MANILA -- For many, business means making profits, and expansion, a means to earn more.
But Sinirangan Coffee, located near the base of the newly built Carillon Tower in Baclaran Church, is different as the profit it generates is mainly used to help others. It started as part of a rehabilitation program for Yolanda survivors in Eastern Samar -- and now it is expanding not just the business but also its advocacy.
“Kami ay daluyan lamang ng tulong na binibigay ng mga deboto sa pamamagitan ng pagtangkilik ng coffee shop. Ang mga ito ay napupunta sa scholarship, at the same time, dito sa mga pangangailan ng mga tao na lumalapit sa amin,” Marivic Listana, supervisor of social mission of the Baclaran Church, said.
Aside from coffee, Sinirangan, which means "from the east" in Waray, also offers pastries, cakes and pastas.
The project started after typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), considered as the deadliest typhoon to make landfall in the country, struck Tacloban and Eastern Visayas in 2013.
The typhoon, accompanied by high storm surges, killed thousands of people and caused billions worth of damage. It devastated infrastructures, flattened vast areas, and toppled down trees, including the coconut trees that used to be a vital source of income for people in Eastern Visayas.
Coconut trees take almost a decade to grow and bear fruit. This is why the idea of planting coffee came up, since it is also a suitable crop considering the type of soil in Eastern Visayas.
Thus, Sinirangan Coffee was born. The project was initiated by the Permanent Commission on Social Mission Apostolate (PCSMA) of the Redemptorist Missionaries in 2014 as a rehabilitation project for the survivors of Yolanda in four towns in Eastern Samar: Quinapondan, General MacArthur, Llorente, and Giporlos.
According to Jasma Salem, project officer of Sinirangan Coffee, they wanted to provide an alternative livelihood to survivors who until now are still rebuilding their lives from the wrath of Yolanda.
Salem was initially in charge of all Yolanda rehabilitation projects by the PCSMA, including the distribution of boats, until she was assigned to manage the coffee shop.
Salem said having the coffee shop makes the processing and roasting of coffee beans stable in Eastern Samar as there is a demand for it, generating jobs for the locals.
“['Pag] mag-click 'yung coffee shop, magiging in demand ‘yung beans na tinatanim nila, magro-roast sila nang magro-roast…. Kaya ito [coffee shop] ‘yung pag-asa namin, para lalo silang matulungan kasi malaking bagay ‘yun kung magiging regular [ang kabuhayan nila],” said Salem.
As of September 2015, data from the National Housing Authority shows that 16,473 families are in high-risk zones in Samar, while of the 5,316 target resettlement sites, 493 are partially completed but none completed yet.
(READ: Tales in Tikog leaves: Weaving past 'Yolanda')
From soil to cup
Unlike coconut trees, coffee takes only two to three years to yield beans. Since the locals just started planting in 2014, they have to buy coffee beans from Benguet and Bukidnon in the meantime.
A house was rented in Eastern Samar where locals process the beans by roasting and packing them. Finished products will then be distributed and sold. This has become an income-generation opportunity to more than 100 families.
They call the process "from soil to cup" because the locals are solely responsible for the whole process of coffee-making – from farming to packaging.
Sinirangan Coffee is a mix of 70% Robusta and 30% Arabica beans, creating a spicy and stronger taste compared to other coffees.
Customer Joey Anjan, who tried Sinirangan coffee for the first time after he was invited by his friend who has become a regular customer in the coffee shop, praised the taste of Sinirangan, saying it is even more delicious than Starbucks. A confessed coffee lover, Anjan said he will come back to the shop and bring his friends.
He also complimented the ambience of the cafe, where customers can either chill inside the air-conditioned area and enjoy the paintings created by visual artist Emil Yap that show the process of coffee-making; or relax outside under the shade of trees surrounding the area. You might even catch squirrels playing on the branches of the trees.
A sign can also be seen inside the cafe that reads, “This is a no Wi-Fi zone. We encourage real conversations.”
Sinirangan is still new as it is just in its fourth month into business. Salem said it was hard for them to market the coffee at the start, especially that there are many competitors.
“Nu’ng una ‘di siya napapansin kasi nga tago, so nung unang months namin medyo mahina. Akala [ng mga tao] exclusive lang sa Church namin, so nagtiyaga kami magbigay ng flyers,” she said.
Before the coffee shop, Salem said they sold Sinirangan coffee by packs with the revenues going to distributors and farmers. However, Salem said they saw the need for a consistent market that will get their supply from the locals of Eastern Samar.
“Ang isa pa naming naging problema, nu’ng nagro-roast na kami, wala kaming customer kasi ‘di pa nga siya kilala… Naisip na magkaroon ng coffee shop para sa promotion… [Tsaka] para ‘yung mga beans na niluluto du’n, ito naman ang bibili, magkakadugtong lang,” she added.
Salem said they hope to build more branches of Sinirangan in the future so they can increase the demand for the beans and in turn provide more jobs for locals in Eastern Samar and support their other projects.
Brewing coffee, rebuilding lives
True to its motto, “Brewing Coffee, Rebuilding Lives,” the coffee shop seeks to provide livelihood, education and hope.
Later this month, Salem will be going back to Eastern Samar to check on the coffee plants, as well as look for possible candidates for their scholarship program for both high school and college.
Salem said more than 70% of the profit of the shop will go to the scholarship fund.
The coffee shop also gave hope and a new beginning for women who have experienced abuse in the past due to the kind of work they had as entertainers in bars.
Both Joy, 29 and Ana, 31 (not their real names) have worked as bar girls for several years. Every Wednesday after their work at around 3 a.m., they, along with some of their co-workers, would go to Baclaran Church to pray. This was how they met Sister Nancy.
Few months after, they have created a group that regularly meets at the church to study the Bible and have some sharing about life.
When the coffee shop was built, the women were invited to leave their jobs and begin a new life, which Joy and Ana wholeheartedly accepted. They were trained for two months to become baristas through the social mission of Baclaran Church.
Now, they have moved on from their past, and are looking forward to a new life.
“Ayoko na rin balikan ‘yun [dating trabaho], nandito na kami eh. Kung tutuusin malaking opportunity na ‘to eh, ginrab na namin, bakit babalik ka pa, di ba?” said Ana.
Meanwhile, other products are also being sold at the coffee shop like journals and shirts for added income. They also sell mugs that have portraits of political prisoners who are also the direct beneficiaries of the earnings.
Sinirangan coffee shop may look like just another coffee shop, but as Listana pointed out, it exists with a special purpose.
“Ang buong konsepto nito ay hindi siya business, kundi siya ay service pa rin. ‘Yung proceeds niyan, lahat 'yan ay bumabalik sa mga tao,” she said.
Sinirangan Coffee is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., except on Wednesdays and Sundays, when it opens as early as 6 a.m. and stays open until 11 p.m.