Hard work pays off and “heart work” pays forward. These words ring true for 16-year-old Anya Chan (International School Manila), founder of FilterAgua, and 14-year-old Robyn Montano (ICA Greenhills), founder of Easel.
These youth-led initiatives each raised over P200,000 for underserved sectors in Negros Occidental and Metro Manila. The young ladies demonstrate that genuine help is beyond the hype, beyond distance, and most definitely beyond age.
YOUNG STAR: Tell us about your org and what inspired you to get involved in advocacy fundraising?
ANYA CHAN: FitlerAgua was started by me, Maxinne Santos and Maxine Zamora.
Prior to the quarantine, I’d always been interested in the environment, EdTech, and how they make an impact on society. I’d been watching YouTube videos about hydraulic ramps and wondered how certain communities might benefit from them.
Though the initial idea to work with hydraulics wasn’t feasible, we got in touch with Ms. Denise (Idzenga) from AIDFI and that’s how I learned about the water filters. I brought the idea of doing something with the two Maxes and we decided to go for it!
ROBYN MONTANO: Our group always knew that we wanted to support artists. The same way an easel props up a canvas, we want to be of help to the artist community — specifically those who are differently abled. Our team is composed of me and eight other members: Catherine Li, Julianne Que Pua, Aiyana Teves, Madison Siy, Sophia Chua, Amanda Siy, Tasha Cantong and Faith Wu.
Can you tell us a bit about your project’s beneficiaries and how you selected them?
ANYA: We donated water filters to the families in one of the indigenous mountain communities in Negros Occidental. Since we’re not too familiar with the area, we consulted with our partner orgs (AIDFI and PeacePond) who then recommended the Ituman Magahat tribe because they were the ones most in need.
The community’s remote location makes it hard for them to access clean drinking water. The residents are at risk because the water supply contains E. coli bacteria, so locals, especially children, suffer from leptospirosis, seasonal typhoid fever, and hepatitis A.
ROBYN: Our first partner artist is Julius Tongco. After suffering from a diving accident on Aug. 23, 2004, he was paralyzed from his shoulder down to his feet. During one of his visits to the orthopedic hospital, he witnessed a mouth painter practicing his art, and this inspired him to do the same. He wanted to have the ability to do something that would alleviate the feeling of having to hide away from the public.
Our second beneficiary is The Heart at Play Foundation (THP) which empowers marginalized children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities through dance and financial aid.
The resources and opportunities they’re given are not at all proportionate to the overflowing volume of determination they possess. We want to help artists pursue what they love. We believe they deserve to feel empowered.
Even though the world may not be what we dreamed it to be, the least I can do is show that change is possible.
How did you raise funds and how did proceeds help your chosen communities?
ANYA: We sold items on Carousell and on Facebook Marketplace. I also started reselling fish balls and other snacks. Then one of us thought we could sell coffee jelly as well, so that worked out! We spread the word around to our friends and families. We accepted direct donations, too. We used funds to purchase the filters for 202 families.
ROBYN: Under Project PINSEL, we are selling masks that feature the design called “Frequency of Life” by Mr. Tongco himself. One mask is just P199 and proceeds go to our two beneficiaries, Mr. Tongco and the 30 families of THP Foundation.
How did you balance all this alongside school and other duties?
ANYA: Element of planning was a big part of it. We didn’t have formal delegations but Max Santos handled promotions and Max Zamora was in charge of logistics. We were really open to any ideas that were pitched in. If it was exam season, too, we knew to pace production so work didn’t stack up beyond what we could handle.
We want to inspire other students no matter what their age is — high school, college, younger or older — to go for what they care about. Start from where you’re passionate and see how it can help the community.
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ROBYN: I learned the importance of rest. One should take breaks to avoid burnout. It used to be hard if it felt like I wasn’t doing anything productive but I learned to balance and not hesitate to ask for help.
Give us an idea of how you guys operate, especially since it’s virtual. Any highlights or challenges?
ANYA: We definitely avoided meeting (physically). I remember one day, though, my entire house turned into an assembly line type production area because we three had to prepare and pack coffee jelly. We were starting to get stressed because of all the orders! (Laughs) It was messy at first but we worked well together.
We meant to visit the site for the recent turnover but the COVID spike happened so we decided otherwise. We did get to meet the community during our previous visit last year. Fortunately, our Partner Orgs were helpful in coordinating with the beneficiaries and arranging transportation.
ROBYN: Thankfully, we’re used to the setup. We’ve adapted since we’ve done something like this before, so there’d be about 10 of us working on Google Docs together. Everyone did their own thing. It could get a little hectic but we had fun.
Our highlight was seeing photos of the beneficiaries receiving the donations. We saw how much it meant to them and it made us realize what we’re doing does impact lives.
Your team has done remarkable things at such a young age. What would you like to share to anyone thinking of pursuing an advocacy project?
ANYA: We want to inspire other students no matter what their age is — high school, college, younger or older — to go for what they care about. Start from where you’re passionate and see how it can help the community.
ROBYN: To believe. I learned to believe in myself, in our team, and in our cause. I got involved because I believe people deserve to feel empowered. Even though the world may not be what we dreamed it to be, the least I can do is show that change is possible.