In Search of My North Star

I have always dreamt of inspiring others. More than personal gain, my ambition was to create a profound impact on people, with the drive that their lives will be moved for the better. However, this path that I chose is fraught with uncertainty, both from the insecurities within myself, as well as the challenges that beset from without — with me constantly seeking clarity, looking to the skies to guide me back to my path.  

I am fortunate that I need not look far, but just a few blocks from where I live is a growing vibrant community of creatives, the community within the First United Building. Located in the “Queen of Manila’s Streets,” Escolta, this community is composed of a diverse group of changemakers from different backgrounds coming together to do their part in revitalizing Escolta and championing Philippine-made. Among these changemakers is Kalsada Coffee.

With even greater fortune I had the genuine pleasure in participating in vital work for Kalsada Coffee as an intern, doing architecture design projects for their partner coffee farming communities in Atok, Benguet. I was able to stay with the coffee farmers along with Tere Domine, Kalsada Coffee’s Country Director and idol ng bayan, through which much conversations were held that challenged and expanded discussions of the industry and its associated challenges. Through these unique learning experiences, I saw first hand the range of work carried forward by the powerful women-led team of Kalsada Coffee. Through conversation and observation, reflection and interaction, I have come to the realization that have been very humbling of the privilege I experience, and awaken the duty that I, myself, and others have to take part. 

Tere with the women in coffee of Sitio Belis.

Tere with the women in coffee of Sitio Belis.

I was also able to take this time to look within. Throughout this internship, I was able to build on my emerging interest, specialty coffee. I was able to participate in an environment committed to excellence within the individual and the organization — through the complex task of coffee cupping, where the difficult and arduous process of creating the perfect cup becomes all the more evident. Kalsada’s Operation Manager, Ivy Soon, took the extremely draining task of not just managing Kalsada operations, but also with answering my questions, educating my knowledge in specialty coffee, as well as personally engaging with me the most. I was also able to take part in presentations with some of the country’s notable industry leaders, an exhilarating and unique experience for someone just graduated from university, and in  my opinion, no little feat. This particular experience showed me how to collaborate with others towards a common goal, as well as reminded me the path I wish to pursue is not a lonely one.

On our walk down to Sitio Belis.

On our walk down to Sitio Belis.

Beyond learning the discerning taste and pursuit of quality coffee, this unique learning environment taught me to discern true ethical and social-oriented practices from those capitalizing for personal gain. I believe this to be a challenging endeavor as this entails one to hold oneself to a higher moral and ethical standard, in the midst of those who may not share the same ideals. It entails the self to not compromise or rationalize. 

Through the interaction over the past year with the people of Escolta and this internship in recent months, I have come to hold close as well as in high regard the people of Escolta, who have been forging the difficult path of empowering local communities and culture. Through the connection and learning that is only possible in physical conversation and discourse, I have gained much insight from these women of Kalsada, and a shift in perspective of the world we live in and the roles we play. 

We count ourselves fortunate to be living in a time where one can pursue one's interests and ambitions, with a support structure already in place, built upon by the pioneers who started these initiatives. In the same note, we are also challenged with ever worsening inequality and apathy, often at the expense of those less fortunate who do not have a platform to speak out. For those of us that follow the ones that came before us, it is our duty to build on what they have already started on, and spread the initiative and beliefs that these leaders have built — in our own ways, in our own platforms, in the conversations we hold. Through this, we not only find the North Star that guides us in the kalsada we seek, we also rise and become that which we hope to find.

Written by Brandon Ang