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These Gifts Tell a Story

The group behind Gifts and Graces, or G&G, a non-government organization (NGO) focused on

helping improve the quality of handcrafted products made by marginalized communities, like to

say that each of their items has a story to tell.

The G&G tote bags, which are great substitutes for supermarket plastic bags, for instance,

are made from tarpaulin that once graced the metro as billboards. Past their scheduled exposure,

the tarpaulin images are brought down from their lofty perches, cut into pieces, and assigned to

the women of the Isla para sa Kaunlaran Enterprise in Maricaban, Pasay City, to sew together.

The recycled bags have enabled sewers like Thelma Coroza to go beyond a hand-to-

mouth existence and earn as much as P2,000 a month. Coroza relishes the idea that she can now

serve a meat dish to her family once a week. Moreover, her additional income has also bought

her visible proof of improvements in her quality of life -- a cellphone, a TV set and DVD player.

Best of all, her earnings have given Thelma a new sense of empowerment that comes from

enjoying the fruits of her labor. "It translates to a fresh outlook on life -- new hope that spills

over to her family and neighbors," notes Ms. Greg Perez, G&G executive director.

From another perspective, the tarpaulin bags, home accessories, candles and food

products sold by Gifts and Graces have cast a similar halo on those who purchase them.

Positioned as the gifts with the power to improve lives, G&G items give their buyers the

assurance that they can do something about bridging social inequities. "People in general like to

contribute to worthy causes especially those that alleviate the poverty that is all around us,"

remarks Perez.
Gifts and Graces was established by Philippine Daily Inquirer president Sandy Prieto-

Romualdez and Marge Macasaet Barro of the League of Corporation Foundations. By

outsourcing the labor to poor communities or by buying some of the products of the NGOs and

retailing them at bazaars and gift fairs, the group fills in a gap in the social development process.

Perez observes that while there are many groups involved in teaching crafts and skills to

supplement the income of the poor, there are few focused on helping them come up with

products that will compete in the marketplace. After G&G tweaks a detail or two to make a

handbag or candle more attractive, it then brings these products to bazaars, malls, tiangges and

other venues where they are further differentiated by the social impact they create.

G&G's intervention has been of great help to the Pag-asa sa Paglaya Multipurpose

Cooperative which trains ex-inmates in candle- and bread-making. Their wax replicas of green

and red apples and pears were G&G bestsellers last December and have greatly assisted the likes

of Artemio Dumaring who served a six-year sentence at the National Penitentiary for his

involvement with drugs.

While in prison, Dumaring knew that his chances of landing a regular job after serving

his term would be greatly diminished by his record. He grabbed the chance to learn a new

livelihood making candles and in the process discovered a new way to provide for himself and

his family. Candlemaking has served as his lifeline for over a decade now.

Like Dumaring, George Radang likewise experienced the gift of a fresh start through

G&G and its partner organization Tahanang Walang Hagdanan. He was severely depressed after

he lost his legs in a train accident. His search for renewed relevance led him to Tahanang
Walang Hagdanan where he mastered woodworking. Today his skills bring in sufficient income

to meet his rental fees, food and other basic needs.

Of the over 50 items carried by G&G, however, the beaded products by the students of

The Learning Center(TLC) would perhaps most qualify as labors of love. TLC is a school for

special needs individuals. One of the beaders is 21-year-old Koko Gomez who strings together

his pieces with passion and intensity. He is equally enthused by the idea that he can make money

through this activity.

Becoming a Gifts and Graces-partner community takes more than just having a poor

community-beneficiary or an environment-friendly agenda. The foundation requires partner

communities to be willing to engage in fair trade practices such as complying with

environmental, wage and child labor regulations, discloses Perez.

Ultimately the stories of Thelma Coroza, Artemio Dumaring, George Radang, are stories

of fulfilling hopes and dreams through hard work and perseverance. G&G boosts the process by

searching for ways to come up with higher quality products to market to more consumers. "We

see our work as a means of giving the marginalized a hand up rather than a handout," observes

Perez with the confidence that comes from a growing track record. ########

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