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AdvoCafe - Blending Indigenous Coffee with Passion for Service

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The cafe with a heart

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MANILA, Philippines - All food establishments follow a certain recipe. In the case of the Advocafe Coffee Shop it is mostly water, coffee, tea and 100 percent love for the indigenous peoples (IP) in the Philippines.

Six stores down from the corner of Quintos and Mabini streets in Manila is the 56-square meter coffee and pastry shop called Advocafe. Even from the outside, passersby and customers can already get an idea about the shop with a sign that says: “We serve for a cause. Your patronage of Advocafe will provide for education for indigenous children and youth!”

2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership Benjamin Abadiano, who has lived with IPs since he was in college, says that they purchase their ingredients from different IP communities in coming up with a variety of healthy delicacies. All proceeds from the store benefit people from different IP tribes all over the country. It also hires all its workers from the katutubos such as the Mangyan, Ifugao and Bagobo.

Advocafe is owned by the non-government organization (NGO) Ilawan Center for Volunteerism and Leadership, with Abadiano as its president. The group currently has a total of 109 scholars from 36 tribes nationwide. So far, 87 of them have graduated from college, with Bachelor of Science degrees in Education, Agriculture, and Social Entrepreneurship; and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Applied Anthropology and in Peace Education.

Abadiano says, “I have never worked in order to earn money. All my life, I have been a volunteer…I do not earn a single centavo here. What we earn, minus operational expenses, we donate it to the education of the IPs.”

But beyond the social dimension of the shop, its unique blends of coffees and teas are a discovery for the taste buds.

Their coffees come from the Ifugao tribe in the Mountain Province, Talaandig tribe in Bukindnon, and the Mangyan tribe in Mindoro Oriental.

The Mangyan tribe is also the source for Advocafe virgin coconut oil products and the pure honey, pure calamansi and gumamela(hibiscus) that when mixed together becomes the concoction called Hibiscus Juice.

“The honey from Mindoro Oriental is not cultured honey. It came from the forest, from herbs, so it is medicinal,” he said.

From the Tagbanua tribe in Palawan they source avocado, banaba, lagundi, guyabano (soursop),malunggay, gotu kola (centella), sunflower and lemongrass that are turned into teas.

The Palawano tribe in Palawan also sends coco jam with kasoy (cashew); the Higaonon tribe in Bukidnon provides the langka (jackfruit) jam; and the Ifugao tribe gives the wild berry or bignay wine.

Turmeric tea from the Subanen tribe of Zamboanga Sibugay can be used for cleansing and easing gout and rheumatism. Mindoro Oriental has its own sugar-free version of turmeric tea, while the Ibaloy tribe of Ilocos Sur also provides turmeric tea and ginger tea.

The 50-year-old Abadiano says that when customers visit Advocafe, “they are not only enjoying the food, but they are also able to serve others without extra cost because our prices are not that expensive and we do not ask money from them. The money they gave us as payment for the food, they eat it.”

They have also developed a way on how their customers could become a part of the lives of the indigenous people.

Last year it introduced the “Advocacy Membership Card,” but unlike other cards, they do not offer discounts to the patrons. In the card, there are a total of 100 stamps that are divided into four blocks, with 25 stamps for each block.

If a person would buy P100 and up worth of items from the coffee shop they will get one stamp. If they finish a block they are entitled to have a free drink of their choice.

“But if you will finish all four blocks, then you would get a certificate saying that you were able to send an IP child to school. If you already complete one card, that is already P10,000. In the certificate the name of the customer and the name of the person he or she helped send to school for one year is identified in the certificate. The P10,000 is the cost of the scholarship. If you think about it, you donated P10,000 but you also consumed the food,” he explained.

He added that the customer would not be pressured to gulp down P10,000 worth of drinks in a short period of time since the card does not expire.

The contribution of the customer-turned-sponsor, who managed to complete the 100 stamps to the education of the IP, would be immortalized in the Advocafe Coffee Shop because their hands would be traced on paper and printed.

On the store’s third anniversary, the handprint would then be placed on the shop’s ceiling.

Abadiano added that, “The handprints would be significant. It sends the meaning that you were able to lend a hand” to an IP.

This year, he added, they are also planning to open two more branches in Quezon City and Davao, and by year 2018 expand to 10 branches.

“Another thing to watch for is that we would be improving our coffee processing because we were able to get a grant to buy a roasting machine for Advocafe, then we would export our coffee to Japan. This means that we could help more communities, especially in areas that grow coffee,” he said.

An NGO in Japan has expressed willingness to support their scholarship program. “They would like to help us expand our social entrepreneurship program. They were inspired by Advocafe and they are planning to put up a coffee shop in Japan using the same concept and their earnings would be donated to us for our scholarship program.”

But their accomplishment has its share of birth pains.

On March 29, 2009, Abadiano’s NGO Ilawan invited Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) president Carmencita Abella to the graduation of their first batch of IP graduates.

It was during this event when he confessed to Abella that he had long wanted to put up a marketing center for the products of the IPs, so that we would have a system for their livelihood. The idea later morphed into establishing a coffee shop wherein they would sell the IPs coffee products.

Abella offered a spot recently vacated by a Vietnamese restaurant. He grabbed the offer. “I said this would be perfect. It’s like God made these coincidences to happen.”

He used about P500,000 of his own savings to put up Advocafe.

But since he had to go abroad to conduct trainings for an NGO, Abadiano asked someone to supervise the construction of the shop. When he returned to Manila, he was disappointed with the outcome of the store and they had to renovate the place.

“This was the first mistake that I made. I did not hire an architect because it would be very expensive so I just drew my ideas and left it with the supervisor,” he said.

He also bought Advocafe’s equipment from Duty Free when cheaper items were available in Divisoria.

Another mistake was when he, out of sympathy, gave P250,000 to the owner of the Vietnamese store who lamented that she had several debts. “I gave the person money, when in fact I should not have paid her because the space belonged to RMAF. The stuff that she left behind for the store were useless to us.”

They also bought the wrong set of furniture because it suited a home and not a coffee shop.

But there were also people who supported the cause for the IPs and donated glasses, chairs and tables, a chiller, and a bread stand. “I said that this shop is really blessed because during the first few months of our operation, a foreigner approached us and gave me money. I asked what it was for, and I was told ‘This is for your scholars’.”

The hired staff was not trained in the culinary so he asked a friend to teach them how to make cakes and pastries. Another friend volunteered to instruct them on how to cook pasta dishes.

He then realized that “we did not have food products that we could call our own. We wanted to come up with our own carrot cake, so I decided to make experiments at home. The funny thing is I do not even know how to switch on my oven and so I turned to YouTube (for instructions). So finally we just came up with our own formula like in the carrot cake, 70 percent of it is made from carrots,” he added.

Finally, Advocafe opened on June 28, 2009.

Starting the business was not eating much of his time but it also affected his health. Since he was still working as president of the Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. (ADF) located in Ortigas, Pasig City, there was a time he would only have one to two hours of sleep in a day.

Abadiano would wake up at 4 a.m. and drive from his home in Ortigas to Advocafe. He would open the store and help in the preparation of the meals. By 8 a.m. he had to rush to work at ADF at 9 a.m. In the afternoons, he leaves ADF by 5 p.m. and would be at the store until 11 p.m.

This routine lasted for six months that his employer ADF chairman Former Ambassador Howard Dee became worried because he became very thin. From 180 lbs, his weight went down to 135 lbs. “I was really sick because of stress, fatigue, high blood pressure. At one time my blood pressure shot up to 200/140. My boss brought me to a hospital just to check on my condition.”

Despite the sacrifices that they made and the desire in his heart to help give a better life to the tribal folk, the store during its first eight months was not making money and their expenses far outweighed their income.

But on the ninth month, they began to see positive signs. “The customers understood the mission of the shop. (Whenever I am there) I explain to them. We also began to have regular customers, mostly from the offices around the area. Having an account in the social media like Facebook also helped.”

By December 2010, they began receiving bulk orders that the Ramon Magsaysay awardee/ADF president had to take on another role – as Advocafe’s very own deliveryman. “No one could deliver and I was the only one with a car.”

So far, Abadiano is satisfied with the progress that the IP-inspired Advocafe has made in less than three years of its existence.

As a person, “I am already fulfilled. I have reached my peak, in terms of career. The only thing I try to work for is to train young people to become responsible leaders in the future… I experienced how beautiful it is to serve your country in your own little way, to do something for others in your own little way. Yan ang yaman ko.”



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