Cheers from Calatagan
Casa Calatagan helps kids from the local community have access to internet, laptops, and school materials—one #CheersForKids Gin & Tonic at a time!
When the pandemic struck the nation, schools all over had to reorganize and shift to online learning. Schools, both private and public, all of the sudden needed their students to have computers or tablets and a steady access to Internet, just so that they can continue their studies. Sadly, not everyone can afford this and there are numerous communities who struggled (or still struggle) with obtaining the resources to set up their online learning systems.
Enter Casa Calatagan, a passion project that aims to uplift the lives of the children of the Calatagan community through education. Currently, it does so by helping provide Internet for the kids in several barangays, truly something that makes a huge difference in the lives of these school kids.
Casa Calatagan came into existence when its founder, Vanessa Vergara, first moved to Calatagan months ago when the pandemic hit. "I battled COVID anxiety by challenging myself to launch a business and create a charity. I took time to get involved with the family business of producing shrimps therefore my start-up, Calatagan Seafood, was born. I also got to know the locals of the farm and that inspired me to make sure that I share the success of the business and help the Calatagan community so I am working on launching on a charity project—Casa Calatagan. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic, some more than others so this is the most important time for us to be there for each other," she shares.
For Vergara, whose "COVID career" so happened to be a gin and tonic mixologist, the idea for a charity project that could make use of her budding mixologist skills just happened. "G&Ts were always my go-to drink and since the lockdown started I kept trying to create my favorite drinks from Las Flores and The Backroom in Shang BGC to pass the time until my gin and botanical collection grew and I came up with my own mixes!" she exclaims. "It was just something I would do to celebrate the sunset and a long of day Zoom calls but I started getting a lot of questions on my posts about G&Ts and cocktails and it gave me an idea to work on a new project, Casa Calatagan. I spent time with the youth from the local community and this gave me a chance to get to see their life and their struggles. Since we have all been in quarantine in the same area and I taught a few of them to scuba dive over the summer, it was my way of sharing my advocacy while the operations of Reef Check was also halted by the pandemic, but it was only when summer was over and the school year was going to start that I found my inspiration."
Because of the virus, kids in Calatagan are now burdened with expenses like access to Internet, additional school materials, and are even required to have laptops or tablets just to be able to continue their education. "This is not someone everyone can easily afford and I wanted to put my newfound hobby to good use," Vergara shares.
Vergara shares that even before the Casa Calatagan website went live, she was able to get several pre-orders even when she was just doing teasers and setting up the brand's social media. "With those sales, I was already able to buy several Internet devices for the children!" she beams. The website of Casa Calatagan is now live and has the basic kits and botanical essentials sets available already. "These 'Ber' months will be absolutely exciting—imagine that you will get to recreate and experiment with your favorite cocktails in the comfort of your home. This is a way for yourself to celebrate the small wins and wind down after a long day or you can even share it. I want to create new experiences for people and bring a little sparkle for everyone to enjoy after so many months of staying home. Coming from a PR and marketing background, I used to create events that would bring stories of brands to life and hopefully I will get to share a piece of Calatagan and give everyone a taste of nature through my recipes."
"The pandemic has brought so many challenges to every industry but I believe that it shouldn’t hinder anyone from a proper education," Vergara says. "If we can do something as simple as helping the youth in remote areas get access to the internet, it gives them a chance to safely continue their schooling. A lot of the time, we have taken these small things for granted like connectivity and the access to the internet that allows us to stay connected and work from home but that luxury is not available to everyone. The cost of internet load or just to buy an internet device in remote areas like where our shrimp farm is located, is a great burden for students and their families to shoulder. Happy hour and cocktails have brought a lot of joy during these past few months, why not celebrate the day and help someone at the same time?"
Casa Calatagan's short-term goal is amazing enough already—being able to provide for the Internet of the local kids one barangay at a time. "I have already invested in Internet devices and my family has donated their old materials, laptops, etc. for some of the children to use in our own barangay. With your help, I want to be able to make sure their access to internet for the rest of the school year is sustainable and soon I will be open to accept donations for those who have old devices (tabs and laptops) that is not being used or needs small repair—I can have it repaired and match you with a student for you to adopt for the rest of the school year—you can call him or her your new study buddy!" she grins.
And yet, it's important to note that this is just the beginning of it all. Vergara explains: "I started Casa Calatagan hoping to not just create Gin and Tonic kits for a cause but to create a lifestyle that brings a little sparkle to your day while uplifting others at the same time. I have been working on expanding the product line so I will be able to launch other collections that will bring that hacienda vibe to your home. Stay tuned as this is just the start, we will soon bring you your dream bar tools, unique pieces inspired by nature, home essentials or shall I say hacienda essentials—all to support the local community."
Vergara hopes that her passion project helps spark inspiration in others wherever they may be spending their lockdown. "Now that we were all forced to slow down, that does not mean we should put our lives on pause. We should make the most of this time given to spend time with our families and push yourself, learn that thing that you have always wanted to try and even help others in the process," she smiles.