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Guesthouse with a heart: visiting a social enterprise in the Philippines

By Tony Wheeler   24 December 2013 2:12am Europe/London

Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler reports from the Makabata Guesthouse & Café, a social enterprise in the Philippines, and shares his favourite accommodation picks for socially conscious travellers.


A holiday to the Philippines probably doesn’t top most people’s agendas after the recent Super Typhoon devastated parts of the country. But one of the best ways you can help the country rebuild is by travelling there: the Philippines’ economy relies on tourism, so injecting money into local communities is a great help to people on the ground.

Jessica, Marisol and Richard, three of Makabata Guesthouse & Cafe's Social Enterprise Youth Associates, at work. Image by Ericsson Agujar / courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan.Jessica, Marisol and Richard, three of Makabata Guesthouse & Cafe’s Social Enterprise Youth Associates, at work. Image by Ericsson Agujar / Courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan.

Many parts of the country, including Manila and all major tourism destinations, were untouched by the typhoon. And if you are planning to go, then a few nights at Makabata Guesthouse (www.makabata.org) in central Manila is money well spent. Makabata is run by well respected not-for-profit organisation Bahay Tuluyan (www.bahaytuluyan.org), and all profits go to help children living on the streets of Manila. The organisation has strong links with small groups in typhoon-affected areas and is raising money to support these people with long-term rebuilding.

Makabata Guesthouse is based in Malate, a district of old Manila and home to some famous landmarks including the Manila Yacht Club, Manila Zoo and the charming Roxas Boulevard along Manila Bay. It is also home to some of the Philippines’ poorest people with hundreds of young and old living on the street.

Exterior of Makabata Guesthouse & Cafe, Leveriza St, Malate, Manila. Image by Martin DF / courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan.Exterior of Makabata Guesthouse & Cafe, Leveriza St, Malate, Manila. Image by Martin DF / Courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan.

Established in 1987, the grassroots Filipino organisation Bahay Tuluyan works to curb child abuse through services run from its centre in Malate. Thousands of children had been helped to break out of poverty, but in 2008 Bahay Tuluyan also became homeless, losing its base due to a new Manila development in 2008.

Supported by numerous individuals, schools and community groups and by the Planet Wheeler Foundation (www.planetwheeler.org), construction of a new multi-purpose five-storey complex began in 2010. Built on land purchased by Planet Wheeler, the project was completed in late 2011. A key feature of the new building is the Makabata Guesthouse & Café, a social enterprise where young people are given on-the-job training to help them get into formal employment or education. The first of its kind in the Philippines, young people aged 15-22 entering the program are all out of school or work. In the guesthouse their training includes food and beverage service, customer service and housekeeping. After 12 months of training they are assisted to make the transition into employment or education, or to start their own small business.

A large proportion of graduates from the program have managed to go from being completely dependent on their families to becoming significant contributors. Many of them have secured formal jobs or started tertiary studies. Not only does the guesthouse provide valuable training, it also generates income to support other Bahay Tuluyan programs for local children, including a drop-in centre which runs classes for around 100 street children every day, a shelter providing emergency and short-term accommodation for 25 to 35 children, and a Mobile Unit which each week works with around 250 children on the street. Outside of Manila, Bahay Tuluyan also operates in the provinces of Laguna and Quezon.

Makabata Guesthouse & Café recently became the first Philippine member of the international ChildSafe Network (www.childsafe-international.org), which works to protect children from all forms of abuse and prevent child exploitation and trafficking. The development of the ChildSafe Network in the Philippines is a joint project of Bahay Tuluyan and Friends International (www.friends-international.org).

A glimpse inside Makabata Guesthouse's Superior Room. Image by Martine DF / courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan. A glimpse inside Makabata Guesthouse’s Superior Room. Image by Martine DF / courtesy of Bahay Tuluyan.

Makabata offers a taste of the famous Filipino hospitality and helps tourists to give directly back to the community. An offshoot social enterprise run by Bahay Tuluyan’s young people is the ‘Vibrant Communities Tour’, which aims to give visitors an intimate encounter with Filipino culture and lifestyle through a walking tour around the local area. Knowing that your night’s sleep will help get a child off the street makes the Makabata Guesthouse well worth a visit.

Guesthouses like this pioneering project in Manila can be an excellent way for young people to get training and a foothold in the tourism business. The Planet Wheeler Foundation has been involved in training and accommodation projects in a number of other countries, such as helping the reconstruction of St Joseph’s, a boy’s home and backpacker hostel in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, following the disastrous 2011 earthquake. In Phnom Penh, Planet Wheeler works with Friends International running an assortment of training classes from hairdressers and beauticians to motorcycle repairs and also operates the very popular Friends Restaurant (www.tree-alliance.org/our-restaurants/friends).

Tony’s top accommodation picks for socially conscious travellers

Zion View, Sri Lanka

Nestled in Sri Lanka’s heart and sitting amongst a ripple of mountain silhouettes that unfurl a carpet of green towards distant seas is Zion View Guesthouse (www.ella-guesthouse-srilanka.com). This family-run guesthouse has a deep commitment to addressing issues of poverty in the larger Ella region. The owner began by building houses for people with inadequate shelter, before moving on to repairing and improving existing dwellings – a flexible approach which allowed him to become involved in other issues facing the community, such as providing drinking water and income generation schemes in the area.

Tikondane, Zambia

Not too far from South Luangwa, Zambia’s premier national park (rated as one of the best on the continent) is Tikondane (tikondane.org), a grassroots community organisation involved in education initiatives, such as adult learning. It also has agricultural, animal husbandry and medical projects especially around AIDs victims and their carers. In the annual ‘hunger season’ early in the year it purchases and distributes life-saving grain for the far-flung community. The lodgings are comfortable and well run, and have recently had a makeover.

Nkwazi Lodge, Namibia

Swooning lazily in northern Namibia’s hazy heat, Nkwazi Lodge (www.nkwazilodge.com) sits on the banks of the Okavango River separating Namibia from Angola. Its value-for-money lodgings and lip-smacking food are a delightful backdrop to the project work it carries out in the local community with a focus on kids’ education. The lodge sponsors children in the Mayana community to attend pre-primary school classes; here they get a meal including fruit, and among other things learn English. It is also building a pipeline to pump water to a better site for the community (current lodgings next to the river get blown away annually when the Okavango floods), and supports artistic initiatives in the area by selling artwork in the guesthouse, using proceeds to fund various social initiatives in the community.