Olit was the only Filipina nominated in the community engagement category among her Asian colleagues, with the rest of the entries falling into the research and publishing category.

Professor Melissa Grace Olit, the founder of Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen and a 15-year veteran of community-based projects, was nominated to receive the coveted 2021 Race Excellence Award under the Community Engagement Category in the recently concluded 2nd Asian Tourism Research Conference 2021 (ATRC).

Olit was nominated in the event hosted by the Far Eastern University Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (FEU ITHM) on November 15-17 for her leadership in initiating programs to deliver nutritious meals to Palaweños during the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the coronavirus disease response operations.

Although she was not selected to enter the Top 5, she said the nomination was enough to inspire her to do what she loves doing more.

Olit explained she was nominated by Palawan State University (PSU) because of her extensive expertise working as a community extensionist. She added that working with previous Environment Secretary Gina Lopez allowed her to foresee problems and respond fast to them.

“Malaking bagay din ‘yong pagiging community extensionist ko for so long, and working with Gina Lopez bago pa ‘to. Sumibol lang ito. I’ve been doing this for so long, around 15 years. With that nakita ko na ‘yong mga problema na nag-e-exist even before pa,” she said.

Olit was the only Filipina nominated in the community engagement category among her Asian colleagues, with the rest of the entries falling into the research and publishing category.

“Ako lang ‘yong may community engagement. Ako lang ‘yong nakapasok, the rest is research. Lahat ng entry ay nasa research and publication,” she said.

Olit has been helping in Palawan in various roles and at various locations since last year. When the agency and other organizations teamed up with Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen, she got even more active.

“Nakakatuwa makita na nagbubukas sila ng idea na equal na ‘yong tingin sa community engagement and research and ‘yong ma-acknowledge ‘yong community engagement na mayroon tayo sa Philippines. It’s really good na it’s appreciated tapos napapakita mo ‘yong story,” she said.

“Nakakatuwa din yong initiative ng university and agency to nominate us, that they see us,” she added.

Meanwhile, Olit said that in order to develop and interact with other barangays, they want to recruit new volunteers from all across Palawan.

“We are planning to expand more volunteers in different areas. We are trying to contextualize na gumawa talaga ng organization, i-register nandon na kami sa process na pinag-aaralan na namin. Although ayaw namin maligaw, gusto namin doon pa rin kami sa mission namin from the very start,” she said.

“Ang focus ngayon ay mag expand sa palawan and makipag partner sa mga barangay,” she added.

When asked how they differ from other community kitchens, she said that it is their advocacy to assist Palawan’s socioeconomic situation, especially the underprivileged.

She also spoke about the need of tackling food waste and how they deal with it.

“Yong advocacy kasi natin ay bakit tayo magpapakain. Ang gusto kasi natin ma-address, at matulungan ‘yong socio-economic natin sa baba of which mabili ‘yong produkto ng mga farmer, maiwasan ‘yong tapon sa palengke using the skills na mayroon ‘yong mga tao sa kitchen,” Olit said.

“Yon talaga ‘yong pinagkaiba na napag isipan ng mabuti at naka-focus ‘yong puso sa kung ano talaga ang mission at vision ng bawat isa,” she added.

The said conference was hosted by FEU ITHM in collaboration with India’s Mahatma Gandhi University, which strives to further enhance and promote the research culture in ITHM in response to the university’s and industry’s direction.

It focuses on issues, developing trends, challenges, and opportunities in Asian tourism representations, revitalizations, and recovery in the 21st century and in the midst of a global pandemic.