I was happily nibbling on preserved roselle (hibiscus), a gift from my friend Imelda Tan, who was also telling me interesting stories.
She introduced me to Sally Yunez and Judy Lao, active volunteers of the foundation behind the production of the fun-to-chew, sweet-and-sour, preserved bottle of roselle.
The treat is one of various sources of livelihood given by the Tzu Chi Great Love Village in Palo, Leyte.
The Village of Great Love is the silver lining for many families after the devastation and tragedy of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013.
At that time, 300 Tzu Chi volunteers from 19 countries flew to Tacloban and started the “Cash for Work” project by giving P500 per day to every man, woman and child who registered with their barangay. The cleanup program lasted 19 days, with more than 300,000 beneficiaries.
After the cleanup, the program shifted to “Cash for Relief,” with the foundation donating funds to every family to rebuild their homes.
“The efforts built 1,500 temporary houses in Ormoc and 256 houses in Palo, Leyte. A total of 600 Quonset huts as temporary classrooms were also provided,” said volunteer Lao.
“They had to be taught to work and not rely on hand-outs,” she added.
In April 2015, Tzu Chi started its livelihood program.
A vegetarian kitchen and bakery were set up. Courses on tricycle financing, sewing and cross-stitching were given.
The farming program began with the planting of vegetables, but these crops were not enough to sustain the livelihood of farmers.
They turned to roselle after their visit to Tzu Chi Abode, Hualien, Taiwan, where they encountered nuns planting and harvesting the buds to make tea and juice concentrate.
The seeds, generously shared by the nuns, were then planted in Palo, where they now vigorously grow.
A rich source of vitamin C, Roselle de Palo is sold in preserved form (perfect to add to your salad) and as jam.
Roselle juice sells fast like calamansi at Veggie Kitchen.
The kitchen employs village folk as cooks, helpers and runners, preparing vegetarian meals for government and business offices in Palo, Tacloban, and neighboring towns.
Some of the vegetarian dishes are menudo, kaldereta, kare-kare, tempura talong, dinuguan, tofu stir fries, lechon paksiw and salpicao.
Yunez’s cooking brings out the real taste and character of the vegetable without drowning it with strong flavors and heavy sauces.
The bakeshop makes malunggay pan de sal, mongo and kalabasa custard, maja blanca, siopao, cuapao, muffins and roselle jelly rolls.
Business is flourishing yet the work has not stopped for the foundation and its volunteers.
Yunez said, “We are doing this because we want our village to become a model community.”
Lao added, “After three years, the Tzu Chi Foundation is still in Palo to see to it that the survivors can better their lives and, in the process, we hope that they can help others, too. That’s the teaching of our Dharma Master Cheng Yen (1991 Magsaysay awardee for Community Service).”
Preserved roselle and roselle jam make meaningful holiday gifts.