Being Kids For Kids: Culture-conscious action toward empowered futures

Editor’s note: Quotes were edited for clarity and brevity.

Kids For Kids PH began in 2015 with sisters Tasha and Bella Tanjutco in their determination to engage other like-minded young people who were driven by a desire for systemic change.  

It has since grown into a nationwide network of active youth, dedicated to empowering communities through education, immediate and long-term relief efforts, and creative change-making, as they push for the rights of children to a safe environment and secure livelihood.

This year’s First Edition 2022 beneficiary, Cartellino sat down to talk with co-founder Tasha, to get to know what makes Kids For Kids tick. 

Children from the community of Halian Island, with sisters Tasha and Bella, at the Halian Island Eskuwelahan ng Kalikhasan workshop. Image courtesy of Tasha Tanjutco.

Becoming Kids for Kids

The spark for the movement came naturally for the Tanjutco sisters. Encouraged to be self-starters from a young age, Tasha notes how independence in learning enabled her in particular to not only pursue, but stay engaged in what interested her most. Though she did not end up as the cosmologist she had dreamt of being then, her love of the natural world has only deepened. 

The push to do something came when the sisters were 13 and 15, as they were enrolled into a traditional school. “That whole change of environment [from growing up in a Montessori school] really made me realize that the usual system of learning in a classroom wasn’t what was exciting kids anymore,” Tasha, then 15, recounts. “It’s not filling them with wonder or excitement about our world.” 

Wanting to enact this change and lend children a greater voice to speak out about today’s most pressing issues, they were determined to make Kids For Kids a movement rather than a regular organization — one that will continue growing as they themselves grow older — to empower a community “where young people could come together and do something for [a] greater purpose.” For Tasha and Bella, it was simple: “the formula always revolved around the passions of young people.” 

One of the environment workshops conducted by Richmond Seladores, Youth Representative, on Halian Island and Anajawan Island.

Creative communication 

That the movement gained momentum after a single social media post Tasha published in late 2020, following a string of typhoons amid the pandemic, signaled the need to engage audiences online. Up until around 2019, the movement had been focused almost entirely on their activities on the ground, with their online presence revolving around the publication of transparency reports. Tasha recalls their online presence at the time: “around 5000 followers [on Instagram]”. Locked down at home and urged by the situation, she created a simple social media post illustrating the mass devastation facing the country and its most vulnerable yet least culpable communities. By evening, the post had garnered more than 10,000 followers’ attention.

As a team of young creatives, design has always been central to their communicating. “Everything [about Kids For Kids] began with good design, because it makes people listen,” Tasha relates. “That’s what makes it different from art, in a way. When you create art, not everyone has to listen in the same way. But when you design something, especially when it’s visual communication, you have to make sure that you get that message out there that you had the intention of sharing.” Conscious of that message they were determined to get across, they placed an emphasis on who they needed to reach.

“What gets people to listen is you listen to them first.” This became the impetus for Kids For Kids’ community-centric messaging — a standard for all their designs: “We make sure we understand the current realities of things going around: news, media, and how people are actually digesting that, and if they’re not, how to actually find a way for them to—especially if it’s important.”

Culture-conscious changemaking in Anajawan

Earlier this year, the organization relaunched its project Kapuluan ng Kabataan (‘Archipelago of the Youth’), following its successful undertaking in its pilot community on Halian Island. A campaign undertaken in three phases, Kapuluan ng Kabataan is a collection of projects across the archipelago aimed at “connecting back to our cultural and natural heritage and world”, through the construction of ‘creative spaces’ and ‘cultural sanctuaries’ wherein young people can “empower one another to power the nation”.

With the foundation of Kids For Kids in 2015 and the establishment of their headquarters in Saranagni, the young team realized the significance of bringing the outdoors indoor. For the community still finding their footing, staying connected with their environment meant staying inspired to create and discover. 

The sisters' own heritage provides the springboard for this earnest endeavor, being the granddaughters of the architect and national artist Francisco 'Bobby' Mañosa. Known as the father of neo-vernacular architecture, Mañosa developed a philosophy firmly rooted in Filipino culture and identity — “a very powerful philosophy that doesn’t just need to be applied to architecture but can be applied to, honestly, everywhere,” Tasha states. Mañosa identified that the neo-vernacular architecture of the Philippines is exemplified by the bahay kubo: a structure that uses nipa among other native and indigenous materials. Revolutionizing a contemporary approach to the bahay kubo — one that privileged an acute awareness of the sociopolitical climate of the time — he was and continues to be hailed as “one of the few voices that spoke about looking into what was truly Filipino, what was native and indigenous, and how he could apply that now at a scale where people that were looking into creating a new Metro Manila could actually use all these different materials you can find around the regions.”

The three phases of a Kapuluan ng Kabataan project — Construction, Curation, and Curriculum — find grounding in Mañosa’s enduring philosophy. Just as with their ways of communicating through design, Kids For Kids PH puts the community they are working with first, ensuring their approach demonstrates and promotes culture-consciousness. 

“We take inspiration from Filipino culture and the culture of the community itself, because we notice that there are a lot of rebuilding projects that go on and different initiatives that are good, but still somehow lack that portion where they connect with the community’s culture,” says Tasha. “We want to make sure that the spaces we create aren’t invasive, but are ones that will also uplift the culture of the community itself, whether it be certain crafts or forms of livelihood.” 

Such is what the community has planned in the island of Anajawan in Surigao del Norte. A space of around twelve by fifteen meters, the creative space will function as a library and hub for workshops, like Kids For Kids’ own program Eskuwelahan ng Kalikhasan. With the construction phase well underway, the community looks toward a collaborative curation of the cultural sanctuary. Tasha affirms that this connection is integral in the completion of the space, sharing that, “We’ll also be asking the kids what they expect in the space, what they want to see in the space, […] and of course learn about their culture, what they’re interested in, what type of arts the kids like to do, to really make sure the creative space is holistic.” 

The Anajawan creative space in the works. Here, children will be able to gather and exhcange ideas, through its library and workshops such as Eskuwelahan ng Kalikhasan. Images courtesy of Tasha Tanjutco.

As the climate crisis continues to develop, Kids For Kids PH remains steadfast in its mission to raise awareness of the global emergency and empower the youth of our nation toward a future that no longer needs fighting for.  Today, the community continues to grow, both in numbers and as individuals. Through various projects, as well as immediate and long-term relief operations, the movement shows how our communities can band together to reconnect with our heritage and environment, to reclaim our home. 

This year’s First Edition partners with Kids For Kids PH to raise funds for the completion of the creative space in Anajawan Island, Surigao del Norte, as part of the Kapuluan ng Kabataan campaign. 

To learn more about Kids For Kids PH, start here. Follow Kapuluan ng Kabataan activities here.

First Edition 2022 runs from November 6 to 20 at the Shop.