Hearts and Tomato Seedlings
By Marili Raymundo
Most kids who go to Gawad Kalinga fundraisers are there to listen to speeches and be inspired. Emma Montemayor Stang is there to give a speech and inspire.
In 2015 she raised and donated money to build one house in a GK village.
Quite an accomplishment for a nine-year-old.
“It took two years and many challenges along the way but she reached her goal,” says Emma’s mother Geline Stang.
At age three Emma started volunteering at an elderly care center entertaining residents by reading books and playing piano and guitar along with her brother and grandmother. By third grade she became a children’s choir member and an altar server at St. John the Baptist Church.
As fulfilling as it was, she wanted to do more than volunteer her time. She found inspiration from stories about children who raised money to help others.
In 2013 she started Planting Wishes, a project about helping others through growing and selling plants that nourish and provide lasting value.
She and her family sought the help of Tess Poling, a co-parishioner at St. John’s who was involved with various charities including Gawad Kalinga, and looked into possible beneficiaries of Planting Wishes.
“Emma has great compassion for others and demands a lot from herself. She chose GK because she wanted the first goal of Planting Wishes to be about helping a poor family in the Philippines,” says Tess.
Gawad Kalinga (GK) is a Philippine-based nation-building movement that aims to end poverty through community development and values-formation. Through sponsorship and fundraising GK enables people to build homes, empowers them through skill-building and addresses the problem that got them displaced.
Emma’s goal: to raise $3,800, the cost to build one house in a GK village in Gabuc, Capiz.
Gabuc is a fishing village that boasts a scenic coastline but it’s also a place that is straining to recover from a series of natural calamities. One of the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, it is a community of resilient survivors with limited prospects, an area where they have to work twice as hard to merely survive let alone build a house for their family.
“I wanted to accomplish my goal as quickly as possible so a family without a home could have one right away,” says Emma who started selling heirloom tomato plants from seed on weekends and no-school days.
In addition to selling she did yardwork, recycled cans and plastic bottles, and participated in church bake sales, with the proceeds going toward funding of the GK house.
It has not been without sacrifices but she has a remarkable support system. “Emma has received support from family, friends, church, and classmates and their parents,” says Tess.
To get the tomato plants market-ready her parents Geline and Greg, grandmother Marelou, and brother Zachary helped her with seed selection, transplanting and caring for them, processing orders, packaging, and making deliveries.
“Each plant comes with a hand-decorated brown paper bag which includes organic fertilizer and the tomato plant description. Her teacher and some of her classmates also helped decorate the bags after Emma spoke in front of the class about Planting Wishes,” says Geline.
At age seven she spoke at a Gawad Kalinga Haiyan concert in 2014 about her goal. “Please buy your heirloom tomato plants from Planting Wishes, together we can build a house. Mabuhay kayong lahat, maraming salamat po,” she addressed the crowd in her gentle, lilting voice.
Over the next two years she gave speeches and presentations at local events and church functions, sold tomato plants, and received pledges and donations. Emma went to as many gatherings as possible, sought people out, and with her amiability and eloquence, won over a new audience of supporters each time.
Still, it was a new responsibility that Emma had to learn over time. During one of her yard sales she’d sold a total of three plants out of fifty-six, clearly way below her sales goal for the day.
“We were concerned that our tomato plants were not being sold as fast as we hoped and we had many more left,” she says.
Undeterred she rallied her team, regrouped, and got the word out. By the end of the day they’d sold the remaining plants and learned a very important lesson in marketing.
On April 16, 2015 Emma made her goal. She delivered a check for $3,800 to the area coordinator for GK Sacramento wrapping up nearly two years of learning and sacrifices.
The Orestes family of Gabuc will receive the new house – unit #16 – once construction is completed. In 2013 the family lost their home, belongings, and livelihood to typhoon Yolanda.
“It was my wish last Christmas to have a home and my prayer was answered. God sent Emma to us,” says Mrs. Orestes.
For the Orestes family the donation is life-changing. For Emma its meaning goes beyond the monetary value of the gift: it has inspired her to do more.
“Although I was initially hesitant, I realized that Planting Wishes is her project and we are only there to support and help make her vision a reality,” says her mother.
For the nine-year-old faith in God is paramount, and helping others a belief system that she continues to uphold. Upon reaching her first goal, she eagerly looks to the future.
“We have set new goals for next year,” she announces brightly on her Planting Wishes Facebook page.
On March 4-6, Emma Stang will probably be the youngest delegate at the GK HOPE Summit at the Radisson Hotel LA at USC.
Tess Poling, a longtime Gawad Kalinga advocate who has led several GK Build and practical community service and evangelization in places like Isabela, Batangas, Bicol, and Capiz, and who through the Divine Mercy, Adoration, and Filipino Apostolate Ministry, was instrumental in connecting Emma Stang with Gawad Kalinga, hopes to be at the Summit to cheer her on.
“When support for our projects get weak God sends someone like Emma to pick up my spirits and encourage me to continue my work with Gawad Kalinga,” says Tess.
We’ve heard stories about children running lemonade stands to support Make-A-Wish, kids washing cars to send care packages to the troops, students organizing food drives or planting trees to help the environment.
Emma Stang drew inspiration from these stories and brought to life a simple dream, saw it through to fruition without fanfare, and changed a family’s life forever.
Meet the new generation of heroes – compassionate, confident, hardworking, brilliant – doing their part to make the world better.