I went back to the Philippines last week and had the opportunity to talk with Buenaflor Laoang, one of AMSDaily’s regular writers and a fellow school mate of mine from high school. As we talked, I mentioned that the person whom I planned to feature on our Saturday Success Story series is Mon Corpuz of the Black Pencil Project. As I mentioned his name, Manang Buena’s face lit up and told me that this Mon Corpuz, whose photography and advocacy campaigns I have admired since last year, is actually a friend of hers!
Throughout the conversation, I realized that this inspiring man behind successful campaigns including the Black Pencil Project, whose main mission is to provide pencils to early learners in far-flung day care centers (preschool/early childhood centers) in the Philippines and the 1000 Bear Hugs project hails from Mayantoc, Tarlac and surprisingly, was a former school mate in high school! This made me remember the times when we used to compete in high school journalism and he used to represent our school as the editorial cartoonist and bagged top prizes for his drawing skills! As I remember those times, it really made me even want to spread Mr. Mon Corpuz’s campaigns and support him in his vision.
Unbeknown to many (as I did), Edmond Corpuz also known as Mon Corpuz should be a local hero of Mayantoc, Tarlac; he should be applauded for his dedication to local charities and advancement of Philippine education; he should be honored for his many award-winning photos and must be highly recognized for them . But, I guess as he said, “I am really not fond of awards and recognitions” yet to me, this tribute is more than an award, it is my utmost respect to you,Manong Edmond for the achievements you have already reaped and to many more!
So, today I would like to share with you his great story.
This is his story:
AMS: Tell us about yourself. Your education, training and where you are currently involved in.
Mon: I am Mon Corpuz, 31. I am a usability designer by profession, currently work as User Experience Design (UXD) manager for digital agency NetBoosterAsia. I am a Fine Arts graduate major in Advertising Arts at University of Santo Tomas in 2001.
AMS: I love the slogan for Black Pencil Project: ” We would like to think that the campaign is really all about inspiring people; to start their own cause no matter how small it is” – did you create it and how did you come up with this idea?
Mon: I wrote it way back in 2008 while we are putting our thoughts for the project on paper. From the very beginning, my vision was to set Black Pencil Project as a participatory, collective and collaborative-consumption type of organization. With so much idealism, we sought to become a sort of living testimony that small, personal advocacies can do great things if we all get our acts together.
Filipinos are innately profuse with all kinds of resource, we are very ingenious in so many ways and this is embodied by our Donate One Pencil campaign.
And then there’s the thought of ‘pencil’ is ‘symbolic’. Ideas come from pencil sketches on its very raw form. People need to realize that even before they started to learn how they read, count and write their names, they drew doodles in sticks and figures. And naturally, people graduated from thought of donating just ‘pencils’ — from black pencils, to the yellow ones, to brightly colored pencils, then crayons and the list goes on.
Mon: Black Pencil Project did start by accident when I went to Banaue, Ifugao with my two other friends from a photo club for a 3-day photo safari. It was the beginning of classes that time so I suggested we bring pencils (500 peso worth) in lieu of candies and chocolates.
Instantly, we saw the gratification of children from the villages we went to, so we vowed to continue it as personal initiative on succeeding photo safaris. Pencils were very light and cheap after all. Sooner, friends and social media learned about it and the personal initiative became a collective advocacy.
The mission is very simple — to reach out to children of far-flung communities, give them pencils and inspire them to go to school and be able to write, draw and start dreaming. We do most of our treks during May-July, in time for the nationwide opening of school year of Philippine public elementary school system.
Black Pencil Project’s core advocacy is focused on child’s primary education of remote and indigenous communities in the Philippine through VolunTourism and AdvenTourism programs. We simply wanted people to look at other ways of helping other than the conventional monetary support that can be very taxing and intimidating to people who would like to be involved. We demonstrate that people can make use of their talents, hobbies and passions to thus we are called ‘hobby-based’ volunteer group. Holistically, what we provide is psychosocial support for both donors and donee.
(Editor’s Note: Below is a picture of children smiling with their study kits, a part of Mon’s project)
AMS: How about the 1000 Bear Hugs Project? What is it all about? Can you also explain to us your Run for Pencil?
Mon: Black Pencil Project started programs that are seasonal in nature but over the years, we have developed awareness programs in response to multi-sectoral humanitarian relief drives particularly during time of calamities. In the past, we’ve done Pencil Drives and Tees of Hope for Typhoon Ondoy, Paddle To Care for typhoon-stricken Kalinga province.
We’ve graduated from just giving out pencils.
Recently, 1000 Bearhugs Project was launched to help children of typhoon-stricken Cagayan De Oro andIliganCitycope up with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Last December, massive flood rummage low-lying villages, and claimed hundreds of lives. Inspired by Cathy Babao who had the same project last 2006, we collaborated and campaigned to collect 1000 teddy bears that will be shipped and used during debriefing and therapy workshops. The result was staggering, at the end of the project we gathered 6000 toys from individuals, families, schools, hospitals, companies from the Philippines and abroad. That’s 6x the number of the original number we wish to collect. Most notable outcome was the participation of 7-year old girl named Bronte who’s parents are visitingManilafor an international film production. Her YouTube video appealing for toys from her friends went viral and collected at least 3,000 teddy bears and plushies from other countries. There were so many toys that we were able to extend the program to survivor children of Guihulngan and La Libertad in Negros Oriental that was shocked by magnitude 6.5 earthquake in February, a month after the massive floorings inNorthern Mindanao.
The Run For Pencils is a guerilla fundraising campaign held by Black Pencil Project volunteers who sprint kilometers and used their official tally time in exchange for pledges from supporters and friends. The model was such a hit for volunteers who thinks they’re hitting two birds in one stone — being fit while helping pupils in far-flung communities all at the same time.
AMS: What is your vision of these projects?
Mon: The vision of these projects is nothing but to inspire; by empowering individuals to help in their most personal manner. Like 1000 Bears, it’s no joke to let go a priced possession, to some; a very close pal and companion but they’ve seized the opportunity as they know it is for a good cause. Running for someone else makes sport more meaningful and by these alone, it’s more than winning the actual marathon a person is joining.
AMS: You know my heart is in education as well, what compelled you to focus your life’s mission in the education field instead of somewhere else?
Mon: Lately I was contemplating that these perhaps, are a tribute to my parents who are both educators of public elementary school in Tarlac. I myself is a product of a public school. It was very ironic that when I was about to take my college degree, I never wanted to become a teacher, in spite of my father’s advise. But five years later after graduation, I become the youngest faculty member of De La Salle College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts and I remembered my disagreement to my father’s will. To satisfy and forgive myself, I bought an electric typewriter from my first salary as a teacher and gave it to my father, saying I am now a teacher like him.
Perhaps having brought up by a family of educators, teaching runs in my blood streams and by default, I knew how powerful education can be to shape a child’s life and stir a community to a right direction. Education is the greatest equalizer, a fundamental right and it’s free, however, some doesn’t have access to it.
AMS: How important is education to you?
Mon: Did you know that I waived my heirloom in exchange for the opportunity to study college atUniversity of Santo Tomas? For me, education is invaluable. It’ll be the most important legacy a parent would give to his child.
AMS: What is your opinion of the state of education of the Philippines and how do you see the future of education in the Philippines?
Mon:Philippines public education system is one of the world’s best as it doesn’t end once a child left his/her classroom. Our public schools, though most are inadequate and ill-equipped have the most passionate teachers. If only our government can empower both schools and homes with opportunities so learning becomes conducive, I think we are going to be that super power economy the world is predicting we are going to be.
AMS: If you were given a magic wand, what other projects you would like to start to help students succeed?
Mon: Lately, I’ve been tinkering to extend our advocacy right to children’s home — by providing solar powered LED lamps so they can still study at night, give them bicycles so they don’t have to walk miles to go to schools.
AMS: As an advocate for education, would you share to us what are the most important skills/qualities one must have in order to stand out and become successful.
Mon: It has been proven that diligence and resourcefulness fill up the gaps of poor education facilities in public schools.
AMS: Who or what inspired you to be who you are? Have you always been involved in education?
Mon: There were many, maybe as an artist, I always get inspirations from what I see and experience particularly when I started teaching. My father told me once that if you are with the company of kids, you will never grow old. I think my father was my inspiration and perhaps my maternal mom whom we lost when I was 8 years old. She was a public school teacher as well like my father.
AMS: What are some of the greatest achievement that you’ve had?
Mon: I am really not fond of awards and recognitions, but the greatest so far I can think of is to be able to see personal advocacies and start ups with ‘project’ as suffix flourishing in the internet particularly in thePhilippines.
AMS: Who are/were your motivators?
Mon: Stories of people motivates me — the persistence of parents, the plight of teachers, the vocation of missionaries in remote communities motivates me as well as the simple wishes of children we meet along the way. They have outrageously the meekest source of happiness and these keeps me going.
AMS: If, you were to tell us what are the most important skills that you need in order to be successful (in general) in life, what are they?
Mon: Perseverance and compassion. Once you have developed tenacity and being caring, it will give you an edge to achieve whatever you want, and success is best cherished when shared with other people.
AMS: What are your next goals for yourself and for Black Pencil Project?
Mon: I want to share more of Black Pencil Project story and highlight the volunteers so more people can see us in them and in the process developa culture of inspiring others. The success of the advocacy relies on the volunteers and I want to pay tribute to them by making sure the advocacy is as accessible as possible to those who want to be part of it.
For myself, I am keen of exploring social enterprise as a full time career. I am happiest when I am in the mountains.
AMS: Finally, what is your definition of success.
Mon: Success for me is being able to find purpose early and excel doing it.