“We were both young when I first saw you
I close my eyes and the flashback starts
I’m standin’ there
On a balcony in summer air…”
If you had told us that our trip to the Philippines would have involved singing Taylor Swift on a retro karaoke machine to a rapt audience of Filipino artisans, we would have laughed. And yet, our four-week adventure was filled with more surprises, challenges, and karaoke than we ever could have expected. We braved intense humidity, waterborne illness, and cockroaches but returned with incredibly meaningful memories forged through extremely enlightening conversations and connections with amazing humans.
Before Setting Sail: Anticipating the Journey and Mission Ahead
As student fellows with Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, we were lucky enough to participate in a four-week-long summer field experience designed to support rigorous, transformative undergraduate student learning as well as the scaling of a social enterprise. We were delightfully partnered with LIKHA, and traveled to the Philippines intending to conduct environmental impact assessments to help LIKHA reduce its environmental impact and ultimately obtain B Corp certification. Our research would consist of community visits and interviews with Filipino artisans concerning their raw materials and production processes.
We had decided to partake in this endeavor for several reasons, chiefly to develop more adept cross-cultural connectivity and communication skills, as well as to learn more about the social entrepreneurship sector in general. We both had prior interests in sustainability, social justice, and unpacking our own privilege, and we were excited to see how those interests could be put towards a mutually beneficial experience.
Embracing Craftsmanship and Warmth: Immersed in the Heart of LIKHA’s Artisan Communities
When we landed in the Philippines, we were immediately struck by the openness and hospitality we received from both the team at LIKHA and the artisans themselves. We had expected our research to be conducted very formally and professionally, but with each artisan community that we visited, we were surprised at how much the artisans let us into their homes and their hearts.
Our visits typically consisted of first learning about the craft that the artisan community revolved around, either by watching or doing. In Pulilan, we actually learned how to weave the animal planters that the community produces — which was much harder than it looked! In doing so, we gained a deep appreciation for Filipino craftsmanship and the traditional techniques involved. After we had learned about the process of crafting these goods, we talked with as many artisans as we could about the materials they used, sustainable alternatives, and other environmentally-relevant topics. Interspersed with these questions was a great deal of karaoke, jokes, and laughter. We were delighted to be so welcomed into the artisans’ homes and communities, and will treasure the time we spent with them and the LIKHA team forever.
Key Insights and Lasting Impressions
After our four weeks in the Philippines, we returned to the United States with full bellies, happy hearts, and, most importantly, a profound connection that transcended borders and languages. Our experience was extraordinarily eye-opening in terms of our understanding of poverty and privilege.
In the midst of a culture so different from our own, we found ourselves face-to-face with the realities of poverty and privilege in ways we had never anticipated. We gained a more nuanced understanding of global poverty and the wealth disparities present in the Philippines, and their complexity and difficulty in tackling. We discerned more about our privilege and how we can use it both within and outside of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem to make the world more just and equitable. Finally, we gained a deep appreciation for the grit and diligence that social entrepreneurs and the people they employ display as they strive to mitigate poverty and overcome hardship.
Our admiration for the tenacity of social entrepreneurs and their steadfast commitment to overcoming adversity grew immeasurably during our journey. Their pursuit of alleviating poverty, guided by innovative ideas and an unyielding spirit, left an indelible mark on our perception of what it takes to drive change. Their stories etched themselves into our hearts, fueling our own aspirations to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society.
As we move forward with our research with LIKHA and in our careers, we feel profoundly impacted by our time and interactions in the Philippines. We will treasure the memories we made and hope to continue to be changemakers for the marginalized and disempowered, which inspired our participation in this fellowship. And when we hear a Taylor Swift harmony again, it will remind us of the transformative power of human interaction and the possibilities that emerge when hearts and voices unite.