I recently had an opportunity to visit a place where generosity, humility and solidarity abound.
I don’t usually like revealing exquisite places that I come across in my travels because a (selfish) part of me wants to keep the “secret” to myself for some time and I want to enjoy the place as much as I can until it becomes popular and get all swarmed by curious tourists but I decided to make an exception for this place because it has taught me so much about giving and sharing that I am compelled to let the whole world know about it.
a bewitching, captivating and enchanting place
In a sleepy town north of Metro Manila lies a lovely place not many of us know. This enthralling destination is aptly called “Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm”.
a piece of heaven on Earth
The farm certainly looks enchanting now but you may be surprised to know that it used to be an idle and useless land that houses NPAs (New People’s Army), rebels and criminals. We were told that the location of the farm was notorious for thieves and was in fact considered as the “Tondo” of Bulacan.
excited to explore the farm!
The farm derived its name from the barangay where it is located. The place is called Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan and for many Filipinos this word connotes many negative things like supernatural beings, environmental spirits that have the ability to appear in human form, etc. – quite scary if I may say. When Gawad Kalinga (GK) received several hectares of vast land (from originally 14 hectares to now 36 hectares) as donation from generous companies and philanthropists, they developed it into a sustainable farm and community and they named it the “Enchanted” Farm.
Surprisingly the English version which Merriam Webster defines as “fill (someone) with great delight; charm” connotes a more positive meaning than its Filipino counterpart “Engkanto” and that was just the start of the positive shift in mind set and perspective that Gawad Kalinga aims to impart to the Filipinos.
So what makes GK Enchanted Farm enchanting? If you ask me, its background and the story on how it was built are what make it enchanting.
The GK Enchanted Farm as described in their website is “Gawad Kalinga’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help our local farmers and create wealth in the countryside” so that people from the provinces and rural areas need not travel far to the city or live in the congested city of Manila and be away from their families just to earn a decent living.
Gawad Kalinga (GK) started its humble beginnings as a ministry for the poor of Couples for Christ (CFC). A few years back, Mr. Antonio “Tony” Meloto (Father and Founder of Gawad Kalinga) had a noble vision of ending poverty for 5 million Filipino families by 2024 (also known as GK2024). The GK Enchanted Farm is now Gawad Kalinga’s (GK2024) second phase.
Gawad Kalinga (GK) is driven by Tito Tony’s (as he is fondly called) advocacy of building a nation empowered by people with faith and patriotism; a nation made up of caring and sharing communities, dedicated to eradicate poverty and restore human dignity. It was an advocacy ridiculed and doubted by many, yet this vision is now very much widespread not only in this country but also globally and many achievers and accomplished people already want to be a part of it. Tito Tony Meloto has already received numerous awards here and abroad for his community leadership work for Gawad Kalinga. Our group had the privilege to have an intimate talk with Tito Tony and he definitely has a gift for words that left every one of us inspired and motivated.
Mr. Tony Meloto – the visionary behind Gawad Kalinga. His ideals and dreams for this country and how he works hard to achieve them never cease to amaze me
Tito Tony explained that in the GK2024 second phase, the houses and communities built by Gawad Kalinga are now being developed into Centers for Social Innovation (CSI) wherein the goal is to create a community that will nurture and train social entrepreneurs who will produce high-quality, locally-made products that will put a premium to the label “Made in the Philippines” by using the raw materials produced in the farm. It also aims to remove the middle man in the trading system so that the local farmers can earn more and their earnings and profits can eventually sustain these communities and gradually uplift the social status of the poor.
As Tito Tony says “The ability to dream is innate, but to make it happen is something worth aspiring for.” True enough he devised a very effective and proactive approach to make his dream for the GK Enchanted Farm happen. He didn’t just wait for donations to be given and handed down to them. Rather, he created a community with sufficient means of livelihood for its residents. The donations received by the farm from Tito Tony’s friends and from generous donors were just welcome addition and were not in any way solicited. Sure there are other Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that help the marginalized poor as well but they heavily depend on cash donations and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from the government that had to go through a lot of bureaucracy which
sometimes oftentimes only lead to corruption.
So let me tell you about the two days that I spent in the farm.
I, together with my sister, Claire, arrived at the Enchanted Farm on a Saturday and attended the following social enterprise demos:
Chocolate making by Philo Chua.
Philo – the Chocolate Man
Philo explained to us how chocolate is made specifically how he makes his artisan chocolate, Theo & Philo. The demo made me appreciate chocolates all the more because I realized how much work and effort is put into chocolate making. I also learned the difference of dark chocolate (and why it is expensive!), milk chocolate and white chocolate. Philo also explained why imported chocolates taste better than most of the chocolates that we can buy locally. I will definitely not look at chocolate the same way again. It is not just food to be consumed, chocolate is a work of art all its own.
Chocolate made from pure Cacao beans
I regret that I did not get to see the peanut butter-making demo because I love all things made from peanut! I will definitely make sure to attend it on my next visit to the farm.
We also attended the cheese-making demo of Gourmet Keso. I love how the whole process seemed so easy and doable at home and how the ingredients used are all-natural. One just needs carabao’s milk, pure vinegar and brine solution and voila you can already make a tasty and creamy kesong puti (white cheese). What’s best is that the by-product of this process is low-fat carabao’s milk which can still be sold to consumers.
I never knew that cheese-making could be fun and easy
The end product – Kesong Puti (white cheese) ready to be devoured
The last social enterprise demo we attended was the stuffed-toy making by Plush and Play. Fabien, the social entrepreneur behind this child-friendly, child-safe and All-Filipino toy brand discussed with us the reasons why he decided to go into stuffed-toy making. He mentioned that he saw the need for toys made of environment-friendly, safe and locally grown materials because almost all toy brands available in the market are made in China which unfortunately are mass produced and laden with harmful chemicals such as melamine, lead, zinc and the likes. He said that he wanted to create a quality toy brand that this country can be proud of.
Fabien also happily shared with us the amusing names of all their stuffed toys one of which is Anne Kamatis (Anne the Tomato) in reference to the widely-popular, Filipina actress, Anne Curtis. This tells a lot about how much this country adore and worship celebrities.
Fabien Courteille – the young social entrepreneur behind Plush&Play
the different stuffed toys made by Plush & Play
This demo is the one that I enjoyed the most because we were able to try ourselves how to make our own stuffed toy. I was actually being ambitious and wanted to make a complicated design but I was advised that for beginners it’s always best to start small so we all ended up making a simple, heart-shaped stuffed toy.
my teeny weeny heart-shaped stuffed toy. Pardon my oily face :D
I’m very proud to say that among-st all the participants, I’m one of the few who were able to do every step on my own, including operating the complicated and intimidating sewing machine! I also did a bit of hand sewing and stitching. I have my dear Lola (grandma) to thank for it.
doing some serious stitching
That’s a LOT of hearts!
We also had a farm tour with Raf Dionisio later in the afternoon who explained to us the very interesting and rich history of the farm and how it all started. The farm also had its share of growing pains but the persistence and resilience of the volunteers steered it into where it is right now. I am the type of person who gets very much affected by stories of hope and triumph and Raf’s stories and tales about the community and its people definitely left a huge positive impact to my whole being.
Would you believe that this work of art is a concept borne out of a calamity that hit the area many years back? There was illegal logging and when flash flood came, the logs got all wet and cannot be sold anymore so the residents decided to make wooden fish carvings out of them. Amazing!
The Hyundai Center for Green Innovation – a fascinating structure that prominently showcases the beauty and strength of indigenous materials that we can find in the Philippines
The Bamboo Palace
inside the Bamboo Palace
I was not expecting the farm to have a swimming pool but they do have one and a beautiful, infinity pool at that! It’s also a donation to the Enchanted Farm from Tito Tony’s friends. They also have available accommodations for guests who wish to stay overnight. My sister and I got to enjoy the pool at night before we went to bed and early morning the following day. We really had a great time at the pool that we swam two times!
Cottages near the pool
And the food, let us not forget their food which is made from all organic, freshly-picked ingredients from the farm. We ate a number of meals when we were in the farm and each meal was as bountiful and delicious as the last. I also noticed that organic vegetables and meat leave a clean taste on one’s palate.
Their meals are served buffet style
Covered dining area. There’s another area which is Al Fresco
The following morning Cherrie Atilano, gave us a tour of the agriculture part of the farm and allowed us to experience first-hand how it is to feed the farm animals and get up close and personal with them. Cherrie is the social entrepreneur behind Agricool which aims to make farming the new cool and to make agriculture smart and sexy. It is interesting to note that Cherrie is an achiever and an extremely intelligent lady who chose to postpone her Fulbright Scholarship in an Ivy League University (Cornell University!!!) so she can continue working for the GK Enchanted Farm. She is quite the perfect example of the kind of youth that this nation needs.
with the wonder girl, Cherrie Atilano.
harvesting some algae, a natural feed for the farm animals
The GK Enchanted Farm lives by the old adage that goes “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. I realized that we have been looking at the poor as people who need alms, charity and hand-me-downs when what they really need are opportunities, proper guidance and sustainable solutions.
watching the story of Gawad Kalinga and its advocacy
Tito Tony believes that poverty is a behavioural problem more than it is economic. He also believes that poverty in this country is deeply rooted in the culture that Filipinos have grown accustomed to and this is where GK Enchanted Farm comes into the picture because GK Enchanted Farm serves as an avenue in encouraging and developing social entrepreneurs who will create solutions and jobs for the less fortunate. The farm was developed not just for profit but for a cause. It is a non-government, non-profit entity. When you say non-profit it doesn’t mean that the farm is not earning anything from the products that they produce and sell, it only means that the profit that they earn go back to the community and is used to improve the lives of the people who work and live in the farm.
fresh produce sold in the Enchanted Farm
Bayani Brew, another product of the farm that is now getting widely popular
Now, how do I even begin to explain how I felt the first time I set foot on the GK Enchanted Farm?
Happy? – Yes!
Excited? – Of course!!
Thrilled? – Absolutely!!!
But even with the availability of a sundry of words to help me articulate my feelings, I don’t think any of them will ever suffice because the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm experience is simply indescribable – it is an overwhelming experience that is beyond words.
Unlike any normal farm, something magical undeniably happens inside the GK Enchanted Farm. It’s not the usual kind of magic that we know but the kind of magic that resonates deep within one’s heart and penetrates through one’s soul.
farmers plowing the field
Let us support Gawad Kalinga and the GK Enchanted Farm by simply visiting the farm or buying their products or partnering with them as a social entrepreneur.
I have posted their website below and the details regarding all the different packages that the Enchanted Farm offers. But the easiest and fastest way to book a tour with them is to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
My faith in our country and in humanity has been restored. If every one of us, able Filipinos, will do our share in giving back to our country and to our fellow countrymen, then perhaps the road out of poverty isn’t so impossible after all.