How a 31-Year-Old Became a Charity Case for the Poor

It was the perfect plan for my 31st birthday.

Touchdown Manila. Take a 3 hour ride into Bulacan. Help the poor. Feel extremely good. Leave Manila.

Because at 31, I wanted my life to mean more than just a 9-5 job or races. It was time to make a difference in another community, preferably the less privilege.

So when the opportunity to visit this farm surfaced, why not right? I could go there, shovel some dirt, plant some peanuts, and leave a legacy.

I get the outdoors.
I get to sweat.
I get to do some charity.

It was, like I mentioned, the perfect plan.

That was until I found out that the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm was not a charity case.

I was the charity case.

I was the poor, despite of being a senior executive in my company. I was the common, despite of completing a few 100kms.

I was the underprivileged, because I was deprived of the true wealth, hidden inside this faraway farm, which is revealed only through beaded sweat and sunburnt skin:

#1 Essence of Detachment

My phone could actually survive 2 days without a recharge. Internet connection was sluggish and weak.

I’ve no other choice, really, but to put it away.

Which thus led to a rediscovery of detachment.

In an environment where instant gratification is almost non existent, detachment allowed a peaceful pace of life, to slow down, reprioritise and actually curbed my addiction to an instant dopamine high.

Just as how roots develop in the soil, away from visible sight, results which are not reflected immediately does not mean there is no progress. Planting peanuts and fruit trees, in some odd ways, is to believe that there is a tomorrow.

Detachment has taught me stay hopeful, have faith and be relentless, no matter how dire or slow the cause may seem.

#2 Hard Work vs Hard Labour

I learnt that hard work and hard labour are not the same.

Work is but a concept. A preconceived goal in the existential mind.

A natural impulse which we react to, mostly. It is but a habit, to say the most, to fill our time, and our pocket.

Labour, instead, is about the great exertion of the body. Hard labour is associated with words like tribulation, struggle, enduring pain and etc.

In the Enchanted Farm, labour is sacred.

By toiling and sweating, humility is carved.
Honesty is planted.
Heroism is cultivated.
Honour is harvested.

Just as the strongest irons are forged in the greatest of fires, the greatest love is earned in the hardest of labour.

#3 Community Empowerment 

In an environment where it assembles the poorest of the poor, individuals from extremely broken families, thieves, rebels and ex-murderers, labels are the least of their concern.

Your race, your preferences, your religion, are just as important as the way you like your eggs in the morning.


At the Enchanted Farm, there is no tolerance.

There is only solidarity.

A unified direction established beyond petty, superficial divides to eradicate poverty for 5 million families in the Philippines by 2024.

Solidarity is more than just sharing a meal between races.

It is optimising all strengths, celebrating all differences, towards a singular worthy goal.

When there is solidarity, there is empowerment.

These individuals, from the roughest background imaginable, starts talking about their vision.

They do not talk about their livelihood, or how they are going to survive another day.

Instead, their vision revolves about changing the landscape of the country. They speak with such conviction and depth on how their product will bring change to the society around them.

This is the vision of individuals who (again!) comes from the roughest background imaginable. Sons of garbage collectors. Boys who used to steal. Individuals from extremely broken families.

I was puzzled.

“What kind of sorcery was going on here?”
“How did they become so empowered and unified?”

It was these questions which led me to the pulse of the Enchanted Farm community:

#4 Unconditional Love

In order to love someone, we need to first learn to accept and love ourselves.

Broken as we are, there is goodness in each and everyone of us.

It may be minuscule, but the people at the Enchanted Farm has a way to nurture this goodness till it envelopes into a indomitable force.

I was extremely fortunate to head on to Gawad Kalinga with some of the brightest and passionate individuals I have met.

(Left to right: Shahrul, Shirley, Me, Hairol, Umar & Sharifah)
We were taken in by Shirley Maya Tan, another fellow Malaysian who left behind a life of comfort and indulgence, is now devoting her time in building this vision.

“Why would someone do that?”
“Where did she find the courage to do so?”

And again, the answer is none other than Unconditional Love. 

The last burning question remains.

“Who sparked this transformation?”

Behind this army of vision (and nation!) builders, stands Tony Meloto, to whom we all affectionately refers to as Tito (“uncle”) Tony.

Tito Tony, founder of the Gawad Kalinga communities, has received numerous awards inclusive of Social Entrepreneur of the World, Japan’s Nikkei Asia Prize for Regional Growth and etc.

Tito Tony also drives a battered Toyota Revo and took the time to engage, listen, and remember each of our names.

With Tito Tony

It is the vision of one man.

The unconditional love of one individual which has led to a multitude of change, rippling across the present generation and the generations to come.

It is that same love, which has moved many and earned Tito Tony the “Filipino of the Year” by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

And that same love remains when Tito Tony gave each and every one of us a heartfelt hug, while whispering these words as we said our goodbyes,

“This is your home. Come here whenever you feel persecuted. This is a place for the oppressed, and also for the victorious.”


2 thoughts on “How a 31-Year-Old Became a Charity Case for the Poor

  1. Fascinating Jonathan. I’m glad you’re out there doing something unusual., trying new things and learning. Take good care of yourself and enjoy your new experiences. Keep a blog so we can all keep up with you.


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