Humans of the World: Silja from Germany

She loves fashion. She likes the color red. She’s a photographer and a painter. And she’s the only blind teacher in Germany.

Silja lost her sight at age 12 and despite of people making her feel disabled, she now considers her blindness as part of her.

Getting a teaching certification was a challenge. It was also difficult to get a teaching job but with support of a blind association in Germany, she successfully managed to start doing what she loves, which is teaching. She’s been doing it for 30 years now and she says she enjoys it and finds teaching extremely special.

Check out Silja’s work here:


Humans of the World: Juan, Hernando, and Alejandra from Colombia

Juan, Hernando, and Alejandra are friends from Colombia who use design for social good.

They all studied Industrial Design together and plan to put up their own company where they can create something, not just for money, but to contribute something to the society. Design has been their passion and they feel lucky they get to do something they love. That is, to design products or systems that improve the life of people who need it.

Individually, they have created games that promote environmental advocacy as well as toys meant for people with special needs.

Guten Tag, Berlin!

I knew it was going to be cold. I didn’t realize it was going to be freezing cold. I had to navigate my way from the airport to my destination. And considering that I have a terrible sense of direction, plus the wind started blowing that I barely noticed the snow falling, it was such an adventurous first day for me in Berlin.

I didn’t mind it at all. The cold, I mean. I was just happy that I got to be in a new city, in another country on another side of the world. The locals are generally pleasant helping me with directions and all. Strangers say hello to each other here and I think that’s nice. If you do that in the Philippines, you’ll get a “Do I know you?” stare.

I went to Berlin to participate in the UNESCO Creativity Workshop on Toy Design and Inclusive Play. We were housed at Pfefferbett Hostel which is a part of a former brewery complex. This complex with artsy and cool-looking buildings was where the workshop was held.

Most of my time was spent at the workshop but I managed to go on short walks and got to see touristy spots like the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the East Side Gallery (the remaining part of the Berlin Wall now covered with paintings from different artists), the Berlin Cathedral, Alexanderplatz (a large public square), and the Holocaust Memorial.

As someone advocating for ecological agriculture, I was glad to witness thousands of protesters at the “Wir haben es satt” (we are fed up) Demonstration where farmers and consumers stood up for
low-impact farming, animal welfare, climate justice, and good food.

I also enjoyed the nature excursion at the Müggelturm in southeastern Berlin. I like how “green” and eco-friendly Berlin is.

A friend and I talked about considering to live in Germany or another country in Europe where winters can be miserably cold. I decided it would be nicer if it’s warmer. And I thought, us Filipinos are much happier because of all the sun we get in a year.

But Germans are happy, too with their rules and structure (a local said so), efficient trains, lots of green spaces, bike lanes, beer, soda water, and currywurst (fried pork sausage seasoned with curry ketchup).

When visiting other countries, you normally hear of stereotypes which can be true but these don’t have to be necessarily a generalization. One of which of the Germans is their tendency to be uptight and too serious. On the contrary, those that I’ve met are actually warm and friendly.

That, to me is the beauty of travel. Breaking stereotypes and gaining a better understanding of different cultures. And realizing we’re one humanity after all.

Humans of the World: Stephen from Kenya

Stephen handles a Special Class in Kenya that teaches pre-vocational skills to kids with physical disabilities, ages 6 to 18. Some of the lessons are on basic agriculture, bead work, activities of daily living, and math and language, among others.

He started teaching kids with special needs in 1994 and he believes the experience built him up individually. He discovered that though his students are physically challenged, they have different talents and can be very smart.

Stephen stresses that disability is not inability. People with disabilities are abled differently and it’s a matter of adjusting their environment accordingly to suit their needs

Musings on Whatever: ‘Toy Design and Inclusive Play’

A friend referred to me a call for application for a Creativity Workshop dubbed, “Toy Design and Inclusive Play.”

I know how creativity and the element of fun are instrumental in education and advocacy work so I thought the workshop would be very relevant to me especially so that I’m exploring how to further use creativity as a tool for my advocacy for the environment. Plus, this friend mentioned it’s one of the best workshops she has attended so you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I learned that I would be part of it.

After 20+ hours of travel time, including layover, I reached freezing Berlin which was the venue of the workshop. I was brave to just bring with me a thin piece of coat which thankfully helped me survive the cold. Aside from the temperature, a rice-eating Asian like me, and that sounds stereotypical but yeah, I had to get used to a lot of bread and cheese as the staple. I, surprisingly, adjusted quite well.

The event started with a symposium where we had resource speakers who talked about inclusion, fairness and sustainability, toy-free time, and education without prejudice, all in the context of toy design.

The participants were also given a chance to talk a bit about ourselves and the work that we do. I was inspired to hear the stories of every one. I thought we were a bunch of passionate and creative people and I was excited to see what games and toys we would create as an output of the workshop.

The workshop participants with the mentors and organizers. (Photo Credit: Surabhi Khanna)

We had to visit different institutions that cater to people with special needs. I went to Helene Haeusler School, a special school with the main focus on mental development.

It was an impressive facility with small-size classes and sufficient teachers. The curriculum is child-based and is adapted to the learners. There’s a pool, a recreational hall, a kitchen (where students can learn how to cook), a sleeping room, and so much more.

Seeing all these made me realize how it’s miles apart compared to the Philippines but it also made me appreciate the little steps we are taking and the efforts we are putting as a nation into being more inclusive.

Everyone then started coming up with ideas and toy designs based on the respective visits that we had. It took us almost a week to work on our masterpieces and it was amazing to see all our creation come to life.

I paired up with Cinzia, a designer from Italy, and the collaboration made life easier for me. I was intimidated at the beginning considering that I didn’t have any design background but I was happy to be able to keep up. Cinzia and I built on each other’s ideas that resulted to two toys – “LeafBall” and “Koordi.”

“LeafBall” is a tactile toy that promotes communication skills, focus and group interaction. It’s like story dice but in place of the dice, figures to be used in the story are hidden in pockets of leaf-shaped fabric to be folded on each other to form a ball. The ball is passed, the leaf pealed, and a
figure that will form part of a collective story will be revealed.

“LeafBall” (Photo Credit: Cinzia Damonte)

“Koordi” (coordination), on the other hand, is a collaborative game where players hold the strings and move the board together to slide wooden rings into slots, one after the other, to form words.

“Koordi” (Photo Credit: Cinzia Damonte)

The UNESCO Creativity Workshop, organized by Fördern durch Spielmittel, was on its 18th installment and through the years has been spearheaded by Siegfried Zoels, who has done several initiatives related to people with disabilities.

A Dr. Seuss quote goes, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I’m definitely smiling now thinking about how I’ve learned a lot about disability or rather how it should be seen not as inability; I got to work with a brilliant group of creative people; and as a bonus, gained friends for keeps! It was one of the best workshops, indeed.

Zero Waste January: The Japanese Way

Japanese World Cup fans pick up trash after the game.

A Japanese guy voluntarily cleans up an overpass in Baguio.

Kamikatsu, a zero-waste town in Japan, segregates their waste into 45 types in 13 categories.

Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” is inspiring people to tidy up.

I do admire how the Japanese do things. Especially on how they deal with garbage. At an early age, kids learn how to clean their own classrooms that they grow up expecting no one to clean up after themselves.

In the Philippines, it’s a different story. People litter because they think it’s someone else’s responsibility to dispose their garbage. There are laws against littering and laws mandating us even to segregate but who cares about these laws. We blatantly litter because simply, we can get away with it.

In a so-called poor country, disposing garbage properly should be the least of our worries since day to day survival is what we’re focused on. Yet what’s exasperating is educated Filipinos, you wouldn’t expect, also litter!

Recently, devotees of a religious event left 15 trash of garbage not in garbage bins or garbage bags but scattered everywhere!

The same thing happens after people spend time in public parks, the beach, or the mountain. We leave the garbage behind.

How can this mindset and behavior change? There’s constant reminder, and education, and campaigns on proper waste management. Maybe we should step it up and charge people fees for garbage they produce. And I mean, not just the measly amount but the real cost of disposing this garbage. Because in reality, the government is spending a lot just from hauling all these junk.

Out of sight, out of mind. But I do hope the Japanese way could rub off on us some way, somehow.

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Kamikatsu, a zero-waste town in Japan (Photo from Business Insider).

Zero Waste January: The Straw that Everyone Loves to Hate

Since that video of a poor turtle in pain as a plastic straw was being pulled out from its nose went viral, people began to realize how this thing could hurt or even kill animals. And it pollutes the ocean, too.

So restos started banning plastic straws. Or they provide alternatives like paper or re-usable straws, which I’m not really a fan of since it simply reinforces consumerism. Making us believe that life is better with straws when we could, in fact, survive without it.

That’s the thing with consumerism. We have to keep buying stuff we don’t really need. Like those “eco bags” being marketed as the better option. How many of these do we exactly need? A growing mountain of re-usable bags, left unused (defeats the reason for its name), would end up as trash and we’re back to square one.

But back to single-use plastic. This addiction is all about convenience.

Using plastic bags is more convenient than always carrying and actually re-using a re-usable bag.

Choosing plastic spoons and forks, and cups (and those paper plates are not any better) is more convenient than washing up.

Buying bottled water is more convenient than carrying one’s own water tumbler.

Drinking with plastic straws is more convenient than using one’s damn mouth to sip and gulp.

We are drowning in plastic. Bits of it could now be found in our stomachs. So ditching the plastic straw is a good start. But it shouldn’t end there. Let’s be inconvenient together and ditch other unnecessary plastics, too.

Image result for turtle, straw, greenpeace