Joan Sanico seasons a huge pot of Hainanese Chicken, checks to see if her assistant is wrapping those Thai spring rolls right, studies the menu for tomorrow’s 75 guests and the refrigerator’s contents, then sits down to make a market list. Watching her bustle about, it’s hard to imagine that just three years earlier, she had never ever fried as much as a piece of chicken.
Half Kaolo and half Manobo, Joan grew up in a fishing community in Davao Occidental and, like many other tribal women, married young, at 18.
She began working at the Malungon Retreat and Training Center as an on-call dishwasher in 2014. “We asked her to chop vegetables and help with other kitchen tasks one day,” recalls Queenie Boloron, former MRTC chef. “She learned quickly, never complained, was obedient, dedicated to her work, and interested in what she was doing. I recognized she had potential and so I didn’t think it would waste my time to show her what I paid for to learn in Thailand and Japan.”
Joan, on the other hand, discovered to her pleasant surprise that cooking is something she enjoys. She began to manage the retreat center kitchen on her own in September 2016 after a few months of training with Queenie and with a former MRTC cook. Her most challenging assignment so far has been serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for four days to 165 guests.
“Just a few years ago I wanted to work abroad but things didn’t work out,” she says. Working abroad would mean being away from her husband and son for as long as two years at a time. The daily devotions she attends at MRTC along with the rest of the staff have strengthened her marriage.
She finds her job fulfilling and hopes to learn how to bake breads and cakes in the future. Her ultimate dream? To bake and decorate a five-tier wedding cake.
“I guess I would still be tending someone else’s grocery store, earning a hundred pesos a day if not for the opportunities I’ve been given here,” she muses gratefully.