Welcome to Paraiso Village Farm
By Mac Amaranto
For some, the best way to pay it forward is by giving. For others, it is by teaching.
Anthony “Tony” Meloto is known for his advocacy against poverty. He is a vision doer and a man with a big heart. Tony started Gawad Kalinga (GK) by building homes for only 30 families in Bagong Silang. The movement grew and successfully built thousands of houses not just in the Philippines, but also in other countries like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
His goals are to reach as many families as possible, unite the rich and the marginalized, and build a pedestal of hope where dreams could be fostered. The philanthropist wanted to eliminate the poverty mindset too.
Age is just a number
At 72, Tony never wished to retire. After GK had successfully established thousands of houses for the poor, with his friend Bobby Joseph, a veteran in the travel and tourism industry, he started a new journey in social entrepreneurship.
With the dream to serve as a beacon of light, the two friends trained the youth to cultivate hope and pass it around.
Having seen the need to connect with senior citizens who are indigents, forgotten, sickly, and lonely, Tony and Bobby also reached out to old folks and gave them opportunities to discover a new purpose. Every month, the philanthropists would invite 200 elderly in the town of Cuenca and San Jose to enjoy a whole day, whether Christmas or Valentine or Grandparents' Day.
A social tourism farm, Paraiso Village Farm (PVF) was established 2019 in Sabang, San Jose, Batangas.
Just like GK, VF is about pleasure and profit with a purpose; “Profitability for Sustainable Philanthropy” as they call it. People would donate to build homes in their communities. This time, however, Tony and Bobby would like to help the community earn its own income.
Tony brought the land from a businessman who has the same mission of providing jobs to the locals. His group then developed the farmland piece by piece. From 6.8 hectares, the farm grew to 8.8 hectares, and a portion of it was allotted to construct 28 houses for the farmers through GK.
The main idea of social entrepreneurship is to make the land productive. It also aims to provide a steady profit for the community and the senior citizens as Tony believes that charity alone is not sustainable.
Offered to an investor is a piece of land, around 800 square meters, which PVF assigns a farmer to look after with the remuneration of ₱3,000 for each lot. One farmer can handle a maximum of four lots, allowing him or her to earn as much as ₱12,000.
Farmers also get a third of the harvest. Through e-commerce, the farmers could sell their products to consumers from exclusive villages like Forbes Park, Ayala Alabang, and Corinthians.
These organically grown fresh produce are shipped on Thursdays and delivered to customers within 24 hours. Aside from being cheaper than retail prices, the goods are delivered directly to the buyer.
A piece of land, around 800 square meters, is offered to an investor. After that, a farmer is assigned to look after a portion of the said lot for a fee of ₱3,000 for each lot. One farmer can handle a maximum of four lots, allowing them to earn as much as ₱12,000.
Rich for all
With the concept of social entrepreneurship, the profit goes to support the community, improve the lives of the farmers, provide quality education for their children, and maintain the ministry for senior citizens.
This initiative anchored on the goal that “No poor gets left behind,” has been fueled by the idealism of Bobby’s son, Richard. It has created a movement that benefits all, not just the young but even the elderly who are more often than not being neglected.
Richard, who died in 2017, volunteered in GK during his high school days at La Salle. He would go out of his way to feed the underprivileged using his allowance and stocks from home. On his birthdays, instead of partying, Richard would give cash aid to those in need. He would also help provide members of the GK community with necessities.
To memorialize Richard’s kindheartedness, Bobby has donated a chapel inside the farm. He and Tony have also started a foundation named after Richard called “Rich for All,” where again the goal is to ensure that no one is left behind.
Without any publicity, PVF has attracted many visitors. It is the only model of social tourism in the country with the goal of helping the farmers prosper and supporting the indigent and senior citizens in the community as well as in the neighboring towns.
PVF has created three programs specifically for senior citizens.
First is “Kalusugan,” aimed at making sure that the elderly are in their best health by providing them with healthy, nutritious food. In this program, PVF delivers a week’s worth of fresh produce from the farm to the seniors every month.
The second program is “Kabuhayan,” and the third is “Kasiyahan.” According to Tony, the biggest poverty is loneliness. Many of the seniors are left alone, while their children are elsewhere trying to survive on their own. Knowing this, Tony and Bobby find every reason to make them happy. They know that aside from physical health, the emotional wellbeing of the senior citizens needs to be addressed. Loneliness can be a factor in their deteriorating health, so PVS has made it a goal to keep them looking forward to a celebration or an occasion that warrants social gathering and merrymaking at least once every month.
Being a senior
Tony and Bobby feel powerless against aging. What keeps them going is the thought that God is not yet done with them. “I want to retire with my boots on,” Tony says.
Tony has received recognition as one of the leading social entrepreneurs in the world together with Muhamad Yunus of Paris. “I thought of jumping off the stage because I felt that I was being honored for the work of millions of people who help build GK,” he says. While he does feel his physical strength is slowly waning, he knows there is still so much to be done.
Bobby has not been without challenges either on the health front. Despite having had stage 4 cancer and with the knowledge that his illness could take over him any time, Bobby chose to face his fate with optimism and prayers.
“Father God, thy will be done. Pwede ba ako humingi ng (can I ask for) something small?” Bobby would pray. “My youngest is eight years old, if you take me in, I want him sana na umabot man lang ng (to reach) high school, so he can know a father.”
God has heard Bobby. His son is already 23 years old, has graduated college from La Salle, is done with a marketing program in Spain, and is currently carving a path for himself.
Tony and Bobby’s vision is to make PVF the center of fresh produce in town.
Making the farm a marketing center for fresh produce would benefit many farmers. It suits Bobby’s mission to help the community by giving it a hand in selling its very own products.
Currently, they plan to have a monthly food festival and invite chefs from Manila to cook for PVF and its guest list of influential people, serving them the best of Taal’s heritage dishes.
Tony and Bobby also uplift young farmers to a point where they can establish their future enough to support their families. The duo also educates these young farmers about marriage, as they firmly believe that early pregnancy leads to poverty.
PVF offers leisure, vision, values, and virtues. It is tourism with a heart, with a purpose, and with a goal that no one is left behind. —Mark Amaranto