Mental Health Fair @ Warehouse 8

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My niece, Gianna did these beautiful art works above.  My sister sent them to our family Viber group and not long after, I landed on the Mental Health Fair and saw art works that I wish Gianna was there with me to ogle and enjoy the explosion of creativity.  Artists painted on notebooks, bookmarks, postcards, had their works printed on bags. There were a lot of stickers which I wanted to purchase but didn’t know where I’d place them but it would be great to have, so never mind if their only use would be to remind me of one day at an art fair meeting people with interesting stories to tell.

I lingered the longest and most repeatedly at the table of an artist couple – Marius Black and Guada Funtilar.  I got a wordless story booklet by Ica Felipe because the girl in the book reminded me of Gianna.  I found a postcard by Micah Sulit that’s perfect for Abot Tala because it said, “Your path doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s,” plus much needed encouragement that proclaimed, “Watch what happens when you don’t give up.” Issel de Leon’s illustrations came with a mini-story at the back.

People from the Philippine Mental Health Association explained to me that they’re not a government agency but a non-profit organization that has been operating for many years helping people sort out their issues.  People from the Youth for Mental Health Coalition also spoke about their advocacy.

My happy loot from the Mental Health Fair at Warehouse 8 (September 29, 2018):

Artist and teacher Denden, drew my niece, Gianna on the spot after I showed her Gianna’s photo on Viber.  I always thought washi tapes were these overpriced cutesy non-essentials that are oh so lovely to look at and covet, but I never knew how they’re used specifically except for crafts in general.  I watched Denden cut the colorfully patterned, glorified scotch tapes into the clothes of people she drew.

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Video List

We wanted to show Calista Santillan’s video in Fully Booked before Ken Danford began his talk but technical limitations prevented us so we hope, for those who are interested in seeing something like North Star happen here in Manila, please do watch this video and hear what teens think of that possibility.  Calista was tasked to interview young people who were asked to watch Ken Danford’s TEDx talk and a video about North Star.  She then went above and beyond splicing meaningful sharings and made a powerful opening statement.

Ken got so excited after watching Calista’s video that he emailed it to his family and North Star colleagues in the States as he proudly said, Look at what this teenager in Manila made!

Interview with Filipino Students about North Star – Video by Calista

If you want to know more about North Star and efforts to make something like it come to life in the Philippines, watch these videos.  Join Abot Tala on Facebook, too!  Read about it on this blog.

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David Ferro of DWIZ Interviews Ken Danford

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David Ferro Interview with Joei Villarama

Videos on YouTube and Vimeo are worth catching if you want to immerse yourself in the rather radical world of North Star.  How does it look like and what do members say about it?

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A Day in the Life of North Star

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A Teen Looks Back on Life Without School: “I Could Have Spent the Last Six Years Fighting”

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From the Bottom of My Brain: A Valley Gives Day Crumpet

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This is Your Life: Choose Your Own Adventure

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North Star Slice

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About North Star 2015-2016

We leave you with these words from teenagers interviewed by Calista on whether something like North Star would work in the Philippines.

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And of course, don’t forget the videos that inspired people (including the Abot Tala team) and in different degrees, sparked action in various places around the world:

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School is Optional: TEDx Talk by Ken Danford

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Teacher Liberation: TEDx Talk by Joel Hammon

Check out: https://abottala.com/

 

Launching a Game-Changer

Tinky wrote to Ken, “We’ve been waiting for years for a game-changer and a ceiling-breaker like you and North Star.”  It seems in the Philippines, we’ve been waiting long for alternatives to mainstream school but in countries like the US, options like North Star and other self-directed schools and centers have been existing for decades.  Yes, there are progressive schools here but beyond progressive, there are much fewer options.  The homeschooling and unschooling community has been growing in the country but what about options for kids who are stuck, miserable in school or for families who want to homeschool but would prefer an option outside home to allow both parents to continue working?

Ken Danford was a history teacher in public school for ten years when he got disillusioned with the system, was handed by serendipity Grace Llewellyn’s classic, Teenager Liberation Handbook and proceeded to create North Star.  At first, he toyed around with the idea of a school but that would be subjecting the students to the same problem of being forced to go somewhere to get society’s concept of education.  In North Star, there is no coercion.  It is not a school and it does not give certificates, grades or report cards.

What does it do then?  It offers a way out for students who wish to take control of their lives, what they learn and how they learn.  It uses homeschooling as a tool since members are registered with the State as homeschoolers which then allows them the flexibility and freedom to create their path, which they can with or without North Star.

Like a club or a community center, North Star is a space and a community where teens are free to join activities and hang out with friends.  If they choose to, they can attend classes or workshops or get connected to internship and other opportunities.  Every week, the members meet with an adult mentor-adviser who helps them map out a plan and checks in on their progress.  The parents also play an important role and are much involved in the process.

In his talk at Fully Booked last July 14, Ken shared this letter from Sebrina:

Hi, my name is Sebrina and I am looking forward to joining North Star. Throughout my 10th grade year at Smith Voc, I was thinking about alternative ways to learning. I decided officially on February 25th that I wanted to be home schooled. My parents support me and want the best for me, they stood right by me and supported my decision to be home schooled. I am very interested in the psychology class and hope to develop ways to support those around me and help people. I would like to spend my time learning in the classes that I choose to be in, and some time for me to socialize and work on other schooling. I feel like North Star will play an important role at this time in my life because I think that learning at my own pace, and being welcomed and supported will give me time to heal and be happier. I see myself participating in the North Star Community by being a nice person and attending the community meetings if they are on a day that I will be at North Star. At the end of the year, when I decided if this has been a good year, I will have decided by looking back on how I was treated by my peers and on how much I enjoyed the classes. The thing that is hardest for me in life is socializing, I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere and want to feel like I am part of the community. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to write this letter and I am excited to join North Star.

North Star has been running for over twenty years and its alumni have went on to University and have successful careers of their own.  Because of this positive track record, Ken has reached out to others who want to initiate a center based on the North Star model.  Now, there are twelve centers in the USA and one in Canada, all members of the Liberated Learners network.  Ken’s purpose for coming to Manila is to assist our team in launching Abot Tala.

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Many people are excited about the concept of Abot Tala finally here in Manila.  However, it’s one thing to express interest and another thing to actually join it or to support the dream so it becomes reality.  Some people think this is crazy and it seems too risky given the conservative nature of Filipinos who still want the name school together with the name university.  But the greater risk for the risk-taker is not to take the risk at all, to stay safe and not question the status quo.

It’s been crazy raining since Ken Danford left Philippine shores, like the skies are crying that our champion of self-directed education has gone.  The weather cooperated so well the whole time Ken was here from July 8 to 18, pouring only when we were indoors and a few times slightly when we were outdoors.  This granted Ken the ability to hit all the meetings and presentations without missing a beat.  Now, the team has to buckle down and hit the ground running.  Our work has only started.

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Hindi lang pang Taho Boy, pang Abot Tala pa!!!

If you want to be part of this game-changer in education, email me at: entirelyofpossibility@yahoo.com.ph

If you want to read more about Abot Tala:

If You Build It Will They Come

Who Wants to Flip It

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

The Non-School

Payatas

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What are the chances of sitting in a cafe in Payatas and sharing a table with a player from the Philippine women’s football national team who competed in Russia at the Street Child World Cup 2018 kicking off the recently concluded global FIFA shindig?  Well, the chances are quite considerable if the particular cafe you’re visiting is the one started by Roy Moore who began volunteering in a drop-in center in Payatas ten years ago.

A British lad who looks more like he could be part of a music band, Roy is the soccer coach to hundreds of children in Payatas.  He set up the Fairplay For All Foundation which runs the Payatas Sports Center and the Fairplay School and Cafe.  Kids in the football and school program get to eat the nutritious, vegetarian fare from the cafe ran by mothers from the neighborhood and in the future, Roy hopes to build dormitories for those who are constantly at risk from abuse and neglect.  Roy has made Payatas his home and lives in the community he has committed his life to.

Coming from America, Ken has never been to a place like Payatas, what used to be the biggest open dumpsite in the Philippines where people make a living out of garbage, where people thought they would lose their livelihood when it was declared closed because it was environmentally hazardous located near the La Mesa Dam, a huge water reservoir.  In the year 2000, hundreds of people died and thousands were left homeless when the mountain of trash collapsed.  Now, that mound is dressed up, spruced up in a pretty, attractive layer of greenery, erasing from the Google satellite map what was an embarrassment inadequately addressed by a nation.  Exploring on foot, on the fringes of the fancy green dress, one can still see the layers of garbage coyly peeking out.  There are a number of NGOs in the area dreaming of breaking the cycle of poverty, one of which is Fairplay.

Ken and I got connected to Fairplay through the RadEd Unconference last June where Mon Armena gave a talk about democratic education since he worked as a teacher at the Fairplay School.  No, democratic in this case does not refer to the corrupted term that it has become and the ludicrous sham it connotes when talking politics.  Wikipedia defines it as such:

Democratic education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction. It brings democratic values to education and can include self-determination within a community of equals, as well as such values as justice, respect and trust. Democratic education is often specifically emancipatory, with the students’ voices being equal to the teacher’s.

Since Ken Danford started a radical alternative to traditional school, the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens and was visiting Manila for a week and a half, he might as well check out brother-sister-cousin schools and learning centers that widen the range of education options.  On a bright yellow wall at Fairplay School, these words are written: “Malaya tayong gawin ang gusto natin” (“We are free to do what we want”), but the rest of the sentence is covered by a white board but based on the words at the end, one can guess the second part: “Huwag lang tayo makadistorbo o makaabala sa iba.” (“As long as we don’t bother anyone else.”)

We went up to the second floor and saw a class conducted in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.  You didn’t have the extreme crowd common in public schools and on one side, some kids were playing with educational games on computers.  Roy explained that even in this community, the kids can be categorized in three levels:  1) children whose families can afford to send them to public school and pay fees for uniforms, books, trips, etc.; 2) children whose families can send them to pubic school only if they have some subsidy for those expenses; and finally, 3) children who don’t have family with the ability or interest to send them anywhere. Fairplay Academy helps the children in the third group.

After visiting the school, Roy toured us, through narrow, muddy alleys, around the dump site where, despite the closure, the trash sorting industry continues in full force with separated garbage ending up in places like China.  He shows us the ingenuity of people making new mattresses out of discarded ones.

After the tour, I felt how superficial it is to relate the education alternative we were proposing to put up in Manila based on the North Star model to Roy’s democratic school in Payatas.  Yes, the learning models are similarly self-directed and libertarian in approach.  However, Fairplay Foundation is involved in programs of education, livelihood, nutrition and sports as a way of helping people out of poverty.   Roy hopes the kids whose lives are impacted by the programs, grow up and go out into the world but more importantly, come back to make a difference in their home, Payatas.

 

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Fairplay is a group of people who believe that when we provide opportunities to the poorest among us, they will flourish, excel, and innovate. We believe that it is unfair for a child’s opportunities and future to be determined by where they were born. We also believe it is possible to change that path and ultimately create a better world.

At Fairplay we look to solve the problem, to break the vicious cycle. In its place we create better problems and a new virtuous cycle. In the slums, this cannot be done in any single area alone. The best education is undermined by chronic malnourishment and a lack of access to livelihood, the best nourishment is undermined by a lack of livelihood and lack of quality education, and all areas of life intersect and undermine one another. This is what we mean by leveling the playing field. To turn a cycle from vicious to virtuous, we need every aspect of the field to be raised together.

This is why we run the Fairplay School, the Fairplay Café, and the Payatas Sports Center; as means towards leveling the playing field. We have shown remarkable progress and the kids we work with have shown that when given the opportunity they can become some of the best in the entire country at what they do. Whether that’s some of our girls being called up for the National Youth Football Team, affordable and healthy food from the Café, or completely illiterate teenagers learning to read and write and excel academically, there is much that can be accomplished together.

Who We Are: Fairplay’s Core Values

  • We love to Learn
  • We care
  • We improve: we make ourselves and our surroundings better than they were before

At Fairplay we love to learn. We love to explore new things and gain deeper knowledge where we already are. We care about the people around us and about our community. And we always want to improve the situation and make sure with everything we do things are better this week than they were last. We want to see progress.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to level the playing field. This means creating a safe environment for the families we work with, to develop holistic and sustainable projects in education, sports, and nutrition. Our mission is to empower the community by ensuring they are part of the decision-making process and organisation of each project, in order to identify the root cause of the problem and break the cycle of poverty for good.

Vision

Our vision is to build a community that is happy and strives to learn and develop. We seek to build innovative, creative, and long-term solutions through community dialogue and management in each of our projects. This means the students are part of running the Fairplay School, our local mothers run the Fairplay Café, and our older players are trained to coach younger age groups.

In short, through genuine community involvement and participation we can repair mindsets, build a loving community geared towards innovation and sustainable projects for the good of the whole.

Our Dream

As the Fairplay School, Payatas Sports Center, and our social business continue to grow we are looking at the possibility of expanding the three projects by locating them in the same place. The projects will combine to create the Fairplay Academy.

Here we can build dormitories for students at the Fairplay School so the hard-core cases are assured a safe and loving environment to live. During this time we can work with the families to help support them with mindset intervention and other psychological support and economic support through our social business so when the home has healed the student can return to them and stay in the Fairplay School as a day student. How long this takes will differ with every family.

The Fairplay Café and other social business will also have a larger and more permanent base and the futsal courts will move to the rooftop. The Fairplay Academy will be the final version of our work in Payatas and with a dedicated researcher proving the benefits, developments, and improving our work by showing which areas are working best and what needs to change, we can have a thriving learning community that can be scaled and replicated in other communities. At the Fairplay Academy we can therefore hold workshops, seminars, and more for other NGOs in the community and further afield for us all to learn from each other.

 

 

11 Whirlwind Days

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What a ride!  Eleven days with Ken Danford in Manila!

The first day after arriving from the US was full enough with a trip to Gopala Learning Haven in Cavite to meet up with Laksmi followed by a meeting with the mentors.  The succeeding days were equally full with visits to the Metrobank Foundation in Makati, Blended Learning Center in Cubao, One School in Makati, Fairplay Academy & Cafe in Payatas, the future site of Sinag Art Cafe near Baclaran and Global Homeschool at Ayala 30th Mall, Pasig.  There was video taping with Atticus King and his dynamic team at Ignition, Manila Times interview by Edwin Sallan and the RX 93.1 Monster Radio interview made utterly fun and memorable by Raffy Reyes.  May dropped by for lunch bringing what became Ken’s favorite mango tart while Vince and Donna volunteered to help prepare for Ken’s big talk at Fully Booked.  The next day, Ken made a presentation at the Del Monte Corporation organized by TED Fellow Xavier Alpasa.  Because of Asha, we spontaneously hopped onto a taxi to catch the tail end of the Ignite Conference in Makati while the last day before Ken’s flight was reserved for Abot Tala’s Board of Trustees.  One more meeting was luckily scheduled without much advanced notice, rounding off a truly maximized, hectic but balanced week.

It amazed me how tireless Ken is in sharing stories and experiences about North Star and the Liberated Learners, while Manila’s gridlock traffic flabbergasted him.

 

Ken in Manila

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Months of planning, preparing and promoting and the day finally arrives — Ken lands in Manila!  Just on his second day on his first Asian trip and we’ve done quite a round of important meetings, from a dinner with advocates of alternative education to a visit to Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite including a muddy hike down a ravine, and on to a marathon discussion with potential full time and part time mentor-staff of Abot Tala.  A storm was declared but it veered away from our path so we were able to keep to the full itinerary, allowing us to make all the connections needed to get this dream of self-directed education for teens off the ground.

Check out: https://abottala.com/

Good to Great

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Nas’ one-minute video has been popping up on my news feed every so often and it’s one of those things that makes scrolling through social media addictive.  You get content in bite-size pieces already curated by friends, acquaintances and semi-strangers on Facebook.  Wait.  Big oooops.  Nas doesn’t like using the word acquaintance because for him, everyone’s a friend and friendship is not bound by the amount of time you spend together.   You see why with that kind of open attitude alone how arresting his one-minute videos are but this particular one I saw today made me want to go to Palestine.  A loud voice inside my head stopped my daydreaming and screamed, “Your family is not going to allow you to take your 8 and 5 year old sons to Palestine.”

Okay, if I can’t go to Palestine and stay in an apartment being offered by Nas to anyone who wants it for free, the second best thing I can do is find out more about Nas which led me to his TEDx talk in India where he explained how to make life go from good to great:

“The only thing to make life great is to build something that’s bigger than me, something that if I die, will continue tomorrow, the day after, the year after.”

That something could be a company or a non-profit.  It could be anything.  Nas thought that for him, it would be creating an app that would allow other people to create videos like him but then it bombed big time.  That failed attempt led him to persist until he created a global media company of passionate content creators like himself.  Don’t let flops of life stop you.  Use them to nudge you closer to your goals.

The talk reminded me of our Dgroup leader, Jen’s discussion last week about legacy and how the enemy is not the bad things but the good things that get us stuck in our comfort zones, the kind of comfort zone that you need to transcend and that Nas illustrates here:

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If you do something for a length of time and it makes you too complacent, it’s usually a subtle invitation to level up which would then involve an amount of discomfort, even a perceived period of destabilization.  Those who have made leaps of faith can attest to the rewards but struggles are always part of the package.

Watching Nas’ TEDx talk made me think of that something I’m hoping to create and build that is bigger than me, that represents a number of converging dreams:  Abot Tala.  It compels me to take action despite how crazy and preposterous an idea it seems.  It has gotten some degree of traction and almost a life of its own until my guide and mentor in the process prevented me from smashing my head against the wall.  Now I’ve slowed down a bit and let go of my timeline on steroids.

Doubts still creep up which is why it’s good to watch Nas today to silence those doubts if yelling at them to shut up doesn’t work.  “I don’t think anyone would want to pay that much for this.”  “The good rentals are just too expensive!”  “How on earth am I going to find a partner with resources for this?”  “This might work in a developed, prosperous country like the US, but the Philippines is a different story.” On and on this downward spiral of discouragement would envelope me staring at the Excel spreadsheet, “Arrrrrgh!  How can I make this work?”  Even if you regard yourself as entirely of possibility, there are days and hours when it doesn’t ring true.   You know it’s time to chill and talk to a friend.

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Jen, our Dgroup leader read this blog and sent me a message: “I agree we all need to level up and not be stuck in complacency. But at the same time, our desire to make a difference, to improve and to have a better life should also be somehow tempered by an attitude of gratitude – or else we will never be satisfied. Ultimately, I think we need to frame all of our efforts in the grand scheme of things.”

Hearing people like Nas talk about going from good to great can be inspiring and instrumental in moving us away from “just having a good life” to one filled with a higher purpose.  However, on the other side of searching and striving is contentment that’s different from complacency.

I searched for the article that appeared several times on my news feed, “What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?” by Krista:

What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up – beyond mom and sister and wife. But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and that I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship. What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough.

Are we either Nas or Krista, or do we swing from one end to another depending on the circumstance, or can one person be both?

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Read more about Abot Tala here:

Who Wants to Flip It?

So Extreme You Might Fall Off the Spectrum

If You Build It Will They Come?

Joel’s Ask Me Anything

Seth and Two Kens

Rosa and the Stars

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