A champion of social entrepreneurship has teamed up with a tourism industry leader to create a product that offers a rustic experience to visitors, with the aim of generating income for farmers and their families.
Antonio “Tony” Meloto, founder of the antipoverty, community-building movement, Gawad Kalinga (GK), and Robert “Bobby” Lim Joseph, civic leader, pioneer of the micro travel agency cooperative and chair of Philippine Wine Merchants, make a formidable team behind Paraiso Village Farm in San Jose, Batangas.
Established in 2018, this 8.8-hectare multipurpose development is built with villa-style accommodations, recreational facilities, a chapel and a multipurpose hall set amid agricultural lands and animal farms.
Like any resort, Paraiso Village Farm is a place where people can chill. On a weekend, women will be playing mahjong, the men will enjoy their drinks under the trees, while the children swim in the pool with a jacuzzi. The organic food is the main attraction, since the ingredients are sourced from the farm. The menu specializes in ginataang langka, salads and Pinoy fare.
Joseph envisioned the Paraiso Village Farm as an endeavor for social tourism. On the farm tour, visitors are educated about the crop production and animal breeding. As restrictions ease further, it could offer educational tours for city children who have never seen a bitter gourd vine or free-range chickens.
The place can be booked for special events, celebrations, outdoor concerts, team building, company outings, workshops, retreats and weddings.
No poverty mindset
The place started out as a GK community with homes for the indigents and education benefits for the youth. Unlike other GK villages which have been sustained by big donors, Paraiso Village Farm is self-reliant.
Meloto added that Paraiso has an environment favorable for GK’s template of social entrepreneurship, or what he calls “profitability for sustainable philanthropy.”
“Give the poor the motivation to remove the poverty mentality by providing them with opportunities,” he said.
Instead of relying on dole-outs, farmers and farm hands make the land productive so that the profits can support the community. Farmers earn from freshly harvested organic vegetables which are delivered to customers in Metro Manila’s affluent villages every Thursday. Paraiso likewise acts as a marketing hub for other growers outside the farm. A portion of their earnings is donated to GK’s advocacy of promoting the welfare of the elderly in nearby towns.
“Throughout this pandemic, no one lost work in the farm,” said Meloto. “Construction and agriculture were going on. The tricycle drivers and factory workers, who were out of work, were hired. They have homes and jobs. There’s no need to pay for transport and they are safe from getting infected. This is an experiment on being a self-sustaining community that will be replicated around the country.”
“We also want to show that anybody who wants a farm can get it cheap,” said Joseph.
Some investors have built thematic homes in 800-square-meter residential sites. A portion of the lot is dedicated to growing crops. The owner pays a monthly due of P3,000, which includes maintenance and security. Hence, a farmer not only earns from an assigned farm lot, he also gets additional income from looking after an owner’s property and its plantings and 30 percent from the sales of his harvest.
For added income, homeowners can likewise have their homes rented out for a few nights, as well.
Meloto cited a farmer/foreman, his wife and three children who work on the farm and earn an average household income of P50,000 a month. The sons augmented their income by pooling their resources to buy pigs and had earned P120,000 from the sales of the livestock. The earnings enabled other farmers to buy motorcycles and even a van.
These partners have a soft spot for their seniors’ program. Both 72 years old, Joseph and Meloto feel blessed to have reached the Third Age, the golden years of adulthood. Every month, Valentine’s Day and Christmas, Paraiso hosts some 300 citizens from San Jose, Cuenca and other towns, who are feted and entertained. These are supplanted with a week’s supply of fresh produce and medicine.
Meloto cited that the biggest poverty is emotional, which is born out of loneliness.
“We discuss this in Bobby’s house every Thursday. I feel the same emotional need as a senior. You become powerless. I feel that God is not yet done with me,” said Meloto.
It’s hard to imagine Meloto in that state, considering that he has received many awards, including Entrepreneur for the World 2012 in Lyon, France. In 2014, he shared the stage with Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, in Lille, France.
“I felt I was being honored for the work of millions of people who built Gawad Kalinga,” Meloto recalled. However, he felt lonely at home, disempowered by physical aging and psoriasis, which triggered depression.
“People saw me onstage, thinking that I was Superman. They didn’t understand my pain,” he said.
Meloto was poised to retire until he met Joseph, who became an inspiration. “He has zest for life because he wants to do good. We became kindred spirits.”
Joseph’s 20-year bout with stage 4 cancer has been widely written about. Diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2002, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor on his left kidney. Five years later, the cancer metastasized to the heart, lungs and throat. He was treated with expensive medication.
Then in 2017, his 28-year-old son, Richard, fell from a building in Detroit, Michigan. Family and friends mourned the loss of a compassionate soul. In memory of his late son, Joseph built a chapel on the farm.
In the past 20 years, Joseph had undergone 14 surgeries to remove tumors in the brain, below the spine and the leg.
Despite his ailment, he kept busy in environmental campaigns, published several books on hospitality and protocols for VIPs and led tourism conventions, providing scholarships. He set up GK’s travel agency, which booked its domestic and international visitors. After the Taal Volcano eruption, he built additional bathrooms for a public school in Batangas, which was used as an evacuation center.
Advocacies, prayers and work naturally energized him. “When I’m feeling well, I look for something to do,” said Joseph.
A few weeks ago, Joseph encountered another battle. Diagnosed with liver cancer, he is banking on hope and waiting for the arrival of his medications.
At Paraiso, the mini forests, the clean air, blue skies, the chirping of the birds and the bonding with people relieve Joseph of anxieties.
Meloto gets enthusiastic hearing the success stories from the farmers, their families and how Paraiso has helped vulnerable populations. Stories about giving joy to a bedridden elderly by sending fresh produce a week before her demise, or giving livelihood to seniors and sending sons of farm hands to school or abroad warm his heart.
“This farm is a place for healing. This is our happy place. Miracles can happen for the elderly and the terminally ill,” said Meloto.