Located on Mindoro, 130 south of Manila, is one of the world's best diving. Puerto Galera is a known tourist destination for divers and lovers of the beach, for both locals and foreigners.
The coral reefs have been known to be some of the most diverse in all of Asia. Puerto Galera, nonetheless, gets visitors year round. And many of them.
In 2003, foreign missionaries based in Manila, Alex & Chris Kuhlow, began something that would change lives forever..
Co-founder, Alex, tells the story well:
While staying at the beach we befriended some of the locals and we looked forward to seeing them each time we went. Many of them work hard all day long trying to sell woven baskets or colorful friendship bracelets and anklets that they have made. I really had no idea how little money they had to live on. I learned of the unthinkable abuses to which many children were being subjected — all in the name of putting food on the table! Many poor families flock to the popular vacation destinations, hoping to cash in on money being spent by wealthy tourists. Some of these families, upon realizing that they still cannot generate enough income by vending on the beaches, make the desperate choice to sell their children into prostitution. Since it is an underground market, I wasn't aware it was happening until some of our local friends informed me. Suddenly my eyes were opened and I could see the telltale signs.
Our friends had made a tough, but right choice! Instead of being lured by the money that could be made at the cost of their children's innocence, the whole family worked hard selling what they could to the tourists on the beach to provide the most basic of necessities. They are often viewed as a nuisance since most people don't want to be bothered while they are on vacation, but they persevere in the hope of finding someone who will buy their wares.
A decade has passed now since we were first invited to the house of one of our friends. We had hiked for about 40 minutes, much of it on a path straight up the side of a mountain. When we came to their house we were humbled to see two elderly parents and several children living in a very small shack made out of materials they probably found. When we arrived, the father sent one of the boys up a nearby coconut tree to retrieve a coconut so that we could be refreshed from our hike. They had very little, but what they had they shared liberally!
I was moved by their circumstances and wanted to help, but knew they wouldn't take money without giving something in return. So I told them I wanted to buy $100 worth of bracelets and that I would pick them up the next time I was there. This was a lot of money for them and I confess that I wasn't totally convinced I would ever see the bracelets or the money again, but that was ok, they needed it far more than we did!
But true to their word, the next time I arrived they presented me with 1300 bracelets! I was surprised at how many they gave me and I asked how many they could make in an hour. They said, "If we are not lazy, we can average about four an hour." After some quick calculations, I realized they were charging a mere eight cents per piece and thought that meant they were only making 32 cents an hour! When I pointed this out to them they were embarrassed that I thought they were making a whole 32 cents an hour and informed me that the cost of the materials was three cents per piece, making their profit five cents per piece and hourly wage 20 cents! I was a little more than choked up when they thanked me for providing their family with a GOOD source of income for an entire month!
At the time, I wasn't sure what I would do with all the bracelets, but I took them and went on my way. I brought them to the U.S. with me and decided to take them to our family camp that summer where they agreed to see if they would sell in their store. In three days, 500 were sold to a camp population of about 200 people and the remaining bracelets were sold the following weeks! Over $1000 was made from that initial $100 investment!
It was then that I realized the potential to change the desperate conditions and choices facing many people each day here in the Philippines. If we could find a large enough market for these bracelets, we could help bring back a sense of dignity to a people who are clinging to a thread of hope. It was not my intention to profit from the sale of these bracelets, but to return the proceeds by providing schooling, medical care and nutrition to those who don't have the resources to do it on their own.
A lot has happened since March of 2003 when that $100 was given as a simple act of compassion; more than we ever dreamt was possible. We have gone from helping one family to nearly 250 families; that is close to 700 people earning a steady income. Most of the children have returned to school instead of just one child per family attending. Currently, many of the bracelet makers have gotten so efficient that they can produce 100 or more bracelets in a day. A new sense of hope has been fostered within their communities. Dignity has been restored to these families who are anxious to work so they can provide for and protect their children.
When I first learned of this incredible organization, I knew I had to visit. I tried November of last year, but it just didn't work out. This last May, my husband and I went for a couple days recharge to the beach...to Puerto Galera.
I took a morning and went to Threads of Hope. I met a couple of families and was absolutely moved by their stories, by their commitment, by their faith.
The journey began on a trike...I rode it for about 30 minutes.
When I got to the Threads of Hope Center, I was met by a swinging friend... :)
I was met by a wonderful lady, Ate Judith. From the centre we made our way to her home.
As I removed my shoes and entered their home, I became overtaken with great emotion. A sense of peace and contentment was so very evident. I gently asked questions, about their family, the children, the bracelet making. I was so impressed at the speed at which they worked, while we chatted.
Bracelets of all sizes and designs were made. some were made in 30 minutes to an hour. Others, due to their detail, a few hours. They had an amazing rhythm and system down.
Ate then pulled out the bracelets they had done over the last week or so...I was so impressed! What I loved was the view they had while they tied...It would make doing this so relaxing..
Ate then offered me a bracelet. I was absolutely honored. She tied it around my ankle.
We then went to another family's home down the way a bit. There is something about the province, outside Manila, that I just love, that I just crave.
The family we visited next had several teenagers, who all attend various levels of school, and they all had a hand in the bracelet making. It was truly a family business!
And Nanay, or mother, looked on as her children smiled and giggled and told me stories of their lives.
Before we left, one of the daughters, like Ate Judith, offered me a bracelet. Again, I tried to pay for it...they would not allow me to. So much generosity that was truly overwhelming.
Ate then told me she would take me to a village. A village that the indigenous of Mindoro lived. WOW! I was already so happy with my morning and all that I saw. Then to take me to this village too?
So off we went, in a trike, to Mangyan Village.
Here was a village that the craftspeople had been sponsored to do their tribal creations and make a living with them. It was so gorgeous - the village, the items, THE PEOPLE.
I was taken to one of the ladies currently making a woven serving tray. I watched as she twisted and pulled and tied the bamboo. Amazing. This tray would take her 2 weeks to make. And she would sell it for about 1200 pesos, or about $30. I KNEW I would be taking one home. :)
We headed back to Threads of Hope Center, by trike once more, where I asked Ate Judith if I may purchase some bracelets. And let me tell you, I didn't purchase 1 or 2. I told her I wanted 1000 pesos worth. What amazing souvenirs to take home to Canada and for my daughter to share with her friends at school.
Threads of Hope truly is doing an amazing work in Puerto Galera.
As I said goodbye to my new friends, I knew that this would not be the last I would be seeing them, their center or the gorgeous bracelets.
For more information about Threads of Hope, Inc, please visit them online at:
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