Paul Orpiada, one of the founders of Karaw, when the enterprise was chosen as one of the finalists for the search for Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) last January 24.

WHAT initially started as a business college project is now a social enterprise with a passion to help the community.  It may sound so simple, but Paul Orpiada and together with three other group mates, started KARAW! Collections and Souvenirs as a hands-on application of what they learned while in their business course at Ateneo de Naga University. 

However, towards the end of the semester in 2011, the group decided to stop their operations because all of them were about to graduate.  With assets divided and while others decided to work, Orpiada decided to continue on, once he acquires enough funds for capital.

The opportunity came via the British Council’s “I am a Changemaker Ideation Camp,” and Orpiada decided to re-structure KARAW, but with the objectives of a social enterprise, renaming it to Karaw Craftventures.

“I was joined by some friends who have the same passion in art and who were also eager to make change for the society,” shared Orpiada in an interview with Asian Journal.  My two friends and I, including one facilitator who was also a graduate of BS Entrepreneurship and a student in Ateneo de Naga University, decided to re-organize KARAW.”

What is Karaw?

The word “karaw” is a Bicol term which is associated with “playing and doing certain things using one’s imagination,” Orpiada said.  Using the term for their enterprise, Karaw is aimed to show that recyclable and scrap materials can be transformed into a piece of useful creative artwork such as plush toys, keychains, trophies, bags, shirts and shoes.  Karaw is an advocate of environmental sustainability through recycling, and is able to respond productively to the alarming deterioration of the environment.

“The products are a realization of our creatively playful minds. Our products introduce uniqueness in their designs because [the] materials which will be used are of great variety,” Orpiada shared.  “These designs cater not only to Filipinos who share common love for arts, environment, and fashion but to all nationalities and cultures as well.”

The Encantures collection re-imagines and re-creates Philippine mythical creatures into adorable plush forms and other merchandise. Made by the partner artisans of Karaw Craftventures, Encantures also retell the stories and origins of traditional characters from Philippine folklores.

Under Karaw Craftventures are the following brands: 

  The Ragpet Project

  Munequeta

  Encatures – Re-imagines and re-creates Philippine mythical creatures into adorable plush forms and other merchandise. Made by the partner artisans of Karaw Craftventures, Encantures also retell the stories and origins of traditional characters from Philippine folklores.

  Best of Pinas – A collection inspired by the popular tourist attractions and icons of the Philippines. From the the majestic Mt. Mayon of Albay, to the gentle giants of the sea of Sorsogon, to the guitars of Cebu, and to the sweet mangoes of Guimaras, these icons prove that Philippines is a country that is richly blessed with amazing things Filipinos can really be proud of. These icons are re-created into handcrafted pouches, keychains, and ref magnets.

They also customize items according to clients’ preferences, such as corporate giveaways. 

Karaw also has expanded their artisan communities to the urban poor women — mostly mothers — in Naga City and some rural areas in Camarines Sur.

Art with a heart

Business wise, Karaw may have it all down.  However, it is not just about creating business and generating income, as its main interest is to help the community.

“We strongly believe that, as a social enterprise, we can contribute to social progress by empowering our stakeholders to collaborate and to improve their outlooks in life by providing them opportunities for self-growth,” explained Orpiada. “We give and show love by combining art enthusiasm with passion to take part in community development advocacy and promotion of environmental sustainability. It aims to empower the marginalized women’s groups in Naga City while spurring economic mobility by providing career and training opportunities, capacity building activities, and guidance in financial savings.”

Guided by the core values of (RAGPET):  R-ediscover creativity and imaginative play, A-ppreciate Filipino cultre and arts, G-ive and show love to others through gifts, P-rovide sustainable livelihood, E-mpower society’s underserved sectors, and T-ranform scraps into artisanal products; Karaw aims to become a powerful source of hope for the marginalized communities in the Philippines.

Orpiada’s active involvement in outreach activities when he was still in college opened his eyes and heart into reaching out to those who belong in different marginalized communities and sectors such as the poor, street children, orphans, PWDs and the elderly.  But with just one experience of visiting the jail struck a chord in him. 

“I have heard their stories of physical, emotional and psychological struggles inside the jail. Some of them rarely get a visit from and already abandoned by their families, others suffer from severe depression that leads to suicide attempts. The congested prison cells also deprive them with breathable space. All of these lead to the dehumanizing condition that makes their rehabilitation difficult to achieve. Those insights during my visit have lingered on me as I thought of ways to pay them a visit again and do something that will help in alleviating their pains.

“When we were targeting our possible partners for the project, I thought of the instance wherein maybe we could possibly help in positively touching the lives of those who are incarcerated in the prisons. Our team has come to realize that among the vulnerable groups in the society, the prisoners are a sector that is neglected most of the time. Only a limited number of cause-driven organizations help in the rehabilitation activities for this group. With this premise in mind, our team decided to tap the prisoners to realize the projects for Karaw Craftventures because we believe that, whatever their individual backgrounds are, these people still be subject to basic human rights. They also have a right to a livelihood, a basic privilege to be given good and dignified opportunities for the welfare of their and their families’ futures. These people should not be left to simply idle away in confinement but be empowered towards better tomorrows,” he said.

Orpiada also said that the “common concern of the involved stakeholders is for the livelihood to provide them with sustainable income since integration with regular jobs is illusive due to lack of capacity, educational background, and the social stigma for the ex-prisoners to the available jobs in the society.”  With this in mind, Karaw wants to address these by empowering these skillful and talented inmates to achieve their full potential and prepare them when the re-integrate into society when they are released.

Inmate artisans at the Naga City Jail learning how to make mini plush toys.

“As of now, Karaw Craftventures creates sustainable livelihood opportunities for the woman inmates in Naga City District Jail and introduces in-prison skills development program for poverty and crime reduction,” shared Orpiada and added, “This community is treated as suppliers or production units, where 36 inmate-artisans craft the products during their idle time inside the jail. The interventions to this sector help the inmates maximize their time productively and earn income for their daily needs. We also conduct activities that help them reconnect with their loved ones such as Christmas Party, and puppet shows staged by the inmates themselves.”

Karaw also has expanded their artisan communities to the urban poor women — mostly mothers — in Naga City and some rural areas in Camarines Sur.

Orpiada admits that it is a big challenge implementing and operating a social enterprise.  For one, Karaw is ran by a team on a part-time basis. 

“We have to allocate extra time and effort for the social enterprise while attending to our work commitments in our respective jobs,” shared Orpiada.

Also, dealing with inmates is a bigger challenge, as Karaw want to make sure that they are fulfilling their commitment to offer them sustainable livelihood opportunities to complement the reformation activities provided by the jail management.  Add into the mix are expectation of production vs the reality of distance, communication and lack of monitoring between the enterprise and inmates.

“One thing I learned in the process is that I should always be hands-on in the production aspect of the enterprise,” Orpiada said.  “Otherwise, you can designate someone from the group who will effectively monitor the production. In our case, since we only have very limited time to visit the jail, it became essential in the operations of the enterprise to entrust the monitoring of the production processes to one or two of the inmate artisans. This could also mean empowerment for them and at the same, building of trust to what they can do for the success of every project.”

Orpiada shared that they are looking to expand production five times, create more artisanal product concepts, set up a retail space, and empower additional inmate artisans in Camarines Sur, as well make Karaw Craftventures a well-recognized Filipino brand.  He is also thankful that their products are getting attention not only locally, but also outside the Philippines.

“It actually inspires us to do more for our communities since there are people from other parts of the world who believe in what we as a social enterprise. Right now, the international exposures that we’ve been getting already provide us the jumpstart to be noticed and be supported,” Orpiada said. “By purchasing our products or supporting our cause through donations, we would be able to continue to expand to more communities. Thus, providing livelihood support to poor and marginalized communities in the Philippines. We would also be grateful to personally showcase our works should there be opportunities for international trade expositions.”

They have also been overwhelmed by inquiries from Filipinos here in the United States, wanting to purchase their products so they can share culturally-relevant stories to their kids. 

Karaw interns Photos courtesy of Paul Orpiada/Karaw

“We’re just happy to know how supportive Filipinos abroad are whenever they notice fellow Filipinos doing good things that they also want to amplify that same goodness in order to create positive impacts. It is evident that the members of Filipino American community are able to extend invaluable cooperation in helping the initiatives of fellow Filipinos, which means that they are always proud of and still rooted on their identity as Filipinos,” he said.

For more information on Karaw Craftventures and their products, you can check out their social media accounts:  Facebook/KarawCraftventures and Instagram @karawcraftventures. 

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