there are others whose efforts in sustainability are far greater than what she does but we believe that her small efforts can pave the way for greater things. From fashion to farming, this beauty is a perfect voice for sustainable living. Not only does she make organic farming look good, it’s a good example for the upper crust (the people who have the money) to start small things from their table. 

Speaking of fashion, we met with Lenora Cabili, the creative director of Filip+Inna, a local brand that managed to make waves globally. But what strikes us is the process and the people behind the brand. Behind the beautiful clothes of Filip+Inn are the works of numerous indigenous tribes from Bukidon to Davao whose skill in weaving and handmade embroidery are slowly becoming a thing of the past, but with her brand, she not only helps these tribes she also helps preserve a treasured skill to survive in this modern age.

Behind the scenes at Len Cabili’s shop

 Also under the fashion category, we are honoring the institution that created the talented greats in today’s fashion industry from Cesar Gaupo, Michael Cinco, Oliver Tolentino to Joey Samson and many more. We met up with Sandy and Mark Higgins – heirs to the house of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School, and they tell us the story of the institution and the many talented artisans who started their dream within the halls of their school. 

Behind the seams at SLIM’s, photo shoot with siblings Sandy Higgins and Mark Higgins

Learning – often the key to a better society. And what better way to have the younger generation learn than to teach them early about the practicality of business and entrepreneurship? This is what fueled Maiki Oreta to create Kiddo-preneur, a venue for kids to sell their own products and services and learn to develop hard work and perseverance, and learn the value of money. Imagine the next generation, self-sufficient and successful – maybe, just maybe, our country won’t be so third world in the very near future.

Learning from the kids of Kiddo-Preneur with photographer Dix Perez

Like reading and education, art plays a big part in inspiring a community. Roberta Dans Thomas takes Filipino artists outside of their comfort zone and helps them breakout to the international scene. She has worked with renowned artists Ronald Ventura, Wawi Navarroza, Renato and Guerrero Habulan, and Leeroy New, among others. 

“Tao po?” –  a usual greeting when a Filipino is knocking on doors, has become the name of the organization that Charie Villa created for citizen journalism, using social media as a medium for positive change especially with government services. We went around talipapas and side streets to shoot Charie’s profile and to represent her stand in being a voice for the common people. 

Nanay Ines sharing stories about Arugaan
Arugaan has become a sanctuary not just for babies but for kids who hang out by the gate waiting for some good graces

For social entrepreneurship, we are honoring five visionaries whose works created a sustainable impact within their communities as well as outside the Philippines. Cristina Liamzon and Edgardo Valenzuela, the founders behind the Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship program that  empowers OFWs and teaches them how to budget, how to save, and instill independence when they come back home or while they are abroad, at the same time connecting them into the local and economic developments within their hometowns. The only foreigner in the roster is former Peace Corps member Kevin Lee who is the founder of A Single Drop of Safe Water. His organization is composed of a team of community members and a committed government task force that plans, designs, and implements their own water and sanitation systems within marginalized communities in Benguet, Camarines Sur, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Eastern Samar/Leyte, Palawan, and Panay. John Paul Maunes, co-founder of Gualandi Volunteer Service Program, now known as Philippine Accessible Deaf Services, Inc., uses sign language and creative visual interaction to ensure that deaf children understand their rights and have a voice in the community especially in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation. One of the most memorable shoots for the awardees is that of Ma. Ines Fernandez known to many as Nanay Ines, a passionate promoter of breastfeeding and nutrition since the 1980s and the founder of Arugaan, an organization and a wet-nursery with a core group of volunteer mothers trained about proper breastfeeding practices, healthy indigenous food, and relactation counseling. Most of the editorial team present during the shoot couldn’t believe and were in awe at the things we learned that day. I for one did not sleep at the idea that even men are capable of breastfeeding and that single women who have not yet had a baby can produce milk.

Nanay Ines teaching us a thing or two on how to massage a baby
We weren’t ready to see one mom feeding two baby heads!

 Among the great visionaries are the younger ones who started with their passion at such an early age that they make you think like “What was I doing during that age?” or “I have to start doing something with my life now!” Among them is Young Visionary for Photography Xyza Cruz Bacani whose aspirational story from being a domestic helper to being in glossies like Vogue Italia and New York Times is one for the books. Charlene Tan is the person behind Good Food Community, an organization that aims to make local communities sustainable by connecting organic farmers and “enlightened citizens” in a program called Community Shared Agriculture.

Jason Buensalido is also part of the roster, our Young Visionary for Architecture. His architectural firm specializes in avant-garde and progressive designs that aim to revitalize the Philippines’ architectural scene.

Jason Buensalido showing us the material used for the floating garage in a latest development town house in Marikina

Cristalle Henares, Young Visionary for Entrepreneurship and a full-time businesswoman, is the 33-year-old heiress to the Belo Empire who started with the company when she was just 24. Rolandrei Viktor Varona, another Young Visionary for Entrepreneurship, is the driving force behind the 14 branches of Zark’s Burger who, after being a seaman, started his burger chain when he was just 23 years.  

Burger anyone? Behind the scenes at the shoot with Zark Burger owner Zark Varona

And already a household name after sharing a seat with US President Barack Obama and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during the APEC, Aisa Mijeno is one of our awardees as Young Visionary for the Science and Technology category together with her brother Raphael Mijeno. It has been a month since we interviewed and met this young inventor of Salt Water Lamp who shared with us her passion in giving light to every rural household. It gave us great pride when we saw her sharing her ideas during the APEC summit. During our interview, I asked her, “So what if companies copy your invention, what then?” And she answered calmly, “Well, I guess it’s okay, it just means they are helping us spread the cause.”  

Behind the scenes in Laguna with Salt Water Lamp inventor Aisa and Raphael Mijeno

It has been a very humbling and enlightening experience to have met these amazing men and women. They have opened our eyes, and gave us hope with a positive mindset. Through the month-long journey, we noticed that meeting these people made us realize – “Man, what am I doing with my life?” or “I think I need to start doing something not just for myself but for the greater good.” And maybe that is our role, by telling you about these people, we can ignite something in you. Small ripples can create tidal waves. 

Read more about the stories and journey of The Standard 2015 Visionaries Awards in our special 24-page feature that will be released Sunday, November 29. On December 4, we will be honoring these visionaries at the first Annual Visionaries Awards night of The Standard. 

For comments and suggestions you may email me at [email protected], for my crazy life’s adventures follow me at @tatumancheta on Instagram and Twitter.  

Topics: The Visionaries
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