What’s needed for solving social problems.

Study Tour in the Philippines 2015/2016

By Ryan Bestre

Putting a ballet dancer, a political cartoonist, a zero waste expert, and a teacher all in one room seems to be an odd combination. But that’s what HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project is all about. It brings people together from different backgrounds and help them leverage art and culture to address issues. Organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, the HANDs! Project explores how disaster and environmental education can be made more effective through creativity.


The program began in the Philippines where I met other HANDs! fellows for this year. It is a diverse group of young professionals and students from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Nepal. The passion and drive coming from every single person were invigorating. Hearing their personal stories and the work that they do for the community made me feel inspired and hopeful.

Our first day for the HANDs! Project consisted of a tour of Intramuros, the oldest district of Manila, which gave us a glimpse of the city’s history.

Hirokazu Nagata, the program’s General Advisor, then introduced the idea of how “wind-water-soil” types of people help a community. The wind-types provide seeds of inspiration, the soil-types are the ones rooted in the community nurturing the seeds, and the water-types bridge the gap between the two aiding in the growth of the seeds of change. This is relevant as we are expected to come up with our own community projects related to disaster and environmental education after the program.

To further understand social issues, Habi Education Lab, a Manila-based design and research group, conducted a design thinking workshop with the participants.

We then had to put design thinking into action as we developed project ideas and prototypes for a relocation area in Navotas, a coastal town in Metro Manila. Being the local, I had to be the translator for the foreigners as we tried to learn more about Navotas. It didn’t come as a surprise how our guests noticed the genuine happiness Filipinos have regardless of what situation they are in. I guess it truly is more fun in the Philippines.

The immersion taught the fellows to be open, to take a beginner’s perspective in project development, and to really take into consideration what communities need instead of what we think they need. Also, as design thinking is a structured but “messy” approach, we had to be flexible, creative, and be okay with not planning perfectly.

Another highlight of the Philippine phase is our participation to “Gobyerno” (Government), an interactive theater production of Sipat Lawin Ensemble. We got to create an ideal government and society through discussions, art, and performance.

Finally, Ashoka Fellow Girlie Lorenzo inspired all of us as she shared her experience in systems change and building solutions. We were reminded to always begin with the end in mind.

The HANDs Project in the Philippines allowed the fellows to experience the urban life of Manila, visit a disaster-stricken community, and learn about systems thinking. With these, we now have a better understanding of how we can integrate sustainability, empathy, and collaboration in creating solutions to societal problems.


Ryan Bestre

Written by Ryan Bestre(HANDs! 2016/2017Fellow from the Philippines)

For more information about HANDs! Project, visit its official website “HANDs! Project for Disaster Education” and its official Facebook page!