It was a beautiful day in Intramuros when the ACAP Kids visited the Manila Biennale: OPENCITY 2018. Fifteen kids from the Action for the Care and Development of the Poor in the Philippines (ACAP), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering marginalized youth in the Philippines, went to the four exhibition sites of the Manila Biennale and enjoyed all the art installation works of the biennale artists. It was their first time in Intramuros and each venue was new and interesting destination for them. Didit Vander Linden, ACAP President and Program Director, went on the walking tour with the kids along with ACAP Program Manager Jeff Ruaza. The tour was led by Manila Biennale Social Media & Student Tours Manager Eve Javier – that’s me. My story is about how these kids gave so much meaning to the biennale exhibits for me personally, and I want to share this with you.
We all met at Plaza San Luis where the introductions were made and some shy faces greeted me hello. Then we began walking off to Baluarte de San Diego where they enjoyed looking at the work of Zeus Bascon, posed for some photo ops and afterwards the kids ran freely and happily at the grassy fort, shyness now gone, and they took time to listen to the history of the baluarte.
Under the heat of the morning sun, we walked all the way to Mission House, stopping for picture time – they were so excited with every marker and every chance to have a photo. Arriving at the San Igancio Church, immediately the complex work of Robert Chabet was examined and surprisingly – deeply understood. I noticed the kids liked voicing out their own interpretations – which were all heavy by the way, so I became extra observant of their reactions. They went on to view the works in the next floors before we set off walking towards Fort Santiago where the kids continued to analyze the works of Kolown (their favorite), Kawayan de Guia and Kiri Dalena’s “In the dark times Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”
It was a very serious and intense moment when they read the message of Kiri’s work, saying it out loud in Tagalog, and telling me, Didit and Jeff about how they understood what the artist was trying to say. To be right there witnessing these young individuals who have complex backgrounds (and continue to live in desperate conditions still), grasp the sophisticated message of the artwork of the biennale and appreciate the whole point of the exhibition – became a very emotional moment for all of us, but we adults kept our cool, shed no tears (or maybe, hid the tears) and moved on. I would often mention them to that the theme of the Manila Biennale for this year centers on war and remembrance, and the kids did not hesitate to tell me in their own words how they Understood.
Lunch was sponsored by Binalot, served under the shade and the kids happily took a break from all the summer sun walking. Afterwards, everyone was called to join Museo Pambata and Sipat Lawin beside the Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House of Alwin Reamilo, for an afternoon of reading under the trees in the Bamboo Garden, and later, Sipat Lawin did a fantastic workshop where the kids were taught performance art, and the song and cheer for the parade of the Bayanihan. “Bawat Bata” was rehearsed with so much joy and passion, that some folks surrounding the children had forgotten their coolness and shed happy inspired tears. After the rehearsal, they had a snack of pancit along with some volunteers of the Bayanihan: Philippine army men, pedicab drivers, foreign visitors of Intramuros, artists and friends. It felt like one big family picnic under the trees in an enormous park, and the kids laughed, ate pancit, lamented on the green mangoes that fell on Fort Santiago’s moat, relaxed for a bit, and talked happily with media that wanted to interview them. It was love all around.
The highlight of the day came and the ACAP kids were positioned at the helm of the Bayanihan parade, to sing Bawat Bata and give their powerful chant ” Ang bawat bata sa ating mundo, Ay may pangalan may karapatan”. They led the Bayanihan with such pride and joy, it was a moment that brought Intramuros so much life…from kids who have so little in life. Leading the massive pack of people carrying a house on their shoulders, they marched to Plaza Roma to welcome the house at its new neighborhood, with incense and prayers and good thoughts. It was such a great feeling for us to have the ACAP kids be the leaders of such a meaningful Filipino event, to have them excitedly cheer for the adults bringing such a weight of a house on their shoulders, and to lead the all people at such a festivity. For me to be given the opportunity to walk alongside these kids for the day, and have them share their thoughts about life, struggle, perseverance, and Hope, was a great honor.
Thank you Carlos Celdran for hosting the ACAP Kids at our Manila Biennale, you gave them a chance to be leaders at this groundbreaking event of ours. Thank you Binalot for nourishing them and adding the extra rice. Thank you Museo Pambata and Sipat Lawin, you lifted their spirits and souls. This truly was the essence of our theme, to bring back the soul of the city. And it’s in these kids.