Frenchman crafts success, one stitch at a time
Frenchman Fabien Courteille showcases Buko Martin, one of the stuffed toys in the vegetable and fruit line of his social enterprise, Plush and Play.

Frenchman crafts success, one stitch at a time

(The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In the suburb municipality of Angat in the province of Bulacan is a local farm. In the farm lies a village. The village is home to a community of mothers, who are only too thankful that they don’t have to leave their families to work abroad and live in houses of foreigners.

Instead, at the Gawad Kalinga community, they have a foreigner living in their houses. That foreigner is Fabien Courteille, a social entrepreneur.

Fabien is neither a son of this land nor a half-Filipino. He was born and raised in France. When he first set foot on the Philippines, he was only a student pursuing a Master’s degree in Business and Entrepreneurship and volunteered for the GK Enchanted Farm.

But his supposed three-month stay in the country blossomed into something that has changed his life and those of the mothers at Gawad Kalinga.

“I started helping out left and right with house building, farming, tutoring, building a basketball court, assisting social entrepreneurs and eventually decided to extend my initial three months stay to an indefinite period of time,” said the 28-year-old social entrepreneur.

Now, he has become a member of the management team of the GK Enchanted Farm and founder of the social enterprise called Plush and Play. His business employs 19 full-time mothers, including merchandisers in Manila and about 25 part-time employees.

“We reach out to more communities and sometimes we have more than 100 people in the payroll. We hope to grow and create more jobs, definitely – a thousand if we can,” he added.

Fabien’s Plush and Play enterprise recognizes the sewing skills of women living in Gawad Kalinga communities who make hand-stitched stuffed toys and felt items. These women come from different parts of the country before they relocated in Bulacan.

“We are working with mothers who have lost their jobs due to the outsourcing of the sewing industry. Many of them are wives of farmers,” Fabien said.

The aim of the social enterprise is to create an opportunity for the mothers in Bulacan to provide for their families while earning a living close to their homes. They are entirely involved in the day-to-day operations of the enterprise to empower and enable them to own their future.

Instead of the usual teddy bears, Fabien’s first line of plush toys comprise fruits and vegetables, which have been named after local celebrities and icons – Anne Kamatis, Buko Martin, Manny Pakwan, Jessica Saging, Mais Ganda, Okra Aunor and Mangga Young, to name a few.

Apart from the fruits and vegetable line, Plush and Play also has a monsters collection, which were named after their colors in Filipino such as Kaka or kahel (orange), Didi or dilaw (yellow) and Lulu or luntian (green). All the stuffed toys produced at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm were handcrafted by mothers who had been left jobless after hundreds of factories in Bulacan closed.

“Listening to their stories, I realized that they already had skills and we should be on it to restore their livelihood and dignity instead of going for rocket science,” Courteille said.

His team includes a group of leaders, cutters and sewers whose salaries are a combination of output-based fees, compensation for responsibilities, and a share of the profits. According to him, many of the  mothers in the community already earn P100,000 a year. He considers them his business partners and allows them to take part in the decision-making process to make sure he is able to uplift their lives, instead of simply providing them livelihood.

In his many years of stay in the Philippines, Fabien has struck a deep connection with the people he works with every day. One of the mothers in the Gawad Kalinga community even named his son after him. He has also stood as godfather to a number of children in the community – a validation of his good rapport with people he considers his second family.

“I have expanded my personal definition of family. I consider the mothers like my own and their children as my siblings. They are my stress relievers and my motivation to keep moving forward,” he shared.

Fabien’s sincerity in extending help to the poor has made him an inspiration. While away from his homeland, he spends years in the Philippines building not only his own dreams but those of Filipinos.

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