In every card, a story of hope: The Paper Project Inc.

We run a social business called The Paper Project Inc

We employ women survivors of abuse, victims of oppression or women escaping flesh trades like prostitution or trafficking. These women are our precious card makers. We make handmade greeting cards.

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Our cards have more soul and story than that musical e-card you sent out for the holidays. They are likely more special than the last card you saw your neighborhood bookstore. Our cards make it to thousands of stores across the United States through our partners at Good Paper. Recently our work has also made it to Australia and Germany too. But that isn’t the special part.

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People have often commented that my job must be sad or depressing – because of the history of abuse or oppression in my worker’s lives. If you think my job is gloomy too, you are focusing on the wrong side of the story. In fact, my job is the exact opposite of sad and depressing. 

At The Paper Project Inc., we focus on the hope of a life renewed. And we start with a simple craft. This craft provides a stable livelihood and a community in which to grow. 

A full life can still be led by those who have been broken.

I love to share the story of our card maker Esther*:

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Esther used to wander the streets of Metro Manila. She had been abused in the past, had no contact with her parents, and for a long time didn’t even have a copy of her birth certificate. With scarce opportunities for livelihood, having barely started high school, Esther now turned to vices for survival. One of our partner organizations referred Esther to us after seeing her waste her days away, hanging out at street known for gamblers, pick-pockets, pimps and prostitute pick-ups.

We welcomed Esther into our workshop where she learned how to cut and assemble cards out of handmade abaca paper. The training process is actually not as easy as it sounds. The individual parts of the card design can be very small or intricate. A card maker must learn the precise art of cutting all sorts of shapes that were sometimes easily the size of your tiniest toenail. Edges have to be smooth. Assembly has to be accurate. We pride ourselves in high quality craftsmanship. You’ll see it across all the products we create.

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You never know how each new trainee will take to the work. Not long after her start with us, Esther was overheard on the street by her social worker, speaking confidently and excitedly about her new job. She boasted to friends, but in the most earnest way possible, about her work in a nearby city’s business district. She was hopeful and full of excitement.

She was talking to her friends on the same street where other women continue to trade their bodies for their next meal.

In her new community at The Paper Project, Esther bloomed. In less than eight weeks, she was given the privilege to train other women in cardmaking. She was even earned the responsibility to manage the quality control of our completed cards. Today she continues to thrive in our card making workshop.

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Just having a basic uniform transformed the way Esther carried herself. Having a place she needed to be at, where attendance was taken and where she had assignments to complete – this transformed her sense of daily purpose. A pay check at the end of two weeks and women to fellowship with – these transformed her lifestyle and self-worth.

In every card, a story of hope. And hope grows.

Maybe one day you will also hold in your hand a card lovingly made by one of our beautiful women. 

Like The Paper Project on Facebook or follow us on Instagram

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*Pseudonym.

Haiyan/Yolanda 002: The offering of Thread&Vine

After a long and busy day, there will be no real sleep tonight. In just a few hours I will be on the first flight to Roxas City, Capiz. Capiz was among the areas hit by the super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November. Though Capiz was not hit with the same devastation as others and was spared of grievous bloodshed, the island survives but completely altered. According to this report, 95% of the province has suffered damage to agriculture, infrastructure and livelihood.

In October, my mom and I launched a pilot livelihood program for mothers in need. With the Christmas season then fast approaching, and knowing a few mothers seriously in need of a source of income, we launched Thread & Vine.

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During my childhood in the 90’s, my mom ran a great business for the handmade hair accessories. Not only did this provide for our family’s day to day needs, but the business gave work to many mothers from the slums near our home. The business thrived for many years, producing beautiful headbands, scrunchies and clips designed by my mom, and made by the women workers right in our home. These products sold well in large department stores in Metro Manila, until we could no longer compete with the rise of factory-made, mass-produced plastic merchandise.

Fast forward to 2013 and Thread & Vine.

Taking cues from our family’s love for social businesses, we launched a pilot season with a simple objective: Give fair employment to moms-in-need. Make beautiful, handmade Christmas decor. Sell to friends. Share Christmas joy! 10% of the proceeds would go to the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc.

With a small seed capital, we bought materials from Divisoria and Quiapo, and my mom reopened her beloved workshop (our large kitchen counter) to begin the design process. My mom and I love this stuff! Give us ribbons, beads and string, and we’d be happy all day.

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A few weeks later, while Thread &Vine’s humble production and sales were underway, the Philippines was hit by one of the most brutal storms it has ever experienced. We soon decided that all proceeds from our pilot season would be given to victims of the super typhoon. With our family’s close ties to dear friends in Capiz, and the news that despite the post-storm ruin, aid was slow to arrive –  we determined Capiz as the best recipient for our small gift.

And that is what the upcoming two-day trip is all about! We’ll be contributing to the rebuilding of homes and even running the quickest Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair that we have ever planned. (It may also be the biggest. Our initial number of 100 kids rose to 115. Then earlier today, jumped to 122!)

More in a few hours.

Resurfacing T

I think you may have guessed from the silence emanating from my blog, that either (1) life has been very busy and exciting for me or (2) life has been desperately boring, locking me up in a state too horribly embarrassing to even write about, that my shame has caused me to hide out in internet anonymity until further notice, or at least until something remotely entertaining in my life arrives to push me out of the depths of dilly dallying doom that suffocates me like a tie tied too tight.

Well…you will be glad to know that it is the former. This year could not have gotten off to a better start. And all of it in unplanned ways. Ah, it’s always in unplanned ways! I can’t even begin to share about how my life’s plot continues to thicken (in promising, not questionable ways), but I will write a bit about a few things I have learned about myself in these first weeks of the year:

1. Entrepre-WHAT?!

Yes, it seems I have been making the crossover. Well, maybe less of a crossover into someone different and more of an expanding of self. It’s been some months in the discovery, and more than a handful of people have given me similar feedback,… but I am finally coming to terms with this: that I may have more than just two and a half threads of business-minded muscle in this dancer’s body, woven in bright stitches in all my artsy-fartsyness! It was a speaking engagement with a partner foundation just two weeks ago that really opened my eyes to how I was breaking out into a new discipline. (More on that in future writing!)

We shall see where this goes! But for now, I am beyond excited to be able to make this discovery as the company I represent helps build livelihood programs for Filipinos with very limited professional prospects at the moment. It is an amazing feeling to be able to help provide jobs for people that so desperately need it, when I myself have just recently began my life in the “professional” world.

2. I’m a dancer, and there’s just no way to shake it out of my body. Or out of my soul for that matter.

In the latter half of 2012, after moving back to the Philippines I hadn’t been training or taking many dance classes. After having a very dance-intensive life in college, this was a bit of a letdown – for body, mind and heart. I appeased myself by teaching Zumba classes, running (not a favorite past time, but it will do, if only to push my body toward some sort of limit), and dancing alone in my little home studio. Right before the close of 2012, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I discovered a place to dance, take classes, and push my body toward a whole new limit. It came at just the right time! This year my opportunities in that place have grown even more.

Not only that, but in just the second day of this year, I was reunited with two good friends who took me to a freestyle dance workshop on a whim. No doubt, I felt a little out of my element, but it was the needed push to open my year up to dancing again.I was challenged, inspired and more importantly, reconnected with a community of dancers.

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Reunited on stage after eight years!

Just a few weeks ago, I got another random call from one of those friends on a Thursday– telling me, not asking me, about our plans for performing over that weekend. Together we did the doxology for a college dance concert, barely practicing before the show! They needed someone who was comfortable with improvising, and there we were, freestyling a somewhat structured prayer, through dance.

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Then again, randomly, last Monday, I got a text from the other of the two friends asking for a favor, that I might dance with him at church on Sunday. It seems I rarely turn down an opportunity to perform because I said yes, even when he told me we’d have to dance seven times throughout the day. The creative process leading up to Sunday consisted of just two practices, but we were certainly amazed at how God used even those short moments together to help us choreograph a story of love between two characters. I got proposed to seven times in one day! (That Sunday’s theme was “Marry Me!”)

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We survived sixteen hours, seven services and proposals! I wouldn’t mind not hearing Train’s “Marry Me” for another sixteen months…

3. The calendar fills up without even trying.

Barely a few weeks into the year, 2013 was already shaping itself up. Dates were getting blocked out for events, like weddings or trips. We were setting quarterly targets at work. With my Buhay Makulay team we were setting program dates and casting visions. So on and so forth. But the spaces underneath dates are now tied down in scribbles. First in vague ideas, but more and more concrete as the weeks go by.

I’ve noticed how nice it is to be able to think of a year in calendar quarters, rather than school semesters. My calendar no longer revolves around an academic schedule (with the sad loss of casualties like summer break and winter break), but I can now look at a year in full and wide perspective, not broken up and spilling into another year. I like this view a lot better. It makes more sense to me, a steady ebb and flow of months and seasons. Although I panicked a little when I realized how far ahead things could be arranged! I already have an idea of what my December looks like, even from this end of the calendar year.

Now wasn’t that a mouthful of a post?! Bottom line? 2013, what an adventure it will be to slowly unwrap you!  I just hope I find time to write about it.

Speak soon,

T.