I was asked by TrailAdventours, who are supporting the 1Mandala Guina’ang 1Book project, to tell the story of how it all began for their upcoming travel magazine.  Here it is!

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The village of Guina’ang is about as far away as you can get these days. Located 12 hours drive from Manila, then 2 hours by rough road, it is surrounded on all sides by verdant green mountains– like rippling green velvet hiding a rough diamond.

When I am first came to the village of Guina’ang I was lost.  I had been trying to hike from one village to another but had completely lost my way.  To the great surprise of the students and staff, this strange white man (me) walked right into their school yard.

I felt like I had stepped into a different world.  In front of the school the students were practising their traditional Dance wearing colorful G-strings and skirts.  The beat of their gongs reverberated throughout the surrounding mountains.

The principal invited me in for coffee and then had several boys lead me down the path to find the right path.  I was able to make my destination that night.  Yet, the kindness I had been shown and this magical little village had left its mark.

On my way back, I visited the school again, and offered to do a workshop.  I am an artist and I have done art workshops with schools all around the world.  However, when I asked about their art materials on hand, the teachers sadly shook their heads.  They led me to where they kept their books and supplies.  It was all but empty.  The books they did have were tattered and dating back thirty to forty years.

We were able to do a workshop that afternoon by tearing up plain white paper.  But this time I had another surprise: Although the classes were crammed with 40-50 students, never before, in all my teaching, had I had such rapt attention, enthusiasm and creativity!

Leaving that day wasn’t easy.  I was deeply moved by the teachers who did so much with so little, and the students who were so full of determination. I made a promise that day, as much to them as to myself that I would get them some books.

I am a collaborative artist.  I make art by getting lots of folks to collaborate on one piece.  What would happen if we applied collaboration to making a blessing of books for this school?  I figured that it might be very expensive to mail-in a box of books, but 1 book, that wouldn’t be too hard.   My team and I put out a call on Facebook for folks to send 1 Book to the school’s address.

The concept took off! The books began to arrive from all over the world.  As Mt. Province is a hub for backbackers and couchsurfing I enlisted the help of Couchsurfers coming from Manila to bring up larger boxes of books that were arriving.  Many travelers were eager to get off the tourist-track,  and actually hike to the school!

Over the last year over 20 backpackers from all over the world have visited the country and spent a day or two going class to class, talking about their countries. We’ve also managed to get over 1000 books to the school now.

My suspicions about the determination and creativity of the youth was right.  The students have been eating up the books.  Proudly displayed in the staff room are the school’s stats:  Over the last two years, the school has gone from 56.9% on the National Academic Test to 68%!  The attributes this directly to students having books to read and inspire their learning.

This has to be my most rewarding and beautiful art project so far.  In the next months, we bring it full circle:  We’ll create a big Thank You Mandala with the students. The mandala will be made out of all the books that have arrived.  You can follow the project on my site (where we’ve been inspired to setup more projects like this!): 1Mandala.org  And of course, you’re welcome to send in a book!

http://www.1mandala.org/app-1action-001
(the page and site have been updated with new photos, a streamlined designed, and the latest news)

“Our experience at the school was amazing and rewarding. As we are not teachers it was a little out of our comfort zone but the kids were very happy to engage and interact with us. We encouraged plenty of questions, dialogue and laughter. Having just completed over a year of travel, I struggle to remember a warmer welcome, hospitality or gratitude than we received from Manuela and all of the hard working teachers. We are so pleased and happy to hear that the academic results for the school have increased and sure the good work will continue to benefit the entire community.” -Jane and Claire, two Australians who visited the school.

 

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