Artisan Candles
Name of village: Sto. Cristo, Pulilan Bulacan

Artisan Candles

Photograph 1 - The entire group together.


Joining this programme gave me the opportunity to apply what I have learnt to serve the community and improve their lives.

I had mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness when I first joined the programme. I did not know what I was going to expect. I was also rather scared, as this was the first time I will be leaving my family for more than 14 days, I am definitely going to miss them a lot.

My initial aspiration for the trip was going there with the group, to change the life of the villagers for the better. I had high hopes that my group will create an awesome prototype which will greatly benefit the lives of the villagers. We were quite confident that we could realise this dream as I thought of a few insane ideas beforehand.

My first impression of the group was, "why is everyone so quiet and awkward most of the time? We are going to be working together for 14 days in a few weeks' time, can we speak and get to know each other better!" My facilitator Mr Teo was a rather quiet man as well, but whenever we had a question he will always be glad to answer us. Mr Teo gave us plenty of freedom to collaborate with the Filipino students to work on the project. Only when we were stuck, will he intervene and guide us right back on track.

The design thinking training allowed me to know a little more about the people I was going to be working with. The training also taught us about sense and sensibility, empathy studies and ideation which we were going to apply later for our project. Everything went smoothly during the training, apart from the clustering of post it notes to form our need statement, where we got a little bit confused. We also had fun during the workshop and had lunch together that day, before visiting a shopping mall in Jurong East to take a few pictures of candles to gather some inspiration.

Photograph 2 - The first awkward encounter with the group where we worked together for the very first time.

We did not have a Learning Journey as the whole event got cancelled the last minute. Instead, we went to a classroom in the school, where our facilitator showed us a few photographs and shared with us some insights of the place. We also took this opportunity to ask questions regarding the project, before we were dismissed. The next time we would see each other will be at the airport flying to the Philippines.

This was kind of a new experience for me, I did not know what was going on as I was never really prepared for the trip at all. Everything happened so sudden that I did not have much time to reach, I just tagged a lot and cooperated with everyone else and hoped that everything will be fine.

To be honest I have never been to the Philippines before. I did not even know that they had their own unique language. I thought everyone there spoke English and Malay. I guess I was wrong. I have to say aside from only knowing how to create a candle through a YouTube video, I had completely no idea what was going on with the project. Nonetheless, I will still try my best to do whatever I can to help serve the community.

Photograph 3 - Last photo with the group before we left for the Philippines

The Project

The aim our project was to help a group of villagers living in Sto. Cristo, Pulilan Bulacan with their candle making business.

Background information: Sto. Cristo Pulilan Bulacan is a small area leased to around 67 families. The district have an unemployment rate of 3 percent, where most of the children attend school while some work in nearby factories. Living on leased land, all the people there could lose their home one day, if the landlord decide to use the land for redevelopment purpose. The entire area is a ticking time bomb awaiting to explode.

Majority of the candle makers are woman would were provided a free course sponsored by the government to teach them how to create candles. With this knowledge, the villagers can start their very own candle business and make a living through it. Initially, they were sponsored by the government with funds. Unfortunately the funding had to come to a halt due to the current election. Fortunately for them, they still have 12 moulds which was kindly sponsored by a nearby research university and some funds and profit from the previous sale of the candles.

Photograph 4 - The entrance where we entered the village with the group.

The villagers basically only spend merely 3 to 4 hours a day to create their own candle. No one really buys candles in Philippines except when it is a special occasion such as All Saint's Day. So what do they do with all the candles left? They just stockpile it, hoping people will buy them once in a while and sell them during special occasions.

Well if you are thinking that the funding from the government will resume after the election, you are wrong. Before all this can actually happen, the government gave the villagers a profit target to be met, only if they are able to achieve the target will the government continue to sponsor them with more money so as to ensure their efforts will not be wasted.

That is actually not a bad decision by the government. Well the only problem is that, villagers do not understand the candle market. They are not aware how much they should sell their candles for in order to generate the most profit. Even though they keep track of the records on an accounting book, they still do not understand the basics of business let alone make the correct decision to reach the criteria the government has for them to receive more funds.

To make matters worse, aside from the candle business being seasonal, the villagers have to compete against factories mass producing as well, which they will never stand a chance, unless they can come up with something that makes their candles unique.

Photograph 5 - Dangerous working environment where the villagers produce the candles.

As mentioned in my reflection journal, the working environment where the villagers produced the candles was a disaster. Children were seen running aroud, cigarette buds were found lying all around the floor an the hot melted wax was left unattended at a corner. Before we had even enter the workshop, there was a strong pungent smell of paraffin, which will contribute to prolong health effect in inhaled too much. The environment was really hot and stuffy, yet the candle maker was still able to carry out her task like as if nothing was wrong, without any safety gears as they pour the wax into the mould.

The candle makers were not aware of the dangers of their working environment as they have been used to it already. To see the candle makers being exposed to so much dangers to produce merely a few candles really touched my heart and made me really determined to help them.

We interviewed the villagers afterwards and soon understand what their needs are such as follow:
Firstly and most importantly, as expected, the villagers needed more money. They told us how they attempted to created their very own mould for the candle mould using soft drink can but failed. They wish that they themselves can make their very mould which will allow them to produce even more candles with a variety of shape and sizes.

Next, they also told us how they wanted to include a scent in their candle to attract customers to buy them. Finally the villagers also wanted to know the supposedly mean market price to sell a candle for, so that they can make more money without overcharging others and still be able to hit the target and receive more funds.
Well if all else fail, another alternative they decided, is to be engage in the detergent making business since everyone needs to use detergent. I guess that can be viable pathway that will indeed provide a steady flow of income for them.

Photograph 6 - Our second interview with the villagers by the group

After we meet the villagers on our 1st day of homestay, we went back to the nursey and begin writing down points onto post it notes based on the question we had ask the villagers, and begin sorting them out into categories. We then look through each point, and identified several inconsistency that we were preparing to ask them again tomorrow, when the villagers visit the nursery room for our 2nd interview.
After the 2nd interview, we finalised the data we have collected and begin clustering them, while removing the irrelevant information at the same time to form our need statement.

The need statement we came up was: “I need more business knowledge so I can be confident in running my business”

Following that, we created a persona and begin our ideation process to find the solution for their problems. After much crazy ideas where discussed, we narrow them down to 4 categories, where we would divide the task and split up to create 4 supposedly prototype which we think could solve their problem.

Photograph 7 - Came up with the 4 prototype ideas where we were being assigned a role to build a prototype as a squad.

The 4 prototypes were the mould for the candle mould, scent for the candle, and packaging for the candle and an accounting template for the people to follow to keep track of their candle sales.
For the mould for the candle mould, we used a cup noodle and tin can which can be easily available to them. As well as corn starch and tissue paper mixed with hot water to create the mould substance.
Step 1) Pour in a layer of mould substance into the cup noodle.
Step 2) Ensure that the base is smooth and let the substance dry.
Step 3) Place the tin can inside the centre of the cup noodle.
Step 4) Pour in the mould substance into the gap between the two items and let it dry.
Step 5) Remove the tin can and the cup noodle.
Step 6) Separate the mould into two equal parts and use a string to tie them around.

Now we have completed creating the mould for the candle mould.

Photograph 8 - The process of making the mould for the candle mould.

For our 2nd prototype, we cut flowers and banana peels into smaller pieces and pound it until it completely flattens. Once it is fatten the substance, will produce a juice that we will extract and pour into a jar. We will then leave the jar under the shade for a few days. Afterwards, we will obtain the essential oil which we can add into the candle wax to create a candle with scent.

Photograph 9 - Squeezing the juice out of the flowers to obtain the essential oils.

For our 3rd prototype, we use a computer to design a company name, logo as well as a name card which included their contact information, for the candle maker to use. The name card will be place on the packaging of the candles for people to contact them and ask for more candles if they are satisfied with the product.

Furthermore, we used plastic and cardboard to wrap around the candles as a form of packaging and created a cardboard sorter for each slot to contain a single candle, to ensure that the candles are kept as neat as possible when they are selling them.

Photograph 10 - A cardboard packaging and sorter for the candle.

For our 4th prototype through some research and experience from our business buddies, they manage to create a template that is supposed to be easy for the villagers to keeping track of the candle production so they can record down the sales to check if they are on track in hitting their targets.

Photograph 11 - Presentation to the villagers to show them the prototype we created to hopefully solve their needs

After we have done our prototype presentation, we realise that the only thing they seemed interested was merely the name card with the company name, logo and contact information. The rest of the things seemed irrelevant to them actually. That was when they told us exactly what they needed.

They wish that they could learn how produce candles through the traditional method which is capable for creating more than a few candles at once. They also wanted a variation of sizes for the candles, in terms of small, medium and large. They want candles with spiral top and the ones that are longer as they believe it will last longer. They also told us how they wanted to harness the special property of lemon grass since there are plenty in the area as a mosquito repellent and scent, and include it inside their candle.
They especially crave for floral design on the candles which seemed to be very popular among the people. Their listed of needs were quite unexpected. Thankfully we can still work on these solution back in Singapore and give them respond in the future.


Photograph 12 - Is it too late to say sorry? Cause I'm missing more than just your candles!

It was a wonderful trip, I learn so much about the Philippine cultures. I felt that we did not do enough to help the villagers. Nothing we did during our prototyping process end up being useful for them at all. I felt so guilty whenever I think about. But this is not the end of the story, back I Singapore, I assure you we will be trying our best to find alternative solution that we hope will definitely improve their lives.

Thankfully most of the people there understand English and were very warm and friendly to us. The food there were good and I freaking love Balut! I learn so much about myself and changed for the better. I believe I have become more open now as compared to the past thanks to my buddy Aaron who is actually a really awesome guy. I love that guy. He the best brother I ever had, mad props to hi. The other buddies are not half as bad as well, each one of them turns out to be really talent at something such as drawing, playing guitar and cooking.

Photograph 13 - Another photo with all the group cause why not?

Overall I felt that I have bonded a lot with my groupmates during the whole trip. We make funny jokes and laugh at each other. We all hangout every night in our room to talk, gossip and play games.
Other than the homestay was actually not that bad than what I expected. Cooking by ourselves and clean up the dishes together really helped us bond a lot like a family.
I feel rather bad for the community. I hope someone better would come along one day and resolves all their problems. It is unbearable to think about them, as they do not deserve to live in such a poor environment that lack so much basic amenities. The people staying there are one if not the kindest and warmest people I have met in the Philippines. They were so friendly with us that they even allow us to play with their children which turns out to be nightmare as they run around and scream for no apparent reason, really troublesome to deal with.

I am glad all of this is over for once. I can say that I defiantly do not regret coming here in the first place, if given the chance I will come back some day.

Photograph 14 - A picture of candles.

Photograph 15 - The last photo we took before we left the Philippines.

Bonus Photograph - Just look at how well we bonded to have the guts to take a photo like this.

Thank You for reading

Written by: Zi Yang Oh