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. 🙂

A Dialogue on Youth Volunteerism

Last May 25, I was invited by Uniting Nations for Alliance in Peace Volunteerism Inc. to talk about the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc. and discuss peace with kids. Whenever I’m asked to represent my foundation in local and international events, I always give my 100%. I treat opportunities like this as a chance to show the world that 12 years ago, it was possible for an incoming high school freshman to start a foundation. Kids for Peace is a foundation that has been running for 12 years now. What’s unique about it is it’s being run by a bunch of people in their 20’s with supervision from the adult members of the board. By the youth, for the youth.

Photo by Francelline Jimenez

I was surprised when I found out that almost 90% of the participants in the event are not from the Philippines. Nonetheless, I went up the stage and delivered what had to be delivered. It’s during speaking engagements like this that I feel most in my element. Everything I say and everything I do cannot be repeated since those are things that came up at that time, at that moment, from one of the most important parts of my body: the heart. Since I wanted to make sure that the participants don’t tune me out, I showed them the video outputs created by the participants of the camps Kids for Peace has organized over the past years. It was so good to see that they enjoyed the presentation.

My only goal in life is to show the youth that it is possible to be the catalyst of change in the society. Why wait for the future when you can start today?

Sinag

Yes, I have been silent for a long time. Tonight, I promise to come back with a BANG!

Sit back and relax, dear reader. What you’ll be reading in the next few paragraphs will amaze you. (funny how I heard the sound of thunder right after typing the word “amaze”… so much for impact, eh?)

The reason why I’ve been quiet for an awfully long time (aside from my being busy) is the preparation for the I.Matter SINAG Creative Expressions Camp which was held last May 3-8 2012 at Balulang Elementary School in Cagayan De Oro City. Sinag means “rays” be it from the sun or the moon. In this case, we used the definition “rays of the sun” since it symbolizes hope, a new day, a chance to start over. SINAG was a culminating activity for the series of psychosocial sessions conducted by the mighty ChildHeal Facilitators of my beloved Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc. Yessir, since December they have been staying in CDO to process the young Sendong survivors who experienced Sendong first hand.

The pre-camp was spent on making silhouettes. There, the young participants (ages 9-16) were given the chance to communicate with the other participants. They were also given the chance to express themselves. Within a few hours, the gymnasium of Balulang Elementary School was filled with the sound of excitement and the harmony of colors that were splashing all over the place. The awkward silence disappeared and we watched with delight as the young participants were busy doing their thing. We were blessed to have UNICEF UK and Angela Travis of UNICEF PH join us that afternoon. They bonded with the children and it was so nice to watch the kids interact with them.

For day 0, the objective was to link the participants to the mentors through the ChildHeal facilitators. Aside from getting them to warm up to their fellow participants, it was also important to establish the connection between them and their mentors for them to maximize the 5-day camp. Before that was done however, the children were given an activity: the Yap-I challenge. The Yap-I challenge followed a theme which the young survivors can go back to if ever a disaster happens again. The children were running all over the school the entire afternoon with one goal: to finish first. Once the winners were announced, it was time for them to group themselves according to the workshop they signed up for.

For Day 1, the mentors gave an introduction to the different workshops. There were five workshops for SINAG: film, photography, big book writing and illustration, theater, and soil painting. The young participants sat down and listened to their mentors as the mentors gave them an overview of what will be happening in the days to come. When they were given the chance to talk, they told the mentors why they chose that particular workshop and what their expectations are. Now for this part, I can only speak based on what happened to the photography participants since I’m one of the mentors. Since we didn’t want to bore the participants and since we wanted them to get a feel of what photography is, we gave them the chance to apply the concepts and principles that we taught them.

Day 2, Ate Aying and Tito Froilan (my co-mentors in photography) decided to introduce the concept of photo stories to the participants. After a brief introduction, we decided to let them go out and shoot their hearts out. At around this time, we were already noticing improvements in the way photos were taken. Principles of design were being applied, and the kids beamed with every affirmation they received from us. The theater participants were beginning to form a song, the big book writing and illustration participants were busy with their stories and sketches, while the film participants were busy with their scripts and shot lists. The day was very productive and it was so nice to see the kids in their element. During lunch break, I spent time with some of the participants in photography and we experimented with their portraits and jump shots. Another thing that happened today: the kids added another set of 10 to the break clap. We now have until break 30.

Day 3 started with a photo shoot/send off for Kuya Dan Abunales, one of the mentors in film. The Talaandig artists arrived in the afternoon and the kids gave them a very warm welcome. The theatre kids were given a brief introduction to Capoiera by Bryan Cabrera, the mentor in illustration. The film participants spent almost the entire day outside the school for their location shoots, the big book participants started working on the illustrations of their books while Ate Aying and I found ourselves handing over our SLRS to the photography participants.

The next set of photos you’ll be seeing are photos taken by the photography participants.

 The sessions ended early to make way for a very special session in the afternoon: the send-off for Kuya Dan. It was heartwarming to see how his students made an effort to stand up, approach him, and hug him. Tears were shed while laughters were exchanged. No goodbyes, only see-you-soon’s.

 What’s exciting about Day 4 is this: soil painting. The books were starting to come alive, the film participants were down to the last few details of their outputs, Ate Aying and I began to select the photos for printing, and the theater participants were down to their last few rehearsals. At this point, the mentors had to step back a little and watch the participants grow. The following photos are from Joel Francis Gali (10 years old) and Jessa Mae Silva (9 years old).

Lo and behold, the day we dreaded the most finally arrived. But, instead of being sad, we decided to be happy and productive instead. The entire morning was spent on adding the finishing touches to the outputs. I took some time off to try out soil painting. It was a wonderful experience. The last time I held a paintbrush was in 4th grade. With every brush stroke I felt like pieces of me were starting to come back. Parts of Aliya that disappeared in the past began to resurface. It was surreal. In the afternoon, the participants proudly showed their parents and guests what they’ve been working hard on for the past four days. What used to be a plain gymnasium was then adorned with decorations and outputs proudly Young Sendong Survivor made!

5 days. 73 participants. 5 forms. 32 photos. 3 films. 6 big books. 22 soil art. 1 theater production. Resilience at its finest. It has been 19 days since I. Matter Sinag Creative Expressions Camp and I still can’t help but go back to that place in CDO with the kids. The camp was a healing process for me. Well, it was a healing process for all of us. With the kids we laughed, cried, cheered, painted, illustrated, acted, photographed, wrote, and filmed. The thing is, in the middle of all the creativity and the bond we made with the children, we found ourselves.

 Photo credits: Ralph Cagabcab, Herbert Willkomm III, Josiah Tuballa, Kia Mabao, Joel Francis Gali, Jonathan Gali, Jessa Mae Silva, and yours truly. 

Another Milestone

I remember receiving an email from Unicef Manila and Unicef Cotabato during the third week of January about the 2011 San Marino-Alexander Bodini Foundation Children’s Awards. I was able to follow the exchange of messages from the Manila and Cotabato offices of Unicef and it was fascinating to see that they immediately thought of us when they saw the call for proposals. We received the email THREE days before the deadline. Lovely. To write a proposal at that short a time may seem impossible, but my mom and I did what we had to do. We went to our writing.

I distinctly remember Angela Travis’ (Chief Communication Officer of Unicef Manila) call just to make sure that we received the email and that we will be sending a proposal. She said that we have  a big chance of winning because the nomination criteria has us written all over it. I was thrilled to know that they believed in us so much. They were rooting for us and that meant a lot.

I can also remember our exchange of emails filled with corrections and suggestions on what to add and subtract to the proposal. We were both juggling some other things that time, but we did not want to let the opportunity go. I remember just hours before the deadline, my mom had to attend the meeting so she said “it’s all in your hands, you can do it”. I shuddered. I wanted to quit but when I thought of my foundation, I knew I had to do it.

Writing the last few lines of the proposal brought tears to my eyes. In my heart I knew it was no longer about me. In my heart I knew, that if we won, it will change the lives of many. I just closed my eyes, drowned the noise by losing myself in the beautiful symphony created by my fingers as it danced along the keyboard. With tears in my eyes I saw this on my computer screen:

“It is said that the youth is the hope of the future, but in our case we believe that we can have a better future by doing something today. The Kids for Peace Foundation started with humble beginnings; with the desire to empower the youth and to let them embrace the fact that in this society, they matter. We matter. That desire remains true today. We are honored to have made this nomination”. 

With those words, I saved the PDF file, sent it to my mom and said “it is done”. After finalizing some attachments we finally submitted the proposal with happy hearts because deep down we knew that no matter what happens, we gave our best.

Just two weeks ago, I received a call from Angela. It was around 7 in the evening and my mom and I just got home from dinner. Angela sounded really happy and she announced that we won! My mom and I rejoiced of course and then we shared the good news to the ChildHeal Facilitators.

So, winning the 2011 San Marino-Alexander Bodini Children’s Awards is another  milestone for the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc. Here’s to showing the world what we (the youth) can do! We made it! 🙂

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.