Sinag Stories: No Matter the Package

“Whatever happened to humanity?” – I’ve been asking myself this question lately. There are so many painful things happening in different parts of the world, I can literally hear my heart break while watching the news or reading the articles. What happened to us? Why are we hurting other beings? I can go on, really, but I know that it’ll take some time before I can find all the answers to these questions.

See, the downside to being an empath is that you feel the weight of the world and it takes an awful lot of conscious effort to remind yourself that the weight is not yours to bear. You have 99 problems and 89 of those problems aren’t yours to begin with. I’ve been struggling with that and for months, I have been wanting to rant and add to the noise but what for?

Nothing. I’ll just be another negative person sharing negative stuff on Facebook and that’s not what I want to be. I want to be someone who sees the light amidst the darkness and that does not mean turning my back on the issues that we have today. I will acknowledge them yes, but I will also acknowledge that there is a positive side to everything.

That’s why I’m writing this blog today. This is an attempt to update this teeny tiny space I have in the worldwide web. I will focus on the happier, more positive things because that is the most I can do for now. That is the most I can do for you, as well, in case you’re looking for a happy nugget that you can munch on amidst the dark and cold that the world is slowly starting to become.

This will be a series of stories, mostly from our Creating Sinag Within activities.

Here’s the first one:

When I learned about the Marawi siege last May, one of the immediate thoughts I had was “how can we help?” Kids for Peace Foundation (KIDS) wanted to rush to Iligan and help in any way possible but we had to assess the situation first. We then started asking friends about the possibility of organizing emergency pedagogy with the survivors of the siege to help them deal with and move on from the traumatic experience. We were thinking of the materials needed for the activities when my mom suggested that we tap Craft MNL and Gantsilyo Guru to ask for help in making the call for donations of crocheted balls.

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Colorful crocheted balls from Waldorf School of Batangas.

Crocheted balls are made of yarn and are warm to touch, unlike the plastic or rubber balls that can easily be purchased off the rack. The details on the balls tell a story – how many times the yarns moved back and forth to create mesmerizing patterns, hours spent to form the sphere, and the struggles in following the instructions. The crocheted balls are full of love, care, and warmth that our eyes teared up when we received the boxes from Craft MNL and Gantsilyo Guru!

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Some balls came with heartwarming notes, too!

Inside the box were paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper,  and bags made of cloth, each containing crocheted balls. What’s interesting is that some even included letters and drawings for the survivors of the Marawi siege. We initially asked for 48 balls, but we received a whopping 353!

We shared the crocheted balls with the young survivors of the Marawi siege during the first mission of Creating Sinag Within. The looks on their faces when they saw the balls tugged at our heartstrings that’s why we are so grateful to those who shared their talent and crafted these crocheted balls for them. Emergency pedagogy sessions became even more colorful because aside from playing with a parachute, the kids also passed the crocheted balls around while singing songs.

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Suli, one of the volunteers of Creating Sinag Within, joins the young survivors in passing the crocheted balls. 

For some, crocheted balls are no more than just balls made of yarn but for the young survivors, these balls symbolize happy times. These balls helped them go back to being kids again. They felt the love, care, and nurturing of the generous makers of the crocheted balls even if they were not present during the activity. They felt that they’re worth someone’s time, that they’re worth someone’s effort, and for someone who had to deal with living in an inconvenient environment far from home, that means a lot.

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Young survivors proudly raise the crocheted balls before the activity. 

If you’re one of the makers of the crocheted balls, this is for you. I want you to know that you made a young survivor happy by crocheting those balls for them. In a few weeks, we will see them play with the balls again as they go on with their journey to creating sinag within. Continue to hold them in the light!

Indigestion

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Bottled Paper Cranes | (c) Aliya Agbon | Canon 550D

Not in the literal way, but I’m hoping that through this blog I’ll be able to digest (sort of) some of the things that I learned the past few weeks. I was part of a workshop – one that allowed me to meet beautiful souls and help me understand/appreciate/love/accept ME. The workshop had three tracks and every single one required all of us (participants) to dig deeper into ourselves and the world around us.

I sound like I’m writing metaphors and I’d love to be more specific about these things but since I’m still trying to absorb everything, I figured it’s best if I  share this photo of the bottled paper cranes I made last month. For now at least. In case you’re wondering, the size of the paper is 1.5″ x 1.5″ and that tells you so much about how committed I am when it comes to folding tiny pieces of paper.

So why am I posting this photo today (9/11/16)?

I just feel like there’s so much going on in the world. When our workshop ended, I was a bit fidgety because that meant going back to the “real world” where I’ll be once again exposed to people who were not part of the workshop. It doesn’t mean they should be avoided, no. I was just being my usual anxious, fearful self and the question “omg what if I forget about the things I learned?” lingered. Writing all these thoughts in a journal helped a lot, because that meant getting over the urge to post it online. Yay!

I guess I’m posting this because it kind of symbolizes what’s in my head at the moment, and I’m slowly starting to see this picture from a different perspective. When I took this photo, my only goal was to upload it on Eco Choices’ Facebook page so people will know that we have this product but now, I’m seeing stories, colors, and relationships.

“Wow, deep pare”

Well, that’s exactly what it is. DEEP. Time for you to join me in my journey towards digesting all these thoughts and feelings, eh?

Anyway, going back: paper cranes symbolize peace and good fortune and in all honesty, I believe that the world needs a lot of that today. These days, there’s so much misinformation going on,  people are bashing other people, and it’s just starting to become toxic. I want to break the stream of hatred on my Facebook feed by posting these colorful paper cranes.

The bottles, if I were to interpret them, are the walls that we place around ourselves so no one can hurt us. Unfortunately, and this is something that was said to me by a beautiful wise woman, keeping pain out is also keeping love out. When you avoid the bad things, you avoid the good things and that’s a sad way to live.

You can also look at these bottled paper crane necklaces (chain not included in the picture, sorry) as constant reminders that no matter where you go and no matter how bad the situation is, there’s still kindness in the world. Love (not necessarily the romantic kind) still exists, you just need to change those glasses or shift to a different perspective. It’s all about perspective. It’s all about changing those conversations inside your head and allowing yourself to experience the world for what it really is.

Nope, this is not an attempt to market the bottled paper cranes (I’d post this blog in a different tone if that were the case). It just happened that these crafts represent what my current thoughts and feelings are. Pure coincidence.

All for now, I guess. Have a rainy/sunny Sunday!

It Started With A Letter

“So, tell us about the start of the Kids for Peace Foundation”, said the reporter. I’ve been asked that question so many times I already lost count. One would think that by now I’ve already gotten so bored with the question but the truth is, it still excites me. I like talking about our humble beginnings because it grounds me. I looked at the reporter, smiled, and said “it started with a letter”. My voice trailed off as I tried to hold back tears. I’m always emotional when I talk about Kids for Peace.

I was being interviewed for the 2015 CSR Youth Awards, a project of CSR Today – a department of the Benita and Catalino Yap Foundation (BCYF). Their goal is to recognize outstanding young men and women who have initiated projects anchored on Citizenship, Sustainability, and Social Responsibility. It’s a prestigious award and I was still surprised that I was one of the nominees. It’s my first nomination and I’m just humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

Nomination

I went on about the two fighter planes that I saw, how I cheered when I saw them drop bombs and how I felt bad when I learned that the bombs kill anyone it hits : good or bad, guilty or innocent, male or female, Christian or Muslim, young or old. It’s an equalizer and it does not give a damn about who you are. It hits you, it destroys you. Literally. That scared me and as an ambitious incoming first year high school student, I wrote a letter asking people to write peace messages to let those in the evacuation centers know that there are people who are with them, praying for them, and caring for them. The letter reached people from all over the world which is surprising because in hindsight, that happened at a time when Facebook did not even exist and social media wasn’t as “big”. I guess sometimes you just have to do it. Stop thinking about what other people will say. Go out there and do it.

For years Kids for Peace has been facilitating psycho-social interventions with survivors of war and disaster. We figured, giving these survivors the space they need to breathe and let all emotions out is just as important as giving them food, clothing, and shelter. We would sit down and listen to stories of survival: how one kid carried a kettle filled with rice while running away from explosions, how one father lost his son while fleeing their village which is under attack. The stories went on and it took so much effort to put on a straight face as they showed both physical and emotional wounds. We then organized creative expressions camps with workshops on different media (photography, film, book writing, illustration, song writing, soil painting, theater) which they can use to express their thoughts and feelings.

Volunteerism is not easy. You need to have a lot of heart to be able to do this kind of job. You need to understand that when you are out there on the field,  you are there for them and not for yourself. You need to be strong because sometimes, the odds will be against you. While those instances will push you to give up, it’s also those instances that will push you to keep going. There were times when I thought of quitting and closing the foundation. I thought about it several times already. But I stopped whenever I thought about the people we helped and the people we’ll be helping in the future. It’s not about us, it’s about THEM. With that, we go back to why we started, and the fire in the belly drives us to do our work again.

During the awards night, all 27 finalists were asked to stand up so that they may be recognized and applauded for their efforts. It felt great to be acknowledged, to receive that pat on the back for a job well done. It meant so much and it gave us the affirmation that we needed, that go signal that we are on the right track.

With Mr. Salvador Laguda, Co-chair of the Screening Committee and Mr. Edgardo Amistad of UCPD-CIIF Foundation, Inc. (Image source: CSR YA Facebook page)
With Mr. Salvador Laguda, Co-chair of the Screening Committee and Mr. Edgardo Amistad of UCPD-CIIF Foundation, Inc. (Image source: CSR YA Facebook page)

I did not win but that’s okay. For me, it’s enough that we made it to the top 27. It’s enough that the spirit of volunteerism and the efforts of the young men and women were given recognition. To Noreen Bautista, thank you so much. It really means so much to us. To Ica Fernandez and Daniel Abunales, thank you for journeying with us. To my mom, thank you for supporting me since day one. Benita and Catalino Yap Foundation, thank you so much for the recognition. Like I said, I am humbled and grateful. To all of the mentors, volunteers, young men and women who have been with the Kids for Peace Foundation, thank you. This is for you.

I Speak Peace

I believe in positive youthful energies, in being the catalyst for change and expressing my stand in various issues through creative means. I’ve never been one to write articles filled with thousands of complicated words to state an opinion, simply because it’s boring and people won’t be reading it anyway. Well, okay, maybe some will, but I’d rather let people hear what I have to say through a song, see it through a painting or a photograph, or understand it further through a short film. I’m known for wearing my heart on my sleeve since I feel like if I opt not to express my feelings I’ll explode. I guess this is the reason why I decided to wear my I Speak Peace shirt after not wearing it for a very long time.

Earrings, Hong Kong | I Speak Peace Shirt, Eco Choices, Shawl-turned-skirt, Joey Rodriguez | Anklets, Amihan Boys + Jatujak | Shoes, Rusty Lopez
Earrings, Hong Kong | I Speak Peace Shirt, Eco Choices, Shawl-turned-skirt, Joey Rodriguez | Anklets, Amihan Boys + Jatujak | Shoes, Rusty Lopez

With all that’s been happening in our country, in the world, even, it’s hard not to feel disheartened. Months ago, there was was in Zamboanga, typhoon in Northern Luzon ( I experienced this firsthand and it’s crazy) and just recently, earthquake in Bohol. I’ve decided to avoid watching the news at night because 95% of it is bad news and I want to sleep with a happy heart and a smile on my face, thank you very much. Most of the time it’s tempting to ignore all the bad things that are happening but how can you, especially when you know that these situations are putting lives in danger.

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With all that’s happening, I decided to wear the I Speak Peace shirt since it sums up what I want to say. This shirt was designed during our I Speak Peace Camp back in 2007. The camp was designed to empower the youth and to encourage them to speak up and let those who were in charge of the peace talks hear what they have to say. Most of the time, young people feel that they don’t have the right to express themselves because they’re young and they’re not in the position of power. The camp became a venue for them to understand the importance of speaking up especially in situations that involve them and their future.

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Wearing this shirt reminded me of the discussion I had with one of our camp participants. He said that peace is not the absence of war and seeing what has been happening in our country these past months, I understand what he was telling me. I wear this shirt again today because I need to be reminded to still speak peace despite difficult situations and to speak up and let my voice be heard.

It takes a lot to wear this shirt. You have to make sure that your actions do not contradict what the shirt says. You can’t get mad no matter how annoying the situation is and you have to be nice even if it kills you. It’s not that wearing the shirt is a burden, no. It simply means that you should be mindful of your words and actions because you’re wearing a shirt that says “I speak peace”.

I believe that peace is still possible. I believe in change. I believe in making a stand through creative expressions.  I believe in statement shirts. I believe in the I speak peace shirt.

More Sinag

Because words are not enough, I made a photo compilation of the very powerful experience we had during the I.Matter SINAG Creative Expressions Camp. Enjoy. 🙂

Art and Children

This post is long overdue.

Last December 26, 2011 the ChildHeal Facilitators of the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc. made their way to Cagayan De Oro City to conduct an assessment. As we all know, Cagayan De Oro was badly hit by Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong) just a few days before Christmas. Some of the funds used to finance the assessment was taken from the money received by KIDS since it was one of the beneficiaries of K! Run (Knowledge Run) organized by the University of the Philippines Library and Information Science Students Association.

On the way, we saw houses covered with mud, cars that were on top of each other, and people on the streets begging for money. This is not something that you want to see the day after Christmas but then again, since when does disaster come at a perfect time? Thousands of people lost their lives and thousands were still missing. The disaster showed no mercy: people from different walks of life experienced the same thing. Water rose faster than the blink of an eye. Houses that used to stand strong despite everything crumbled to the merciless punches of the logs that, according to the survivors, came all the way from the mountains. Lives lost. A lot of repairing had to be done.

Upon seeing the aftermath of Washi, we decided to do an assessment first since it is what a responsible Psychosocial Facilitator does. It is important to know first what the physical and Psychosocial needs of the survivors are. We went to Kauswagan Elementary School and Tibasak to do art sessions with the children.

Money KIDS received from UP LISSA was also used to buy additional crayons and illustration boards for the children.

The art session was facilitated by Mic and Mhoc, ChildHeal Facilitators.
Children share their stories through art.
The children of Kauswagan Elementary School with the ChildHeal Facilitators and Warren from Moving Mindanao (in stripes).

In the afternoon, we went to Tibasak to conduct another art session with the children. We wanted to get a feel of what the flow of the Psychosocial sessions should be given the loss and stress that the child survivors went through.

Children gather around the ChildHeal Facilitators to hear their instructions.

Laughter is the best medicine- these children finally had the chance to release what had to be released. With that, they rewarded themselves with laughter.

Despite the stress that the children had to go through, it was fascinating to see that most of their illustrations contained the sun, clouds, flowers, trees, and some houses. Some of them made graphic representations of the night that Washi happened. Some of them drew God since according to them, that’s where their parents/friends/siblings are now. All of them were strong enough not to cry while sharing their story to us, and I believe it’s because they would rather show strength instead of weakness.

Most of us perceive children as vulnerable because of their lack of experience and their physical built. In some aspects, I will have to agree. But, in general, I view children as the strongest individuals ever created. During the assessment, I chanced upon some of them and asked them how they are and the common reply was “Ok ra mi, nahitabo na ang nahitabo, padayon ang kinabuhi (we’re fine, what happened happened, life goes on)”. These children showed resilience and optimism in the face of adversity.

To UP LISSA, thank you so much because it is through your help that we had the chance to conduct an assessment in Cagayan De Oro. Thank you so much and keep up the good work! 🙂

Although it has already been three months since the disaster, a lot of things still need to be done. As I write this, the ChildHeal Facilitators are still in Cagayan De Oro conducting Psychosocial sessions with the children in Lower Balulang. A lot of areas still need help. If you’re reading this, you might want to think of ways to help the city. Thank you very much.