Haiyan/Yolanda 002: The offering of Thread&Vine

After a long and busy day, there will be no real sleep tonight. In just a few hours I will be on the first flight to Roxas City, Capiz. Capiz was among the areas hit by the super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in November. Though Capiz was not hit with the same devastation as others and was spared of grievous bloodshed, the island survives but completely altered. According to this report, 95% of the province has suffered damage to agriculture, infrastructure and livelihood.

In October, my mom and I launched a pilot livelihood program for mothers in need. With the Christmas season then fast approaching, and knowing a few mothers seriously in need of a source of income, we launched Thread & Vine.

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During my childhood in the 90’s, my mom ran a great business for the handmade hair accessories. Not only did this provide for our family’s day to day needs, but the business gave work to many mothers from the slums near our home. The business thrived for many years, producing beautiful headbands, scrunchies and clips designed by my mom, and made by the women workers right in our home. These products sold well in large department stores in Metro Manila, until we could no longer compete with the rise of factory-made, mass-produced plastic merchandise.

Fast forward to 2013 and Thread & Vine.

Taking cues from our family’s love for social businesses, we launched a pilot season with a simple objective: Give fair employment to moms-in-need. Make beautiful, handmade Christmas decor. Sell to friends. Share Christmas joy! 10% of the proceeds would go to the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc.

With a small seed capital, we bought materials from Divisoria and Quiapo, and my mom reopened her beloved workshop (our large kitchen counter) to begin the design process. My mom and I love this stuff! Give us ribbons, beads and string, and we’d be happy all day.

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A few weeks later, while Thread &Vine’s humble production and sales were underway, the Philippines was hit by one of the most brutal storms it has ever experienced. We soon decided that all proceeds from our pilot season would be given to victims of the super typhoon. With our family’s close ties to dear friends in Capiz, and the news that despite the post-storm ruin, aid was slow to arrive –  we determined Capiz as the best recipient for our small gift.

And that is what the upcoming two-day trip is all about! We’ll be contributing to the rebuilding of homes and even running the quickest Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair that we have ever planned. (It may also be the biggest. Our initial number of 100 kids rose to 115. Then earlier today, jumped to 122!)

More in a few hours.

Happy 2014!

“People with a meagre soul always try to make others feel small too, and the stranger, who could probably conceal his on the head of a pin, gave me his most disdainful look.”

-from The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

I read Zafón’s book on Christmas day (I highly recommend it!) and this was the one passage I will never forget. Haven’t we all come across such a soul? A person that just wanted to put you down and make you feel unimportant, invisible or incapable of measuring up?

Well, enough of that.

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A special installation piece by yours truly, from Buhay Makulay’s LIKHA exhibit. Medium: Japanese paper collage on glass jars by our children and volunteers & found objects.

Something tells me that 2014 is going to be a breakthrough year. In all the adventures that lie ahead, may this year be one of uplifting others and building up one another.

May our souls be generous, and hopefully larger than a head of a pin. So large that ego, hatred, or jealousy have no room. Let the light of others shine. And if given the opportunity, be the one that holds them up for all to see.

Buhay Makulay 003: Season Ender

And just like that, it’s over.

For many days over the past few weeks, I would fall asleep or wake up with the Buhay Makulay song playing in my head. I would think of our children and the joy in their faces as they sang. I would look ahead toward the big surprise we had for them – our special culminating activity! But the day before yesterday, I woke up with children and the song in my mind, this time harmonized with sadness. The Buhay Makulay’s first Likha season had come to an end.

On Saturday, December 7th, Buhay Makulay had it’s first Likha Showcase! The showcase was a celebration of children and the arts! The showcase consisted of an art exhibit and a short program, all featuring the work of the 31 children we had been blessed to work with throughout this season. It was a private event, really more for the children than for anyone else. Each child invited one guest from their family, while we invited a few of Buhay Makulay’s and Precious Jewels Ministry’s closest friends and supporters. We gathered to honor the children and praise God!

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The invite I designed, featuring the beautiful and colorful paper collage made by the children who focused on visual art for majority of our program.

This was the most ambitious program I’ve launched for Buhay Makulay so far. In my mind and heart it has been years in the making. The vision for the showcase I have held so long, I cannot believe it has already come true, almost exactly how I had pictured it! This was the first art exhibit I’ve ever really curated and installed, and I certainly hope it is only the first of many. It was small in scale, but gigantic in story.

The activity was not just an event, but part of a larger narrative. Though us volunteers and partner staff could see the growth in the children during our time together, we were not sure that the children could yet grasp the weight of their discoveries and accomplishments. The activity was meant to help see how far they had come!

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This was a special day for them. These children live in cramped quarters, some under a bridge and some in relocated communities, all from the poor corners of the city. They do not have room in their homes to dance, or large spaces on their walls on which their artwork can be displayed and appreciated.

This was a special day for them. All the fun and learning they had with us could finally be shared with the people that raise and care for them on a daily basis. Most brought their mothers, others their fathers, and a few their older sisters or brothers. We were sharing with family. We were making known to them their own incredible value that so often gets lost behind poverty line.

This was a special day for them. The kids walked around the exhibit, pointing out to their mothers which drawings or crafts they had made. Mothers watched on bright-eyed, as their kids danced onstage. Little kids came up to our volunteers, with a wealth of smiles that many weeks ago were so hard to wedge out of them. And I watched, in disbelief and wonder, at the sweet celebration taking place around me. As we knew from the beginning, all our hard work is worth it.

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The banner of Team Hope (ages 8-10) -a collage made entirely out of recycled paper, fabric and dyed eggshells. Our children learned that beauty can be made of the scraps. God makes beautiful things out of us, out of dust.This was made on our third workshop day, before our children chose to focus on visual or movement arts.

I’m not huge on television series’, but thanks to online streaming I have become dedicated to a few.  I can get through a whole season of a show with much excitement, watching episode right after episode. But I have a tendency to hold off watching the season enders. Nearing a season’s conclusion, I slow down. Sometimes I put it off for longer, until the following season already starts so I won’t have to wait in agony between stories. (At this moment, I have yet to watch three season enders of three different shows whose seasons ended months ago!)

I’d rather wait in willing suspense, than just have things be plain over.

Perhaps this is the feeling that I woke up with the other day – wishing we were still looking ahead to the big surprise for the kids, rather than knowing that the celebrations had been celebrated.

In the weeks to follow, I hope to continue to process the experience and share incredible stories of learning and blessing. Thankfully, there is much to share!

 

Buhay Makulay 002: Treasure Simplicity

Some things in life can be simple.

There is so much on my mind these days. Things to accomplish, ideas to share, blessings to be thankful for. How often I have sat in front of this tab on my browser, “Add New Post,” eager to write a new blog entry. Yet each time I am tangled between so many different threads of life and thought, that my mind is left speechless. Numb, even.

I type a line or a phrase. Pause. Then highlight and delete it. Before I can complete a thought, I am taken away by a work meeting, an errand to run, a class to teach, or just boring old exhaustion. Hours, days, weeks later; I have a few empty drafts and nothing new. So here come my few centavos worth of thoughts, hoping to break this cycle of silence. And like most of my writing, it is less for the sake of being heard by others, and more to able to hear myself.

Yesterday, was the seventh workshop day of Buhay Makulay’s Likha Workshop series (7/10). To close off our volunteer’s debrief after lunch, I asked my team to go around the circle and share how the children pointed them to God that morning. One sentence.

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After they had all shared such beautiful and sweet spoonfuls of joy and learning, I was left with a reminder for my own heart that I in turn shared with them: Some things in life can just be simple.

There are things in life that will choose to be complicated. They will complicate themselves on their own without your help or desire. They will even refuse to be anything except complicated. A problem at work. A quarrel with your best friend. What to order at your favorite restaurant.

But, there are things in life that don’t have to be complicated at all, even if our human minds perceive them so. Like the truth that God is good. The human longing to belong. The desire to achieve a lifelong dream. The love of a father for a child. How to get to your afternoon meeting. Who to invite to your birthday celebration. Or what to cook for breakfast.

I have been very very very busy for the past few months. Probably the busiest I have been in the past year. In the midst of the craziness, I am finding clarity. In the overabundance of life happenings, I am almost forced to sift through all of it, looking carefully for the things that actually carry weight, to keep me grounded. The things that are worth holding on to, worth setting my eyes on.

I’d like to think I am continuously in the process of simplifying my life. This is not only the process of removing objects from my possession. Neither is it a mere reduction of activities, commitments or hobbies. It goes deeper into the surface than that: It is a paring down of the things that I regard with value. These, we can choose. When those things are clear and simple in your heart, no earthly complication can corrode it. Through the complexity, the truth will speak simply.

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How did I come to reflect about simplicity with my Buhay Makulay kids? I don’t know exactly. But in their company, the world somehow simplifies itself. Perhaps it is because we are taken away from our usual hectic daily-grind environments, where we are eaten up by worries both big and small. For the children, these worries on any given day could include where their next meal will come from, how they cannot go to school because of a parent’s illness, or a recent death of a family member. Mine, though not as grave and often tied less to immediate need, tend to feel just as urgent.

Yet the joy on the children’s faces will seldom reveal the losses of which they suffer or the needs that cannot be fulfilled. They will leave their worries at the door and enjoy a moment with you. With the swing of their voices in my ear as they tell me about their artwork, I know we are friends. And this friendship is simple. This moment is simple and true.

Let the world be complicated; but draw near to the things that keep you simply and genuinely you, without muddling for achievement, recognition, prize or gain.

 

(P.S. Happy 25th post, Speak Soon! YAY!)

Buhay Makulay: From Single Session to Season of Service

For the seventh year in a row, we celebrated our love for children with Buhay Makulay’s annual Children’s Fair. The  festivities were held two Saturdays back. This tradition began years ago, and ignited for me a deeper, lifelong commitment to community service in my home country. This coming Saturday, Buhay Makulay will be opening it’s first season of workshops ever, a dream I have held in my heart since the early days of Buhay Makulay.  This is the same dream that brought me back here to Manila. I am beyond excited!

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Getting ready to welcome the kids! June 22, 2013.

This present phase is very special for our organization. We are crossing over from single events to a more sustained presence in the life of the kids we reach out to. In the past, due to the restrictions of distance (I lived overseas!) or manpower, the work has been limited to stand-alone events – a morning fair, an afternoon workshop, or an evening performance concert (all valuable contributions to the existing work of our partner organizations, but never enough!). And although we have grown alongside some of our kids through the years, we still yearn for more. The time is ripe for bigger movement and deeper involvement. We want to form relationships, opening up real opportunities to mentor kids, and not just see them once a year. That’s where all of this was always headed!

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So here comes our first season ever! It’s called Likha. In english that means “to create.”  Our inspiration is taken from Isaiah 64:8 “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. “

Likha will give children the space to express themselves through visual and performance art. More than teaching about the arts, we will nurture a healthy community of children where each child feels loved and cared for. Our children represent the country’s poorest communities, families living with terminal illnesses like HIV/AIDS, or households torn down by abuse or abandonment.

We have been working on this for a long time and I cannot wait to see how the children respond to our pilot program. For the past few months, I have been meeting with my team of volunteers and our partners at the Precious Jewels Ministry. Slowly we’ve been pulling together ideas but more importantly, we’ve been knitting our hearts together as a team of volunteers, ready to serve and pour out love on these kids.

Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!
Some people behind Buhay Makulay and Precious Jewels Ministry. What a fun collaboration!

Looking forward to seeing the children this Saturday. We’ll be meeting twice a month all the way until December! We’re no strangers to the kids, but I am looking forward to being called their friend.

(On a fundraising note, we are still in need of sponsors for Likha. If you are interested to donate in cash or in kind, your gifts will go a long way. Please get in touch with me, or email buhaymakulaymanila@gmail.com for more info. To sponsor one child for the full program costs only P10,000 or $240. For a single session P1,000 or $24. )