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Here's How You Can Help Give the Privilege of Play to Children All Over the Philippines

In December of 2011, Edsel Ramirez was coming out from his community parish when he saw a kid playing by the street curb. The boy was playing with a makeshift tin-can toy car with four wheels made out of cut-out rubber. In poor disadvantaged communities, it is common  to see children play in streets and alleys and near sewers and esteros. But for some reason, that particular moment with the little boy moved him to make a change. “That afternoon that scene disturbed me with a question: What can I do for him?” says Ramirez. 

Hence, after discussions with family and friends, Ramirez and a group of volunteer friends founded the Philippine Toy Library on June 12, 2012. Philippine Toy Library (PTL) transforms empty spaces in barangays, schools, parishes, and partner organizations into fun and scholastic playrooms for the community children. PTL aims to give children whose disadvantaged families cannot afford to buy toys and books for them, a place for fun and play, and interaction with other kids that will help them explore their development in this early stage of their life. 

There is formal education and then there is that part reserved for play that is also crucial to a child’s learning development. Play allows children to explore their imagination, their creativity, and their passion, while developing their physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. It is through playing that children are able to explore the world, and interact with other children and adults in a spontaneous way. They learn how to share, how to interact with groups, how to lead and become socially active individuals. Play is every child’s right, a right that the PTL team aims to give every disadvantaged child in the Philippines.

Learning through toys

The first Philippine toy library was built in Loyola Heights. Inside the library, the walls are sky blue, the shelves are bright red, and the scene is colorful with bountiful toys. On the bright red shelves are some classic, favorite characters of all time: stuffed Hello Kitty, Toy Story’s Woody Price, a chubby fluffy Spiderman, purple tandem Barney and Grimace, along with a gang of stuffed toy friends. Further down the shelves are more generic dolls and toys such as colorful plastic telephones and ponies with purple and turquoise hair. On one side of the wall is a mini village of giant dollhouses that reminds one of giant versions of Polly Pocket. Then on the other side by the door are mini ride-on cars for the boys. 

It is a happy place made even happier by the children filling the room with their energy. In one corner by the building blocks, there are a couple of boys using their imagination to build with Lego pieces, an activity that sharpens their puzzle-solving skills and mechanic abilities. The girls are playing cook and boys are play-driving the mini cars. Through play, the children engage in and explore grown-up roles. The children play in packs and groups that encourage teamwork and sharing. The place is managed by cheerful and optimistic volunteers. At one time, they engage the kids to gather for a storytelling session. Books in the library include fun Filipino stories such as Halo-Halo Espesyal, Pilong Patago-tago, Si Langgam at si Tipaklong, and Araw sa Palengke. It is a most pleasant place to be in, whether you’re an adult or not. But most importantly, PTL has effectively built a nurturing playroom that waters the children’s happiness and well-being. 

Happy places

Outside Loyola Heights, more Philippine Toy Libraries are built around the Philippines to help bring play to the communities where children need it the most. Remember Mount Pinatubo? In Pampanga, in 1991, the volcano had an unexpected eruption that wreaked havoc on the community and people. The Aetas, a nomadic tribe that lives in the Pinatubo area, had to relocate their whole community of survivors to Barangay Villa Maria. The Villa Maria Integrated School is about 30 minutes away from the municipality, so they built a toy library inside the school for the Aeta children. “The Aeta children need not to travel far to play with old toys and read children’s books with our help,” PTL president Edsel Ramirez says. “The school principal has already allocated a space and refurnished the room for our donated toys and books.”

And in one the country’s most beautiful beaches, Boracay, another toy library opens in the Red Cross Boracay Chapter. The day care center hopes to provide children left by their parents to work for the hotels and restaurants around the island a place to stay and play. The day care center also assures parents of their children’s safety and eradicates the prevalence of child labor in the area. In the Philippines, there is an underlying culture in the disadvantaged communities that robs the childhood of the children as families make them work at an early age, snatching their right to develop and grow as children.

In Barangay San Carlos, the smallest land in Mariveles, Bataan, another toy library is inside the Mariveles Public Market. Every day, vendors wake up early to work in the public market and their children join them either to help sell goods or play along the market’s streets. And as the municipality continues to progress and grow more livelihood because of the Freeport Area of Bataan, more parents work in factories, leaving more children unattended. This made the barangay officials decided to build a toy library in the market as a playing shelter for all these children.

The Philippine Toy Libraries are spread all across the archipelago, with over 100 libraries nationwide: Sorsogon, Batangas, Quezon City, Parañaque City, Antipolo, Laguna, Sorsogon, Batangas, Iloilo, Sultan Kudarat, Tanauan Leyte, Davao, Samar, Iloilo, Basilan, Capiz, Sulu, Basilan, Camarines Sur, Cabanatuan City, Bulacan, Leyte, Bacolod, Bukidnon, and practically in every corner of the islands.

Essence of play

“When we started PTL, our dream was to see kids happy through play and playing with toys. That is the core value of PTL. “Makita ang mga batang masasayang naglalaro ng mga laruan.” This might be a normal experience for our children but for most of the children in the communities we are partnered with, to be able to have a toy of their choice is but a dream. Happiness is important for everyone. Happiness is important specially for children, given their different context of deprivation,” says PTL Loyola Heights volunteer Ninya Saquilabon. “Our way of caring and loving for these children is to bring them to a place where they can have happiness through play and playing with toys.”

This is the beautiful toy story of the PTL team, and it continues to weave stories as it builds more happy places around the island to bring the experience of playing to every child. Playing is children’s way to experience the world and discover and learn more about themselves and the people around them in the most fun and natural way. But above everything else, it is a simple happiness that is an essential part of everyone’s childhood, no matter how dire and disadvantaged the realities and surroundings that envelop their daily life.

 

The PTL family invites you to donate toys, children’s books, tables and chairs, paint and materials, or build your own PTL in your area. Contact Philippine Toy Library at (0917) 318-2795 or email info@toylibraryph.com. Office is located at 56 Esteban Abada Street, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108 Philippines.

 

Article originally published in Metro Society's October 2016 issue / Photographs by Jovel Lorenzo / Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style