“I like that word. Unreasonable.”
Fr Xavier ‘Javy’ Alpasa, SJ smiles easily, as if he knows a secret and is playing coy. He may be an ordained Jesuit priest, but Fr Javy is not your usual solemn and reserved cleric. He may be a businessperson, running one of Palawan’s successful hotels, but he is not your usual profit-driven entrepreneur.
It is not unusual for Alpasa to say things such as liking the word unreasonable. He quotes George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Which is why this social entrepreneur extraordinaire prides himself in being an unreasonable businessperson.
He never wanted to become a priest. “I simply wanted to become rich!” Alpasa laughs. “I wanted a fat salary. I wanted a high position. I wanted to be part of a prestigious company.”
So he got a job at San Miguel Corporation, “got a car, traveled, got a too-good-to-be-true soul mate,” and lived the good life.
But an epiphany at the World Youth Day in Manila made him question his life’s direction. He realized that he had to thank God for all his blessings. “I realized the best way to say thank you is to offer my life. So priesthood came.”
It was a tough decision. “[My family] all cried. When I finally announced my entry, it took them two years to finally accept it.”
It was a decision that would change not only Javy’s life, but hundreds of people’s as well.
Rugs to Riches
In 2007, before becoming a full- fledged priest, ‘Bro. Javy’ was required to visit Payatas. There, he saw how women made rugs from cloth scraps as livelihood. He and visiting friends convinced the women to improve their rugs by creating plain-colored ones, which turned out to sell much better than their multi-colored rugs.
Not long after, a graduating Ateneo student gave Javy his graduation gift of 10,000 pesos to help the women of Payatas. So Rags2Riches was launched. It is a social enterprise that helps Payatas mothers earn a decent livelihood making stylish, fashionable bags from cloth scraps.
Today, Rags2Riches boasts international recognition and acclaim and designer partners like Rajo Laurel and Amina Aranaz-Alunan. And the mothers who used to earn a mere one peso per rug sold, now earn a comfortable 15,000-peso monthly income.
Right after Rags2Riches won the coveted Social Enterprise Award at the 2008 University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition in California, Javy became an ordained priest. He was sent to Isla Culion in Palawan for his ministerial duties.
Leper Colony to Eco-tour
Despite leaving the business he steered to international success, Alpasa’s social entrepreneurial nature led him to establish another venture in Culion. These days, he occupies himself with running Hotel Maya, a small hotel on the island.
As president and CEO, Alpasa ensures that his business, the country’s first and only eco-tourism social enterprise, generates not only profit but also pride for the residents of Isla Culion.
Culion is historically known as a leper colony, where people afflicted with leprosy were isolated from everyone else. It earned the moniker ‘Land of the Living Dead’ and, ever since, its residents have borne the stigma and shame that came with the disease, even if Culion is now leprosy- free.
Hotel Maya offers one of the most relaxing and peaceful vacations anywhere. It also helps the inhabitants of Culion regain their dignity. In addition, they strive to protect the country’s last frontier by preserving the natural beauty of the environment, while benefiting students of the Loyola College of Culion, one of the most financially challenged Jesuit schools in the Philippines.
Barely two years old, Hotel Maya has had a steady flow of visitors, mostly backpackers and people who just want to get away from city life.
The island itself boasts beaches untouched by technological development. Electricity is scarce, perfect for travelers who want to escape the bustle of living in the modern age.
The business that Hotel Maya drives to Culion slowly but surely helps residents. “People are more industrious. People are thinking more how to earn. Similar to Rags2Riches, they used to be marginalized. They looked down on themselves because of the leper colony. But now they’re starting to become prouder of their place,” says Alpasa.
Isla Culion and Hotel Maya are now starting to carve out names for themselves, sans the leprosy tag.
It seems like a lot of hard work, but Fr Javy points out, “Poverty to me is not a statistic, not a report. It’s an actual experience.”It is this reality of poverty in the country that behooves this amiable Je
suit priest to change the world for the better, and to be an unreasonable man.
Print ed: 08/12