Foundation helps impoverished Filipinos launch and grow businesses

PROVO, Utah — In 2015, Tarlac residents Rufino and Tess Mejia created a small ice candy business.

Rufino had just lost his full-time job as a cashier at a private firm, and they needed to earn money for their family of five.

“He was 47 at the time,” Tess said. “Mahirap na maghanap ng trabaho.”

So they started selling Pinoy-style Popsicles out of a Styrofoam box, at 10 pesos a piece.

“You can start business anytime in your life, with minimal capital, as long you have the drive,” Tess said.

That’s a lesson the couple learned at the Tarlac Chapter of the Academy for Creating Enterprise, a Utah-based foundation that teaches business principles to Filipinos living in poverty in the Philippines.

Steve Gibson, 77, established the academy in 1999 and has seen more than 6,500 students graduate from its program.

“Oftentimes, it’s a sari-sari store or a chicken roasting business or very small,” he said. “But they run them profitably, and they run them using good business techniques.”

In the beginning, the academy consisted of a residential program in Cebu City that trained 125 people per year.

Since that time, its materials have been compiled into a package program that can be conducted anywhere at anytime, enabling the academy to train more students at a fraction of the cost.

“It’s evolved to the regional trainings, and that way we have hundreds of trainings per year in the Philippines,” Robert Heyn, the foundation’s CEO, said.

The academy now has 144 chapters in the Philippines, where graduates hold monthly meetings to network, receive further training and help one another.

“They can change their destiny,” Gibson said. “They can change their family’s whole being for generations.”

Like the Mejias.

Today, Rufino and Tess’s company, Frostville Ice Candy, is thriving — keeping customers cool by producing 50,000 pieces of ice candy per day through its two factories and then distributing them to dozens of resellers.

“We are serving from Aparri to Bicol, so you can imagine,” Tess said.

“Luzon-wide,” added Rufino.

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