Supporting Ongoing Typhoon Haiyan Recovery in the Philippines

Alan Orais was home with his family when Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines in 2013, leaving entire communities devastated in its wake. At the time, he vowed that if his life was spared, he would dedicate his time to helping his community in whatever way he could. His home and all of his belongings —except for an old vehicle—were destroyed, but he and his family survived.

Five years later, Alan continues to fulfil the promise he made. To help local farmers rebuild, he works with them teaching them how to grow peanuts, providing them with seeds and helping them get the equipment they need. He also offers advice on how to plan their harvests and how to budget their money so that they can be successful.

He doesn’t stop there. He purchases their peanut crops at a fair rate, even though the peanuts could be purchased at a lower cost when imported from nearby China. He turns their crops into peanut butter, packages it and sells it locally.

To help him expand his business, and thereby increase his support to local farmers, Alan enrolled in an entrepreneurship course with the government to help small businesses. Here, he met Canadian Cuso International volunteers Marshall Bell and Tiffany Tong who recently returned from volunteering in the Philippines helping microentrepreneurs grow their businesses.

“His current label, while fine on its own, didn’t showcase his unique value proposition of producing field-to-jar peanut butter. We spent a lot of time understanding his passion for helping farmers and wanting to make them the focus, and ultimately we wanted to help him capture that in his branding,” says Tiffany.

“We prototyped a few brand concepts for him to consider and explained that the three concepts resonate with different audiences. He chose one called Farmer’s Harvest which is a perfect fit for his mission-driven company. We created new labels for him, a brand identity guide, key messages, and helped him revise his mission and vision statements.”

Already, Alan has secured new contracts selling his peanut butter jars with the new branding. “It was fulfilling to see the final product,” Tiffany said.

Tiffany and Marshall, a couple based in Charlottetown, P.E.I., had been volunteering in the Philippines since September 2017; their Cuso International placement ended at the end of April 2018. The placement had been an opportunity for the couple to share their professional expertise to help with the ongoing typhoon recovery. Both have experience in the food industry previously working at a food product development centre.

“The type of assistance these microenterprises need is quite different than most of the Canadian companies I worked with. Most of these businesses produce out of their homes so the things they need to work on are quite basic,” Marshall said. “Each business is unique, but many have similar challenges, for example: wanting to extend the shelf life of their products, needing more appropriate packaging and improved labelling.”

Providing this mentorship, Marshall says, is “an opportunity to pay forward all the education and experience we have been blessed with wrapped up in a life-changing adventure.”

The couple supported 30 businesses, including the peanut butter company. Other small business owners manufacture food, such as banana chips, coconut sap wine and baked goods; one produces water buffalo milk; others weave handicrafts; and one is very different than the others—a funeral home owner.

“We meet with them one-on-one to understand where they are at and what their challenges are,” Tiffany said. “I tell them we didn’t bring our pixie dust, so we are going to have to work through things together to make changes happen.”

While the placement has been challenging, Tiffany says it has also been a real eye-opener. “Being in a totally different culture (which is exactly what we wanted) is a constant reminder that everything we know to be true and right is just all relative,” she said. “I’ve learned a ton about life, work and myself, and it’s been very rewarding and productive to disconnect with the regular flow of life and reconnect with myself. It’s been a huge step in my journey in figuring out how I’m going to make a difference in this world.”

Hear Tiffany speaking of their experience in the Philippines on CBC Radio in PEI.