At 13, Melissa Yeung-Yap already knew she wanted a life full of heart. She felt the first spark upon visiting an orphanage. Since then, she started volunteering with various NGOs and foundations as an art teacher, researcher, and project manager. From the P3,000 she made at her first paying job doing research for a Mindanao-based NGO to the fees she later received from crafting corporate social responsibility projects for various companies, she was able to establish Got Heart Foundation at just 22 years old.
Ten years on, Got Heart has now expanded their partner communities and farms, as well as projects to include a shop, roving laboratory, gallery, restaurant, art therapy sessions, scholarships, and feeding programs. Their mission remains the same: to create heartlinks—ways for people to help and opportunities for the marginalized to help themselves—to bring out the best of those who have the least.
Tell us about what you do.
I’m currently juggling various hats. The biggest one is being a mom to my almost 2-year-old boy. I manage Earth Kitchen, Got Heart Shop, Got Heart Gallery, Got Heart Farm, and Greenstone Pharmaceutical (makers of Katinko Ointment). I serve as the full-time volunteer Executive Director of Got Heart Foundation, Inc. I am also a lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University and make artworks for various art shows.
My schedule is very unpredictable. I’m currently based in the U.K., but only for a year, to accompany my husband as he takes up further studies. I manage everything remotely. The time difference is a bit tough (it’s -8 hours here) but thankfully, because of mobile technology, it’s still workable.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
It’s really meaningful and inspiring to be surrounded by loving and helpful people. The work is flexible and dynamic. It’s just challenging to deal with difficult people. Climate change really affects our work, especially the farm. We just adjust accordingly and choose our battles more wisely.
What three pointers would you provide for people who'd like to start pursuing an environmental lifestyle?
We really need to look at our trash and see how we can reduce it.
1) Bring reusables all the time (bag, bottle, utensils). Bringing a reusable water bottle as opposed to drinking from plastic bottles makes a load of difference.
2) Segregate trash and bring appropriate items to junk shops, electronic waste management units, and recycling centers. You’ll make some money at the same time!
3) Support organic/natural farmers.
Share with us a fun fact about the environment that you think people should know.
What I learned from the Talaandigs is that if we believe that there is a Creator, then we should show him respect not just in man-made churches and cathedrals but in the very Home he built for us—the earth we’re living in. This really struck a chord in me.
What is your why - why you do what you do?
I do what I do as a commitment of thanksgiving for all the blessings. It’s so wonderful to be part of a person/community’s journey out of poverty with dignity. Through these years, I’ve learned that the more we give of ourselves, the more meaningful and purposeful life becomes. It’s nice to wake up everyday knowing that life is meaningful.
What can people do to help your cause?
They can help by supporting our various social enterprises like Earth Kitchen, Got Heart Shop and Gallery. They can also volunteer and help us develop and market products together with our communities.
What is a philosophy or words you live by?
My philosophy is to care—for the environment, for people. To maximize my life to make better situations.
Earth Kitchen is an earth-friendly, farmer-friendly restaurant that sustainably and ethically sources ingredients from various farming, fishing and indigenous communities.
Got Heart is a community shop that helps market products from various local makers and artisans. Inside is a refilling station for our very own skin and body care line that’s all natural, biodegradable, vegetarian, cruelty-free and palm-free.
Visit both Earth Kitchen and Got Heart Shop at Lot 10 B-10 Katipunan Avenue, White Plains, Quezon City.