My HANDs! Project Experience

Putting a ballet dancer, a political cartoonist, a zero waste expert, and a teacher all in one room seems to be an odd combination. But that’s what HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project is all about. It brings people together from different backgrounds and help them leverage art and culture to address issues. Organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, the HANDs! Project explores how disaster and environmental education can be made more effective through creativity.

The program began in the Philippines where I met other HANDs! fellows for this year. It is a diverse group of young professionals and students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal. The passion and drive coming from every single person were invigorating. Hearing their personal stories and the work that they do for the community made me feel inspired and hopeful.

As a starting point, we were introduced to the idea of how “wind-water-soil” types of people help a community. The wind-types provide seeds of inspiration, the soil-types are the ones rooted in the community nurturing the seeds, and the water-types bridge the gap between the two aiding in the growth of the seeds of change.

To further understand social issues, Habi Education Lab, a Manila-based design and research group, conducted a design thinking workshop with the participants. We then had to put design thinking into action as we developed project ideas and prototypes for a relocation community in Navotas, a coastal town in Metro Manila. Being the local, I had to be the translator for the foreigners and I realized how tough a job that is. I had fun nonetheless and once again, it didn’t come as a surprise how our guests noticed the genuine happiness Filipinos have regardless of what situation they are in. I guess it truly is more fun here.

After a week in the Philippines, we all flew to Bali, Indonesia. I once heard you don’t choose Bali, Bali chooses you so we must have all been chosen! Balinese Hinduism is predominantly practiced in this part of Indonesia evident from sculptures, traditions, and altars everywhere meant for daily offerings known as canang sari.

We were able to visit rice paddy fields practicing Subak, a water management system that incorporates the Balinese concept “Tri Hita Karana” – the harmony among people, nature, and God. Pretty much like the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines.

As an environmentalist, I was so happy to learn about best practices of some environmental organizations in Bali. IDEP Foundation shared about permaculture and community-based disaster management. Kopernik talked about project management and how they raise money to fund their community projects. Green School showed how sustainability can be integrated in the classroom and the school system. Navicula, an indie band, illustrated how music can be used for activism.

Additionally, the fellows conducted creative disaster education activities at PAUD Cemara Kasih, a kindergarten school.

It was an enriching experience but it doesn’t end there as we’ll have the second phase of the HANDs! Project study trip in Thailand and Japan next year. After which, we would come up with our respective action plans on creative disaster and environmental education programs. So many things to look forward to. And the best thing is I’m on this journey with amazing people keeping the hope and dreams in me alive.

Photos from HANDs Project for Disaster Education Facebook Page.

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Extra Baggage from Indonesia

This story is dedicated to my host dad in Indonesia, Papa Pamo, who passed away today. Condolence to Mommy Sonya, Mila, and the rest of the family.

Traffic jam is a generic problem of big cities particularly capitals like Manila and Jakarta. I suppose that made me conclude that Indonesia would be very closely similar to the Philippines. But interestingly, both countries can even be more the opposite with the Philippines being a pre-dominantly Roman Catholic nation and Islam as a dominant religion in Indonesia.

And in a pleasant twist of fate, I was introduced to my host parents – Sonya, a Catholic Pinay from Leyte and Pamo, a Muslim Indonesian. Talk about love that knows no boundaries. Cross-cultural marriage is always a challenge. Add to that a difference in religion. But they made it work. Sonya said that at the onset, they decided that their religion would not get in the way. And it didn’t. She didn’t have to convert. She, in fact, as a devout Catholic told us of her planned pilgrimage trip to Europe in the Easter. It’s refreshing to be in the midst of people living in peace and harmony despite the obvious differences in race, culture, faith, and belief. Though this is also a sad reminder of Christians belonging to different religious sects clashing. And Christians and Muslims with their prejudices and stereotypes of each other.

Anyway, we were able to go to some elegant and spacious malls in Jakarta. Not so crowded like in the Philippines and definitely quieter. We also toured Taman Mini Indonesia which features a literal miniature version of the country so we got to see how structures were built in certain regions.

We had lunch with our bare hands in a restaurant where you don’t have to place your order. You don’t even need to look at the menu because they bring all the food out and you choose a plate you fancy. At the end of the meal, they count the empty plates and that’s what you pay for. What if you just tasted a dish and lied about touching it? Well it just doesn’t happen that way.

After lunch, we went batik shopping at Thamrin City. I bought so many and spent around $55. At that moment, I got worried about baggage weight limit upon our return back home. In the evening, we celebrated Mommy Sonya’s birthday. And surprise-surprise! She served Filipino food. I was so happy.

Leaving Indonesia, I brought with me loads of “extra baggage” – pictures of places, memories of culture, batik souvenirs, and lessons about religious tolerance and love.