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Pushcart Classroom

Cavite City, Philippines

The hour and a half early morning drive from Manila to Cavite City initially gave me a false sense of change. While heading south on the coastal highway, the air is cleaner than the traditional smog that surrounds Manila and the weather is cooler and more bearable. There are large expanses of open highway that are a welcome reprieve from the congested streets of the big city.

But as we head closer to Cavite City, I am reacquainted with the dismal similarities that plague every city in this country, regardless of size. Piles of garbage on the streets and in the water, houses precariously built with salvaged wooden planks and sheet metal, and the endless numbers of children in the streets.

But things are different here.

Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) is a group of concerned young people with a mission of making a small yet significant difference in other people’s lives, particularly the small children in slum areas who have no access to education, basic hygiene and sometimes, even love from their families.

I was honoured to participate in their K4 Project: Kariton Klasrum, Klinik & Kantin (pushcart school, clinic and canteen); Dynamic Teen Company’s effort to bring the basics of education, love for learning, food for the hungry, and cure for the wounded. The day starts with 4 pushcarts loaded with donated teaching materials, school supplies, toys, food, and first aid supplies that are pushed through the city to the first site of the day, the Palengke (Market). The road to the Market is tricky and the pushcarts are manoeuvred through uneven streets crowded with cars, tricycles, people and you have to be as just aggressive as the rest of them otherwise you will be run over. But we push our way through and make it to the first site.

The pushcarts are parked in an open area across from the Market and we proceed to set up the learning stations for the different age groups. The street children are already waiting and eagerly run towards us with excitement. For many of these children, this is the only form of education they receive and many of them return week after week and look forward to each session. For this location, over 150 children participated.

After the learning session, food is distributed to all the children. They patiently wait their turn in line and graciously accept the food. We pack up the carts and make our way to the second site of the day, the Dumpsite. It is nearly 9:30am by this time and the city is now bustling and it's more difficult to push our way through as there are more cars, tricycles, and people in the streets. Not to mention that the sun is now making a very strong appearance and it's even hotter outside. The 20 minutes it took to push the carts to the next location felt like a lifetime in the heat.

The Dumpsite location is actually a cemetery that is located next to a dumpsite, where mountains of garbage are flanked by a combination of shanty homes and expensive gravesites along the coast. The set up for this location is slightly different in that the classrooms take place in the mausoleums and the spaces between gravesites. So the children sit on the tombs as the teacher teaches the lesson. On the outskirts of the cemetery. closer to the dumpsite, you can see entire families living in these spaces, hanging clothes from the gates and using the tombs as their dinner table.

There were over 100 kids at this location and eventhough they were only 20 minutes away from the Market site, they were very different students. Perhaps due to the peace and quiet of the cemetery location, these kids were more focused and participated more actively. The remaining two locations for the day consisted of more than 400 kids.

The invaluable service that the Dynamic Teen Company (DTC) provides would not be possible without the thousands of volunteer youth, most of whom are highschool and college students, and their fearless leader, founder and CNN 2009 Hero of the Year, Efren G. Penaflorida, Jr. He has helped transform the pushcart from a symbol of poverty to a symbol of hope and education. He has used the $100,000 grant from CNN to build a learning centre in Cavite, shaped of course, like a pushcart, but construction has been delayed due to lack of funds and the group is still raising the remaining 3 million pesos required ($75,000CAD). Strangely enough, Efren was in Vancouver while I was in Cavite so I didn't get a chance to meet him! But his legacy and commitment to providing accessible education to children and reinforcing their rights is an inspiring one, wherever you are in the world.

“You are the change that you dream and I am the change that I dream. And collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.”

Learn how you can help at http://dynamicteencompany.org

© Anna Mae Abia Photography

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Carlos Celdran: If These Walls Could Talk

Call me the anti-tourist. I have made it my life's mission to purposely blend into any international surrounding in a vain attempt not to be labelled a "tourist." Sometimes this works, and sometimes I fail miserably and stick out like a sore thumb.

And where can most tourists be found... in tour groups. However, through a recommendation from my new friend RJ Aquino, I ventured on a 3-hour walking tour of old Manila. Upon arriving in Manila, my first few days were filled with meetings and overcoming my jetlag so when the weekend arrived, I eagerly made my way to Intramuros early one Saturday morning. In Latin, intramuros means "within the walls" and during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines, Intramuros was considered Manila itself.

The Carlos Celdran Tour of Intramuros is in a league of its own. I had done some initial research on this tour and many internet entries described Carlos as a Manila tour guide, cultural activist, performing artist, outspoken, and controversial. This was a combination of attributes that immediately peaked my interest.

The tour starts with a greeting from a short man dressed in Spanish colonial costume of an Illustrado and a large tophat. He speaks English clearly, and with a slight American twang (as a Canadian, I notice this distinct characteristic immediately). Carlos begins the tour with the explanation of house rules and we proceed to sing the Philippine National anthem. To my surprise, I remembered most of the words. All those years of singing the anthem every morning at school had really left its mark.

The next couple of hours were filled with intriguing and rich historic anecdotes about Manila's Malay Islamic heritage, the Spanish colonial period, and the Americanization of the Philippines as it continues today. The tragic recollection of the Battle of Manila was particularly powerful as Carlos vividly described the battle between the United States Forces and the Japanese Imperial Army that devastated the city and killed 120,000 civilians. His narratives are filled with music, props, images, and stand-up comedy. He unapologetically expresses his opinions on theocracy, current social issues, and the separation of the church and state over the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Carlos' passion for Manila is obvious and infectious. His insights made me further question my own personal upbringing as a child of both Manila and Canada and how these experiences have shaped me into the Filipino-Canadian that I am today. Whether you want to believe it or not, the history(ies) of your country(ies) affect your life in ways that may not have even been revealed yet. The events of our past need to be constantly revisited in order to understand where we are headed.

Carlos' work has also reached me through a story he had written for a book from Hands On Manila about volunteerism. I am also a volunteer with Hands On Manila and it was inspiring to read about Carlos' personal story as a volunteer with the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) and how this act of volunteerism would change the course of his life. All he has learned from volunteering with HCS has directly affected his work in the preservation and development of Philippine arts, culture, and built heritage by using the city as his stage and performance art as his medium.

As a designer, I feel that I have a responsibility to help citizens and clients alike create things of social value that are both beautiful and useful. I have a great respect for artists such as Carlos Celdran that use their medium to educate, entertain, and enlighten the masses. This tour is a must for foreigners, Filipinos, and those like me that are somewhere in between.

I look forward to attending his other tour, “Living la Vida Imelda,” that analyzes one of the most controversial periods in Philippine history as seen through the life and ambitions of the lady who defined it, Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

Carlos Celdran Tours

*Simply Google "Carlos Celdran" to find out how else he's been changing the minds of Filipinos.

Click here for more photos from the tour.

© Anna Mae Abia Photography

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INFLUENCERS is a short documentary that explores what it means to be an influencer and how trends and creativity become contagious today in music, fashion and entertainment.

The film attempts to understand the essence of influence, what makes a person influential without taking a statistical or metric approach.

Written and Directed by Paul Rojanathara and Davis Johnson, the film is a Polaroid snapshot of New York influential creatives (advertising, design, fashion and entertainment) who are shaping today's pop culture.

"Influencers" belongs to the new generation of short films, webdocs, which combine the documentary style and the online experience.


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TOMS Shoes Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie, Founder and Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS Shoes, made his first ever Canadian in-store appearance at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver. He charmed the crowd with a rousing air hockey tournament and signed autographs, shoes, and special TOMS hockey pucks for fans, in true Canadian fashion.

TOMS' simple promise to give a pair of new shoes to children in need around the world with every pair sold is revolutionizing the way consumers shop. As of September 2010, TOMS Shoes has given more than 1,000,000 pairs of new shoes to children in need around the world, thanks to its customers, whose purchases make it all happen. The One for One business model is redefining social entrepreneurship for a new generation.

TOMS Shoes

© Anna Mae Abia Photography

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Recap: Frock Swap 5.0

The ladies behind Once Loved Threads, Marjolyn Ustaris and Danielle Ow, were at it again with the Frock Swap during the Thanksgiving long weekend. A testament to sustainable shopping, thousands of pieces were reused, recycled, and loved once again by the hundreds of eager frock swappers that came though Box Studios in East Vancouver. Watch the video recap and stay updated with future events at Frockswap.ca

What you send to closet purgatory might be heaven-sent for someone else. Celebrate the art of sharing and bring your gently-worn items to The Frock Swap. Free clothes, refreshments, sustainable shopping and saying goodbye to your never-worn-agains. All unclaimed garments will be donated to a local charity.

© Anna Mae Abia Photography

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Every Woman Has A Story

Every story can create change.

WITNESS Announces Campaign to End Gender-Based Violence

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charity : water + TOMS

It's back! The new water shoe designed by charity: water and TOMS will help fund water projects for areas in need. When you buy a pair, $5 goes towards wells in developing nations. And as always, for every pair of shoes you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.

Click here for more details.