Interviews by DOM GALEON
Portraits by NOEL PABALATE
Meet Christine Amour-Levar, Earl Forlales, and Jordy Navarra, each working on a particular mission—a dream, really—to improve an aspect of society.
A traveler with a cause, Christine has made it her life’s work to advocate for causes very close to her heart, particularly issues concerning women and the environment, through two not-for-profit groups that she had helped set up—Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth.
Earl wants to make the old new. A graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, with a double degree in Chemistry and Materials Science Engineering, he has been making use of what he has learned in college to push for an idea that won first place in the recent Cities for the Future Challenge hosted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors of the UK. His winning concept, which is also now his mission, is to build affordable houses using a material called engineered bamboo.
Chef Jordy’s Toyo Eatery Manila has recently made it to the list of the Top 50 Restaurants of the world. It’s not surprising, considering how he himself is the latest winner of the Miele One to Watch Award for Asia. And all of these achievements started with a dream.
If you were to speak to the graduating university students of 2019 ready to enter the real world, what is the one most important reminder you’d want to share with them?
CHRISTINE: I would like to tell them that, as current and future business leaders, we are indeed all so fortunate. And because of this, we should be driven by a great sense of responsibility and a desire to uplift others around us. To drive change, it needs to be a collective effort.
EARL: This may sound like a cliche, but my advice to them is to not be afraid to try new things. Before graduating from college, it’s normal for people to be asking what am I going to do or what industry will I be in.
Me, I told myself that I was going to start a business. It was only a matter of time before I realized that it was going to be in housing—helping our low-income earners, not only here in Metro Manila but all over the Philippines. To provide them with dignified housing.
Like I said, we have this very simple but very functional kind of house that we have been underutilizing. Now, with the advent of this material—engineered bamboo— we have the opportunity to improve how we utilize the kubo. That’s what we’re trying to offer. And the addition of the modular system makes it very easily deployable wherever it would be needed.
JORDY: I think the reminder would be to never compromise and to commit to your dreams. Don’t be afraid to fail but always remember to be kind.
We just entered the new year, so what are you most excited about for the country as we move forward?
CHRISTINE: I’m inspired by the talent and energy and honesty that I see among so many Filipinos. Even though I also have French and Swiss origins, the Philippines is by far the country that really pulls at my heartstrings, and that is primarily because of the warmth, kindness, and charm of the Filipino people.
EARL: I can only speak for the project. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from fellow Filipinos who are very excited to try and buy their own CUBO housing. With this positive feedback, we are confident that we can boost not only the use of engineered bamboo as a housing material but also the raw material itself—bamboo. The bamboo industry has been there for centuries. We see a lot of bamboos but we don’t give particular attention to our bamboo farmers. So it’s something that we believe we can boost with the introduction of this solution to the housing crisis.
JORDY: From a food standpoint, I’m excited about how our food scene in Manila has been quickly developing and how proud we are the more we learn about Filipino food and ingredients.
What’s the greatest lesson you have learned while you were still struggling to find your place in the world, and who did you learn it from?
CHRISTINE: I grew up mostly in the Philippines and around very strong women. Women in Philippine society have always enjoyed a greater share of equality. In fact, the Philippines is described as a nation of driven women who directly and indirectly run the family unit, businesses, government agencies, and even haciendas. In truth. I have learned my greatest lesson of humility and courage from Filipino women, including my own mother. I wholeheartedly believe in the potential of Filipino women to unite their family, change a community, a nation, and the world for the better.
EARL: I learned this particular lesson from a lot of people: You can’t do something big alone. When I proposed this solution, I was just one person. Right now, we’ve grown to a team of seven, working with a total of eight skilled workers to build our prototype. If not for them, I wouldn’t get anywhere. And without all the help we’ve been getting from various organizations and from people who have resources that we can’t acquire ourselves, then that concept is not going to fly. It’s going to remain a concept, which is nothing.
We believe that, in order to make real solutions that will affect or impact people, we have to be humble. Don’t be afraid to admit that we need help.
JORDY: I think failure is the greatest teacher but my wife, May Navarra, has always taught me to look past failure and to learn from it.
We wear many hats and reinvent ourselves many times over, as we grow or as need dictates. But if there’s one legacy or thing you want to be remembered for, what would it be?
CHRISTINE: Over the last few years, through my work with my nonprofit Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, I have been privileged to take all female teams, over 100 women to date, to off-the-beaten-track locations around the world, and challenging even pioneering expeditions that really push them outside of their comfort zones. They include places like the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, deserts in the Middle East and Africa, mountains in the Himalayas and Mongolia, and all this is in an effort to rally support for a worthy cause.
Now I have come to realize that this work has resulted in me starting to build my own unique legacy. And in the end, I would love to be remembered as someone who always had real passion and adventurous spirit for life, but always tried her very best to make a difference in the world.
EARL: I’d like to be remembered as someone who helped people. It’s something that has been embedded in me from childhood. I didn’t come from a very luxurious background. I grew up in the province and my parents worked really hard to send me and my siblings to school. So I like to be remembered as that person who helped others because we relied on people like that growing up. I like to return the favor, to pay it forward, to be that person as well for others.
JORDY: I think the most important thing for me is that I keep my principles regardless of need, legacy or no legacy.
In this ever-changing world, how do you plan to keep yourself or this project you have been working on relevant?
CHRISTINE: There is this quote I once read that said, “If you say things of consequence, there may be consequences. The alternative is to be inconsequential.”
And I feel this is very relevant in terms of keeping what you care about top of mind. So you need to speak up and share why certain issues are important or worthy of attention. But it also is vital to keep educating yourself about the issues you care deeply about so that you stay relevant.
EARL: Well, housing is just one aspect. But it is a monumental task, to provide housing for millions of Filipi nos. But moving forward, we want to also offer more than just housing. In particular, livelihood.
Since we’re using bamboo, we’re going to need a lot of bamboo. In that particular aspect of the CUBO model, we would want to involve the people who benefit from the housing by advocating backyard farming of bamboo. We need to have specifications for the type of bamboo we use. To source the volume required, we need people planting bamboo. It’s basically creating a bamboo ecosystem.
JORDY: I think the most important thing is to always push to get better and to never stop learning.