Despite graduating from colleges with a well-known sports rivalry (Letran and Ateneo, respectively), Robert Lim “Bobby” Joseph and Antonio “Tony” Meloto are just two great friends living parallel lives. Aside from being the same age, both have been spearheads for worthy endeavors (Bobby launched the Save Manila Bay project in January 2019 and Tony is the founder of Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine-based poverty alleviation movement).
Both have the shared experiences of losing loved ones (Bobby’s son Richard tragically passed away in 2017 at the age of 28 while Tony lost 3 siblings to cancer and his father in 1994) and booth have health issues (Bobby is a Stage 4 kidney cancer survivor since 2002 while Tony is blind in the left eye since he was 12 and had skin psoriasis since he was 38). In spite of all these trials and tribulations, both have remained steadfast in their Catholic faith (Bobby prays the rosary daily, is a “cooperator” with Opus Dei and is especially devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and Mary Mediatrix of all Grace in Lipa while Tony is an active member of Couples for Christ and founder of Youth for Christ, Kids for Christ, Handmaids of the Lord and Servants of the Lord).
Both Bobby and Tony also share a genuine concern to aid and uplift the marginalized communities. Now in their 70s, they’ve discovered a new passion to add quality to their senior years by, in turn, improving the quality of the less fortunate through the creation of shared prosperity to end poverty—sustainable farm tourism. For both of them, doing good has no retirement, age limit or expiration date.
In 2018, Tony established Paraiso Village Social Tourism Farm, an 8.8-hectare eco-farm resort in San Jose, Batangas and Bobby, with his supportive wife Ida, have also actively involved themselves in this endeavor. Because of his friendship with Tony, Bobby saw the village farm as an avenue to continue their shared advocacy as well as it being an instrument to honor his son Richard who, before he died, was an active Gawad Kalinga volunteer helping street children.
According to Tony, Paraiso aims to improve the lives of farmers by providing them residence, livelihood, and sustainable source of income. Investors invest in a small land and the farmers who lived on that land had, with the capital from the landowners, grown 3,000 fruit-bearing trees (langka, mangosteen, durian, lanzones, marang, lychee, rambutan, papaya, avocado and bananas) and planted vegetables (ampalaya, pechay, squash, eggplant, upo, cucumber, etc.), root crops (cassava, singkamas, etc.) and herbs. In return, they got 30-percent share of the total harvest on top of the salary they received every month. They’ve also raise livestock and tended to farm animals such as pigs, carabaos, horses goats and chickens. Landowners and investors are only allowed to build on 20 percent of their lots while the remaining 80 percent is cultivated for agricultural purposes.
A big boost to the farmers’ income this, seemingly, is too good to be true, considering that farmers, who tend the field under the heat of the sun all day, are one of the lowest paid citizens in the country. The families are also given free housing, water and electricity and they can do whatever they want with their share of the harvest, whether they use it for their daily meals or sell it in the market.
Bobby and Ida have donated and dedicated a chapel under the name of their son Richard. Today, this beautiful and modern, minimalist chapel, now called the Serenity Chapel, blends effortlessly with the serene rural setting. Together with the Bamboo Sanctuary, they are serene areas for prayer and meditation. Strongly believing that education is a tool that will provide a brighter future, Bobby and Ida have also sponsored the education of the Paraiso farmers’ children until college. He and other kind-hearted members of the Rotary Club of Manila have also donated money for the monthly school food allowance and transportation of the farmers’ children.
The beauty of Paraiso Village Social Tourism Farm is it not just about the farm. Here, visitors can tour the area, via electric tourist coaches, breathe unpolluted air and immerse themselves and have a life-changing experience with Paraiso Village Farm farmers. After a productive and heartening day, visitors can stay overnight at beautiful air-conditioned bed and breakfast villas (Cabana Nipa, the Balinese-themed Rumah Cantik, etc.) or can also camp out and enjoy healthy, farm-fresh dishes made by the women in the village and, for a minimal price, take home their favorite fresh, organic produce.
A multipurpose hall serves as a venue for values-oriented events such as seminars that teach values, a positive attitude and skills on livelihood and other income opportunities for the families. The building can also be a venue where larger groups can hold functions, baptisms and weddings (the building is beside the chapel), birthday receptions, corporate events, retreats and other special occasions.
The multipurpose hall, chapel as well as the farm facilities, bed and breakfast villas and restaurant were all built by the men, with the mothers managing the last two. The children help in the vegetable gardening, landscaping and cleanup. All, including the seniors (the oldest is 84 years old), help in entertaining families of guests (especially the children) by introducing them to the joys of farming. For fun activities for visitors, especially to kids, there’s a swimming pool (adult and kiddie) with a jacuzzi. There’s also a bike trail.
Now considered one of the top agri-tourism destinations, Paraiso Village Social Tourism Farm has, for four years now, been a working social business model for promoting sustainability, uplifting farmers, and building unity among the stakeholders. In 2019, it was an awardee for Social Tourism by the Rotary Club of Manila. Bobby and Tony still invite businessmen to invest and to help the farmers and their families. Still a work in progress, both are constantly working on improving the village farm to truly make it a little piece of heaven on earth where rich and poor are equal in worth and dignity and where there is no bias or exclusion due to race religion and gender.