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Her Love for Leyte: An Interview with Evelin Weber

Her Love for Leyte: An Interview with Evelin Weber


Mayee Gonzales September 1, 2018 Lifestyle

Many stories have been told about Typhoon Yolanda. Stories of grief, stories of loss, and stories of hope. Being one of the strongest tropical cyclones in the world, Yolanda continues to impact lives as typhoon victims surface from devastation. The properties it damaged and the lives it took will never be a quaint memory for Filipinos.

But, Filipinos are resilient. Through courage plus support from non-profit organizations, Yolanda victims are able to rebuild their lives. One of such is The Philippines Foundation, an organization that focuses on “community-building programs [that] educate and empower disadvantaged women and children in the Philippines.” Founded and spearheaded by Evelin Weber, The Philippines Foundation has put up charity programs in Manila, Olongapo, and Leyte since its inception. Their initial project in Leyte called “The Learning Boats of Leyte” is The Philippines Foundation’s most successful so far, winning five global awards in 2017.

Philippine Airlines – Learning Boats of Leyte from Ogilvy Asia on Vimeo.

 

Building Boats for Education

With the help of Ogilvy and Mather Philippines, The Philippines Foundation donated over a thousand boats to fishing villages in Leyte, helping not only fisherfolk but also children. Painted with artful lessons, the boats served as classrooms for the out-of-school youth.

“During a project ‘walk around’ I noticed a slew of kids playing on the shores on a school day. I found out that they didn’t have the penny to go to school, so it dawned on me to bring the school to them using the only assets I had, a fishing boat,”

shares Evelin when asked about the beginning of the project. “It started almost by accident,” she adds, explaining that she initially wanted to laminate the boats with art done by kids of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center’s cancer ward.

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One of the many boats donated by The Philippines Foundation. Photo c/o Barbie Almalbis’ Facebook page

Despite complications (Evelin was pregnant and had to organize the project remotely), Evelin and Carla Laus, Group Account Director of Ogilvy, successfully launched the project.

“Although our program isn’t meant to replace school, at least kids can find the fun in learning. Ogilvy Philippines did an amazing job. It was no longer my project, but ours collectively.”

For the Love of Leyte
But boats did not end Evelin’s relationship with Leyte. “The Learning Boats was great but I wanted to create a greater impact [on Leyte], something replicable and measurable … and so, ‘For the Love of Leyte’ was born.” Even if Evelin is currently leading the event, she explains “I really can’t take credit for this project’s start. Matt Porter came up with the name and it’s a brilliant one. It started out as a boat painting party, but eventually grew into what it is now.”

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Set to happen on November 30 and December 1 of this year, For the Love of Leyte “aims to create jobs and sustain the cultural arts of rural Leyte” through live music, workshops, and art installations. Through these initiatives For the Love of Leyte will roll out, Evelin hopes to bring $5 million of economic activity in the province by using technology and connections to the global marketplace.

 

“I hope to blow the minds of everyone with our large, artful installations and a super fun musical vibe. I just want to shake off the stagnation of what sometimes can happen to communities. I want to inspire, create awe, and really get artisans to think big. Sometimes a happy shock is the way to do this.”

 

Increasing Wages and Supporting Local Craft

If the Learning Boats focused on helping children and fisherfolk, For the Love of Leyte focuses on supporting weavers, potters, painters, and other artisans of the province. Apart from promoting local craft, Evelin was specific to share how the event can truly help Leyte.

 

First, “It will elevate the daily wage to above poverty levels. We do this by passing on the wage increase to the buyer. I think it’s incredibly unfair that a weaver spends eight hours a day and only make $1.50. That’s worse than the $2.50/day poverty level. “

And second, “It will ensure that the artful craft of weaving does not die with the artist. Cultural arts is the thread of any society developed for centuries and generationally. With urbanization and the level of pay, people are no longer interested in this field. I hope to change that. I want it to be cool to be an artist and I will ensure they get paid to attract younger generations.  A high-end retailer should not be able to charge $2,000 for a purse and pay their producers $1.50/day. That’s irresponsible.”

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Evelin and a traditional weaver

Workshops on leathering making, jewellery, pottery, banig weaving, and tuba painting are some highlights of the two-day festival. For the Love of Leyte will take place in The Farm at Ginsiyaman, a vast farm area located 30 minutes outside of Tacloban.

“We chose it because it is large and open space. There was an event there called Ginsiyaman Festival that happened in 2015, which gave us inspiration. The owners were kind enough to collaborate with us and give me free reign to create the space we needed,” Evelin adds.

Her Love for Leyte

When asked why she chose to help Leyte out of other provinces in the Philippines, Evelin said that she was inspired by Congresswoman Lucy Torres.

“Typhoon Yolanda hit and I recognized that more needed to be done as whole industries were wiped away. When I spoke to Lucy, I was impressed by her approach, her drive, her commitment, her transparency and accountability.  After that, I fell in love with the people. Then, I was hooked. I love Leyte and Leyteños.”

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Evelin, volunteers, and young Leyteños

Leyte definitely stole Evelin’s heart as she plan to spend more time in the province this year. It was not only Yolanda that kept her closer to Leyte. It was the people and the culture as well. Years of working in and visiting the province, Evelin recalls her fondest memory there:

“I was asking one of my community members to show what they do with their money. I chose Lola. She was outspoken and quite ready to talk to me. We re-enacted how she negotiated for a chair at a market. We did this for 10 minutes until she wore me out. I think that was her goal. ‘You win, Lola’ I said, ‘You can just take the chair.’ Everyone laughed. She said ‘You see, I do that a few times a week.’ She was probably the best negotiator I have ever met. What I realized most is that this was the reality. With very little income, people had to barter. With that means really developing strong negotiating tactics.”

Poverty brought by calamity can hit even the wisest and kindest people. The Philippines still has a long way to go to end difficulties like this. Fortunately, people like Evelin are open to help and bring optimism to Filipinos. It’s something we can never repay.

 

Support For the Love of Leyte by attending and enjoying the festival. Follow the event on Facebook and don’t forget to share it to your friends. You can also donate to the festival here.

 

All photos and videos c/o The Philippines Foundation and Evelin Weber unless specified.