Now and then, you meet a courageous woman, someone who is able to weather the storms in her life. Through the years, I have had the honor of meeting such women, and some of them, I must admit, I met only through Facebook.
Chiqui Sy-Quia Mabanta is one of those ladies I have been interacting with on Facebook but we have yet to say hello face to face. Still, I have kept her on my mind to be one of my subjects in my column because of her role in the successful campaign to preserve Arroceros Forest Park, one of the last havens of natural beauty where lovely trees have taken root through the centuries.
I interviewed Chiqui recently and asked her about her prime role in ensuring that the Arroceros Park be preserved. Like many cause-oriented women, she downplayed her leadership role, and instead focused on the group effort of different NGO helping out Winner Foundation.”
She shared, “A crucial turning point was when we posted on FB and asked people to sign the petition to help save Arroceros Forest Park and help get it declared a permanent forest tree park. That petition went viral — people started discovering that Manila had such a park.”
As many are aware of, Chiqui, outside of environmental work, owns and runs some restaurants, the main one being Corner Tree Café. She has run it on her own as her passion for over 10 years now. It is top of mind to health-conscious sophisticated diners because Corner Tree Cafe helped introduce people to vegetarian and vegan food.
For this lady, who is also passionate about heritage and Old Manila, the lockdown has brought some blessings. “All of a sudden, we had all this time to stop, to de-stress, to discover things and to slow down,” she said. “I strongly connected with my foster daughter, who I am in the process of adopting, because I was home most of the time the first few months and we started creating new routines.”
As we count down to the Feast of our Lady of the Assumption, I must mention here what she said about her Assumption education — “exposing me to poverty up close. We were sometimes sent on exposure trips to squatter areas or to Tala leprosarium when we were kids. It helped give me a different perspective or a more complete one. It shaped the person I became. I realized at an early age how fortunate we were and it taught me about injustice, etc.”
Chiqui is sometimes surprised with herself. She confided, “I am more courageous than I thought I would ever be. I take risks and put myself out there. Definitely not a passive person. I say yes to people who invite me to join things, like volunteering to do manual work in Bohol and Tacloban after disasters. Or to fight City Hall to protect the forest. Or to foster a child. That last one surprised me. I have decided to take on motherhood at 53 years old.”
“I am grateful for all that has come my way,” Chiqui said.
That’s Chiqui for you, who takes on challenges big and small. I think courage plays a major role here, but at the same time, it is obvious that love for her neighbors has been ingrained in Chiqui throughout her growing up years, no wonder that to this day, at her golden age, she remains committed to helping others, and that includes contributing to the effort of giving us fresh air, even if only to be enjoyed at Arroceros Forest Park. Chiqui’s pockets of success in her various endeavors, whether in entrepreneurship, community service or her own home life inspire us to keep on going. For if Chiqui can, why can’t we?