Early June of this year, friends Edmond Corpuz, Edwin Karganilla and Zer Cabatuan took a time off their respective busy lives in the city to do the other thing that they love, photography, which they fondly refer to as their "stress-reliever."
They were gunning for the scenic spot of the famous Banaue rice terraces in Ifugao province. Armed with their lens and P500 worth of black pencils, they set out on their trek. Their cameras were for the landscape and the black pencils were for the local children who would usually mob new faces.
"Malayo ka pa lang tumatakbo na ang mga bata. Sinasalubong ka na nila pero they don’t exactly ask for money or anything. Siguro naging custom na din noong iba na they give something," Corpuz said. "It’s a normal attitude for tourists to give something like money, chocolates and candies."
Pencils would be the best choice since the trek coincided with the school opening, he said.
It would be a two-day trek to the villages of Cambulo, Batad and Bangaan. They were determined to get the best shots and bring these pictures home to Manila.
They traveled all the way to Banaue for the landscape but what they discovered was far more surprising. They were able to give meaning to what was once just a hobby.
"We have a hobby and we were able to put meaning into our hobby to make it more enjoyable. Hindi lang siya as a form of stress-reliever. In a way, we do things we know somebody is benefiting out of it," Corpuz, a graphic designer and web producer by profession, said.
Inspired by their experience in Cambulo, the hobbyist photographers started the "black pencil project" to help, in their own little way, the kids of Banaue. The black pencil project is coined as such because, as Corpuz put it, it is as simple as giving out black pencils to the children.
"We go there and shoot but the thing is we don’t sell our photos. We went there to take pictures, we can’t erase that fact… pero it is clear to us that photography is just our stress-reliever. It give us an opportunity to relax and unwind but at the same time we were able to find a way na magamit namin ‘yong hobby na ‘yon to help," Corpuz said.
The Cambulo kids
What originally was intended as mere giveaways, distributing black pencils has turned into this small project that aims to reach out to poor children. And it all started in the remote village of Cambulo.
Karganilla recalled that their trek in Banaue exposed them not only to the beauty of Banaue but to the unique tradition and customs of its people.
In Cambulo where they spent the night, tourists are treated to a night of serenade by the children. The oldest crooners were 12 years old and the youngest was three. This is their own initiative with no parents to coach them, Karganilla pointed out.
"Pagdating namin ng Cambulo, nag-stay kami sa guest house. May mga bata, siguro may mga 10, parang pagdating namin doon lapit sila. Tinitingnan nila kami. Then our guide said, ‘Antayin niyo sa gabi babalik ang mga bata. ‘Yong pencils na dala niyo tamang-tama,’" Corpuz recalled.
Karganilla said: "After we had our dinner, paglabas namin nandoon na silang lahat."
The children lit a bonfire and began to sing by groups They sang "Bahay Kubo" and some love songs in their dialect. They were the only tourists during that time.
Karganilla said the children did not make the presentation so that they would receive something in return. "Out of gusto lang nila without anything in return parang custom [na nila ‘yon]."
Corpuz said it was not his first trip to Banaue but it was only in Cambulo that he received that kind of welcome from the locals.
Overwhelmed by the response of the children as they received their black pencils, the three have decided to start the project "because we owe it to the children."
They vowed to collect more black pencils and go back to Banaue, initially to Cambulo, in December. This time though they are determined not to get the best shots but to bring as much black pencils as they can carry for the children.
Why black pencils?
Corpuz said black pencils are being used by kindergarten up to Grade 3 pupils because of their size and grip. The project is targeting pupils under this level.
"These ages are the segment where they're most excited to go to school and yet very vulnerable… it’s hard to address everything and we (as individuals) can only give so much. I am sure some organizations are already doing that (giving books, bags, slippers) and we want to focus to areas where we think we are most effective," the project’s blog said.
Corpuz said the project is not strictly confined to black pencils only. In fact, he said people, mostly friends, have already pledged to donate other school supplies like erasers, crayons, notebooks and sharpeners.
He said as long as the three of them can carry the donations it would not be a problem. "Ang sabi namin you can give anything except blackboards kasi mahirap buhatin yon."
They are also beginning to network with other groups particularly the mountaineering organizations that can help them carry out the project.
According to him, contacting the tourism department in Banaue is also part of the plan. He said this might inspire other tourists to give out something that will be of help to the children instead of candies and money.
The project's goal is to provide pencil dispensers in all travel tourism offices across the country, tapping the participation of tourists, travel guides, mountaineers and the local government in the distribution of the pencil and school materials, they said.
They are also promoting the habit of giving without expecting any photo opportunity in return.
To some, giving out black pencils may not be a big deal but as far as Corpuz, Karganilla and Cabatuan are concerned the project is "about inspiring people to make their ideas happen no matter how small it is."
"We don’t ask anyone to join us or ask somebody to give us a pencil. This is something we can do in our own way… We can (spend) P500 to buy pencils and send it to Banaue pero when we began uploading it (the performance of Cambulo kids) to YouTube, blogging about it (the project), ‘yong respond ng tao sobrang overwhelming," Corpuz said.
Karganilla hopes that the project will help create awareness and inspire people to take up their own causes no matter how small.
Photos and Images sent by EDMOND CORPUZ