Sunday, August 1, 2010

Coffee for a cause

“BLENDING indigenous coffee with passion for service.”

That’s what the AdvoCafé signage so unabashedly says. As in, who says coffee and advocacy can’t mix?
Peasants and princes, intellectuals and poseurs, artists and con artists, peaceniks and anarchists, techies and technocrats, sinners and saints, the bourgeois and the great unwashed – they have coffee stories and a need to have a caffeine fix in varying degrees to make it through the day or night. Or a desire to simply sit, sip, smell and enjoy the heady ancient brew while contemplating life or watching the world go by.
A new coffee place on the block is AdvoCafé, “a non-profit social enterprise in support of the indigenous people’s (IP) efforts for sustainable living.”

The neo-ethnic ambiance and the vision-mission statements on the café’s walls say it all. Indeed, it is a cool hang-out, especially for those who wear their advocacy on their sleeve or want to drink to it with their coffee or salabat (ginger brew). The place also hopes to raise people’s consciousness about indigenous people, sustainable living and fair trade.

Founded by 2004 Ramon Magsaysay (RM) Awardee for Emergent Leadership Benjamin “Benjie” Abadiano, the little café (all of 46 square meters) opened on June 28. AdvoCafé is on the ground floor of the RM building Annex, almost in front of the Diamond Hotel lobby on Quintos Street corner M.H. del Pilar in Malate, Manila.

Days before the formal opening, coffee lovers already came in droves to savor the cheap coffee and gawk at the interiors. “We could hardly cope,” exclaims Abadiano who lost many unwanted pounds during the café’s construction and while preparing for its opening. Employees of nearby offices had been eagerly waiting, often asking when AdvoCafé’s doors would open.

AdvoCafé, Abadiano says, offers mostly all-natural, all-organic products at very reasonable and fair prices. The signature health food and drinks include coffee (produced mostly by the IP in different parts of the country like Mindoro and the Cordillera), herbal tea, natural juices, jams and jellies, honey, native delicacies and pastries. Each item, Abadiano adds, is a product of research and experimentation to ensure quality.

So, what to order and for how much? Corn coffee (P20), brewed (P35), iced (P45), cappuccino (P45), café latte (P45). Mocha java, mochaccino, vanilla and chocolate (all at P79). Calamansi juice and hibiscus (gumamela) nectar (P25). Biya meal and longganisa meal (P59). Pan de sal with filling (P20). They also have plain malunggay pan de sal, cakes, cookies and pastries. (The carrot cake is great!) By now, they should be offering pasta meals.

One can also buy handicraft items made by the IP. These include intricately woven baskets and cloth, musical instruments, decorative items, ornaments and accessories. Or you might want to take home an AdvoCafé mug.

But AdvoCafé is a lot more than just cups of indigenous coffee and crafts. One hundred percent of the café’s net profit will support initiatives such as: partnership and capability building for farmers, sustainable livelihood, education for children and youth and environment concerns such as climate change adaptation. Fair trade is a basic and fundamental principle in AdvoCafé’s operations.

AdvoCafe was an idea waiting to be born, but the concept had to undergo fine-tuning to the tiniest detail. It also had a serendipitous beginning. Abadiano was picking up the coffee machines and baking equipment (flour and ingredients included) that were being donated by a generous couple when someone who happened by heard their conversation. The man, a young Hong Kong Chinese entrepreneur who studied in the Philippines and is married to a Filipina, instantly offered his former restaurant’s furniture and other stuff. (He was going into another line of business.)

And so one could say that AdvoCafé is indeed a product of many hearts, minds and hands. Supporting AdvoCafé are the RM Awards Foundation, Assisi Foundation (of which Abadiano is president), Pamulaan Center for Indigenous People’s Education in Davao (which Abadiano founded and which graduated its first college batch this year), Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development in Mindoro (where Abadiano began his journey with the IP) and Ad’Laine Bakeshop.

Present at the opening ritual were IPs who offered a coffee plant and coffee beans alongside their non-IP counterparts. Assisi Foundation founder and chair, Ambassador Howard Dee, and Assisi vice-president Viel Aquino-Dee (sister of President Noynoy Aquino) untied the tinalak ribbon to mark the café’s opening. IPs in their tribal garb emceed the program.

Abadiano, 47, is a story in himself. A graduate of Xavier University, he fell in love with sociology and anthropology early on. He spent time in the Jesuit novitiate and did courses in philosophy at the Ateneo University but soon found the call of the lumad (indigenous people) irresistible. The epiphany he experienced while among the lumad set him off on a journey with them that continues to this day. (We had written about this in the Inquirer in 2003 and 2004.)

Abadiano was, for a time, in charge of the program for the IP and also coordinator of Tabang Mindanaw’s Integrated Return and Rehabilitation Program. He was instrumental in turning 47 communities in Maguindanao, Cotabato and Lanao del Sur into “sanctuaries of peace.”

Today, the advocacy continues. This time, there is coffee to go with it, and more. •