Friday, April 7, 2017

Popcorn Business Owner is Thurman Award Runner-Up

Gemma Vasquez with her three popcorn variants: strawberry, salted, and buttered.  
Gemma Vasquez, popcorn micro-entrepreneur and CCT community partner since 2008, has been named honorable mention for Asia in the 2017 Thurman Award program. 

The Thurman Award recognizes individuals who demonstrate the values of perseverance, compassion, strength of character, and creativity. It was established by HOPE International in honor of Eric Thurman, its first CEO, and his wife Pennie. HOPE International, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA, is a ministry partner of CCT.

Gemma and her husband, Jose, of Paranaque City began selling popcorn in 2007. Ten years earlier, Jose owned a tiny photography business just outside the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Manila.  After arrival of digital photography put him out of business, he went to work in Saudi Arabia.  However, things did not work out and he had to come home after four months.   

Having four growing children to support, the couple then experimented with a series of street food businesses. For a time, they sold fish balls (small patties made of fish meat, deep fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce), ice scramble (shaved ice flavored with milk and sugar, and sold with toppings such as mini marshmallows), and kwek-kwek (quail eggs covered with a batter and deep-fried until crispy).  

The businesses did not take off, though.  The fish balls and kwek-kewk ingredients spoiled quickly, and ice for the ice scramble melted easily.  They experimented with a fourth street food, popcorn, and decided to stick with it after discovering that it stays crispy even after three days as long it is stored in tightly sealed containers.

At the start, Jose sold the popcorn from a cart he himself made. A year later, Gemma joined the CCT Credit Cooperative and began receiving loans.  Using the loans to buy material for new carts and popcorn ingredients, they steadily built up their business. By 2014, they owned 15 carts. As their business grew, they sent for Jose’s childhood friends and former neighbors in Masbate, and gave them jobs as popcorn vendors.

Then in 2015, adversity struck.  Homes in the informal settlement where the Vasquezes and their popcorn vendors lived were demolished. Nine of the vendors went back home to Masbate  because they had nowhere else to go.  A few months later, their eldest daughter passed away due to a health condition.  Gemma recalls these blows without a hint of bitterness, saying that she knows God is always in control. And despite the trials, she never defaulted on her loans.

Today, Gemma and Jose are still in the popcorn business.  With her recent loans, Gemma bought a popcorn machine and a motorcycle.  The family has moved to a relocation site and built a two-story, fully concrete house. 

“I thank the Lord for the Thurman award honorable mention.  I also thank God that CCT trusts microentrepreneurs like me with large amounts of money for our businesses,” Gemma says. “Others believe that we are unable to pay our loans, but I am happy to say that I have a clean payment record.  I am further thankful that through my business, all the needs of my family are met.”

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