Gene Card has been traveling to the Philippines regularly for nearly six years. And he's taking his money with him.
The Nikiski man founded Pink Path Philippines, a foundation devoted to helping the Southeast Asia country's poorest residents learn a trade and improve their lives.
At present, the foundation is supported almost exclusively with what little Card can afford on his own. But he said he hopes that will change as awareness of the opportunity grows.
The foundation currently supported by Card's own Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check and about half his monthly disability payment is designed to teach Filipino citizens a trade and give them the start-up equipment to turn that trade into a business they eventually will be able to run on their own.
While the foundation works with men and women alike, Card said it is his dream to help poor Filipino women in particular, hence the name and motto Helping Filipina Help Themselves of the foundation.
The impetus for the program started when Card visited the Philippines on vacation in January 1998.
"I went over there not to do anything, but just to enjoy myself, vacation and have fun," he said.
The poverty he witnessed on the six-week trip touched him, though, he said.
"I saw the way people had to live, and I found that the American dollar went so far. It's unbelievable how far it would go."
Card is by no means rich in American terms. In fact, he's a recovering alcoholic who spent years living on the streets.
But, he said, he learned in Alcoholics Anonymous that "you have to give it away to keep it."
He calls his time in the Philippines a "spiritual awakening" and said the foundation is his way of "giving it away."
"It was my way of giving back for being a loser and becoming a winner," he said. "It's my way of helping other people."
In November 1998, Card returned the the Philippines for his second visit, inspired not to vacation but to make a difference.
He met a 15-year-old pregnant girl living on the streets.
"I done my best to try to help her," he said, explaining that he stayed close by and helped her pay for medical care she otherwise could not have afforded. "I don't know if I helped her very much ... but it inspired me to keep going."
Soon, Card married a Filipino teacher and together, the couple began the foundation. Working with a number of government agencies in the Philippines, the foundation's goal is to provide training in a trade for the impoverished, then give the participants the start-up materials to begin a business using that trade. Eventually, Card said, the businesses would be run completely by the Filipino participants.
"My attitude is if you help the local people learn how to do a particular trade, whether it's cooking in a restaurant or welding, then get the money to buy the materials and start-up equipment, you can help them get started at a business that will succeed," Card said.
Later this month, Card will make yet another trip to the Philippines and begin work on the first such business: a food delivery service employing about 10 people.
Card said he already has approval and help from the government in the Philippines, and he and his wife have been working on education for the future employees. He's also done the research to determine the possible success of such a business.
"The odds it will be able to sustain itself extremely well with 10 people is about 75 to 80 percent," Card said. "All we need is the money to buy the equipment."
Eventually, he said, he hopes to buy a piece of land and construct a large building to house both the training programs and the start-up businesses.
The hope is that the skill training and start-up help will allow the Philippines residents to improve their standard of living.
"Their poor are 80 to 90 percent poorer than the poor here," Card said. "I consider myself poor here. But there, it's nothing for people to walk up to me and call me a rich man."
To illustrate, he said an untrained woman working as a domestic maid or in a market makes about 800 pesos a month in the Philippines. That's $12 to $15 in the United States.
He said he hopes that after training and apprenticeship programs, workers in the foundation-established businesses will make about three times that amount.
"The goal is education, but education so the individual will learn how to do it with the start-up equipment and go right from training into developing a business that, hopefully, will be in the black in a short time."
The whole project doesn't take much money in terms of American dollars, but Card still has bigger dreams than he can afford himself. That's why he's hoping people on the Kenai Peninsula will develop an interest in the project and start helping, as well. Card is working with Vessels of Hope in Homer to garner support for the foundation. Anyone interested in learning more or helping with the program can e-mail Card at email@example.com.
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