August 13, 2017

The Blue Leaf Filipinas, Paranaque City



On the 13th day of August 2017, people behind the strong organization PROJECT PEARLS came together to celebrate its 7th anniversary.


It was a day of thanksgiving, laughter, hugs and tears as we looked back on the milestones of the Project PEARLS journey. Together with all the kindhearted souls that founded and continuously support Project Pearls, we all had so much fun commemorating the past seven.


The venue. This special day happened at The Blue Leaf Filipinas in Paranaque City. People with the same mission gathered to celebrate hope, life and the continuous success of our beloved non-government organization.





The Prayer. Our happy day started with a prayer by Ms. Marie Young.


Here’s a few lines of her prayer that moved us all:


“We offer our grateful thanks and praise for the many volunteers that quietly yet faithfully offer their services for the well-being and support of others.  We thank these volunteers who share their time, talent and treasure –their love and concern.  We know they do so, not for the acknowledgement, but because they genuinely care to help others.

We thank you Lord for continuing to send us volunteers and Angels that enables Project Pearls fulfill its mission.  

We thank you for allowing all of us volunteers to be first hand witnesses to Your Miracles not only in the lives of the children and the families we serve but also in the hearts and minds of the people you continue to send our way.

Continue to bless Project Pearls… as We give thanks for Your Greater Glory.




Thank you, Miss Marie for this very meaningful prayer.



The host. Our respected hosts were Hilary Anne Diaz and Lut Vallefas. Both of them are great dedicated volunteers! Thank you to both of you for hosting this day’s very special event for all of us!


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The welcoming message. A welcoming and inspiring message was then delivered by our dearest Founder, co-founder and operational manager, Miss Melissa Villa, Francesca Mateo and Juan Villa respectively.



You guys are all amazing! Project Pearls would not be here today without your heartfelt initiatives and strong dedication. We all love you three!



A look back to our humble beginnings. Thank you Jay-r Panagsagan for compiling some of our photos during our outreaches. We were able to see the transformations of some of the kids that Project Pearls helped.


Here’s the link of the video that was presented.



Beautiful transformations, Changed lives and Grateful Hearts. For the past seven years, Project Pearls has done its best to serve and help the poorest of the poor families. Some of them attended this day’s special event.


Here are the people who shared their life-changing experiences through Project Pearl.


  1. Cheers to these three girls who made it from Ulingan in Tondo, Manila to New York, USA!


Earlier this year, Lilibeth, Princess and Catherine represented the Philippines for the HerStory global summit. This has been possible through the help of our partnership with Litworld and Global Girls (GLOW). These young ladies used to live in extreme poverty. They lived in the slums of Tondo but then together with their families, they were reallocated to Bulacan – a better and safer community.



They also now belong to our list of scholars and are leading the Litclub activities in Batia, Bulacan.


They expressed how grateful they are for all the better things happened since the first day that Project Pearls stepped in to their lives.


And we strongly believe that the best things are yet to come for these ladies! Way to go, girls!



We also had guests all the way from North and South!



  1. We had an adopted community in Botolan, Zambales which is the LAKAS Tribe. They also expressed their deep gratitude to Project Pearls for all the blessing they’ve got through this organization. Just recently, we had the medical mission in Zambales. From time to time, we also make sure that their kids receive goods like books, school supplies, toys and others.

LitClub activities are also being held in Zambales.











  1. From the southern part of the country, the Cardente family joined us.



They lead our Litclub activities in Zamboanga. These two young ladies are two of our scholars. As their means of giving back, they facilitate the weekly Litclub and provide learning assistance for the kids in Zamboanga.



  1. From Batia, Bulacan, one of our nanay volunteers thanked our founder and the entire Project Pearls team. Our organization changed her life as it enabled her to bring all of her children to school. As a way of giving back, she’s now our volunteer in the community.








  1. And from Tondo, Manila, our nanay volunteers gave their thanks as well.


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Our program was incredibly full of inspiration.

Amidst all the hardships throughout our country, there’s still hope for a better tomorrow.


Teamwork. Unity. Strength. These are just few of the factors why our organization is continuously striving for the better for people in need.



The Silent Auction. As part of our fundraising, we held a silent auction. Paintings and photographs donated by kind hearts were exhibited. Thank you so much to all our donors!






And of course thank you so much to all who auctioned.







We thank everyone who attended this meaningful occasion for all of us. This was an event filled with lots of tears of joy, laughter and inspiration.


And we thank the following who made this event extra special:


  • Blue Leaf Filipinas for the beautiful venue,
  • Bacolod Chicken Inasal for the delicious food and Cupcakes by Mutya’s Kitchen.
  • Party Boosters for the photo wall
  • Martin Sy for event coordination.


  • For the auction items:
  • Photos by Sidney Snoeck, Rita Dela Cruz and Pedro Penduko
  • Original Paintings of Dadai by Atty. Marie Antoniette Diaz
  • Go Pro Cameras by Anne Gonzales
  • Original painting by Dr. Mutya Bernardo Backpack from Bag of Dreams Herschel Backpack


  • Starbucks tumbler from anonymous


  • For the raffle items:
  • Yabu, Marie Young, Ginny Matabang, Criselle Toral, Bob & Marian Reyes, Piandre, Anonymous



  • Special thanks to Peachy Abellon for all the event planning behind the scenes.






  • Cassie Eng for the tear-jerking and inspiring speech. Thank you so much Cassie for letting us feel that humanity knows no limits. At such a young age, you serve as an inspiration to everyone! Poverty is such a reality that most Filipinos are going through. Thank to people like you who showed so much empathy and care to those in need specially to the kids of Helping Land you love so dearly.



  • Francesca Mateo and Empire in the Air for bringing Mel, KJ Estudillo and Jolo of The Company to Philippines!


  • To all our guests, friends, partners and supporters, THANK YOU for all the continued support!


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  • And to all our staff and volunteers, thank you for all your valuable contributions. Keep inspiring and motivating us all!






  • A huge THANK YOU to our resident volunteer photographers, Sidney Snoeck and Rita Dela Cruz for all the great photos.



More photos are on our Facebook page:


  • Lastly but definitely not the least, we deeply thank the woman who is behind and also in front of all of these.



You will always serve as the statue of faith, hope and love to everyone. Thank you for bringing us all together and for letting us to be one with the Project Pearls’ mission:

“Helping the poorest of the poor families in the Philippines have a better life.”


Thank you, Mommy Melissa Villa! Keep on rocking the world for the better good!






AND HAPPY 7th ANNIVERSARY PROJECT PEARLS! More anniversaries to come for it’s still a long way to go!



Re-blog: 5th Annual Kickball Tournament



Every year, Empire In The Air  hosts a kickball tournament to fundraise for nine Project Pearls scholars to continuously go to school. This year was their 5th and again it was a success that they will be able to support our nine scholars!

Thank you so much Empire in the Air for spearheading this annual activity and for helping us fulfill our mission!

Here’s the full article written by none other than Francesca, our Project Pearls co-founder at the same time Empire in the Air founder aka ChiChai@Empire.




5th Annual Kickball Tournament

End of summer for us at Empire in the Air means its time for kickball!

Every year, we host a kickball tournament to fundraise for 9 Project PEARLS children to go to school. (Learn about one of them here!) Yesterday marked our 5th kickball tournament and it was another huge success because of our enthusiastic players and referees. Because of you, we can continue granting 9 children the gift of an education.

Meet this year’s teams:

Pitch Don't Kill My Vibe
Gang Green
Push-Up Bra
High Potential
Ball I'd Like to Kick (BILK)

And our referees David, Andrew, PJ, Chris@Empire, Nea, Megan, and Andy

We began the kickball with stretches led by our referees to make sure every kickball player is ready to go.


The competition was fierce


But also fun


And sometimes… out of the ordinary

All in all, everyone had a great time and we can’t wait until next year!

Congratulations to our first place winners, Pitch Don’t Kill My Vibe

And to our MVP this year, Rita from Push Up Bra!


Shout-outs to our sponsors:

  • Andrea Foods
  • Noah’s Bagels
  • Dang Foods
  • Cokeva

And last but not least, thank you to Vanessa of Aumakua Treasures for making our medals

Can you kick it for Project PEARLS?


Project Pearls Outreach, First Batch of Fire Reliefs Repacking and Distribution


Project Pearls Outreach, Fire Reliefs Repacking and Distribution

Aug. 26, 27 and 28, 2017

Helping Land, Tondo, Manila, Philippines


“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”

–Mattie Stepanek


August 28 is a national holiday that commemorates our National heroes who fought for our Motherland’s freedom and independence.

Because of the holiday, almost everyone had a three-day weekend!

But to our Project Pearls volunteers in Manila, they spent the long weekend helping the fire victims in Tondo.

On August 18, 2017, a huge fire hit the community Barangay 105, Aroma at Tondo, Manila. Over 2000 people—more than 700 families—were left homeless. Many of the community members we work with in Helping Land are among those 2000 people.

Shortly after the fire, we fundraised donations to assist the affected individuals.

And in just a week, generous donations poured in!

Thank you so much to all the kind souls who reached out to support us. To all the financial and goods donors, we deeply thank everyone! Even to those who spread the word, invited others and shared our social media posts, thank you for sharing and becoming one with our mission to help people in need.



Day 1. The start of the long weekend.

Rather than hosting our weekly Brain Booster on August 26, 2017 in Helping Land, we repacked the eating utensils after our daily feeding. These utensils included plates, bowls, tumblers, spoons, and forks.

Thank you so much to Art Relief Mobile Kitchen for sponsoring this day’s feeding for kids and for volunteering, too!IMG_3146

With great teamwork, we finished in an hour! We were able to pack 700 sets of eating utensils!

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Congratulations for a job well done today, volunteers!


Simultaneously, the sorting and packing of clothes were being done at the Project Pearls headquarters in Caloocan. Some of our volunteers even went to Caloocan to help after we were done at the clinic.

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After the packing of clothes, we also did the packing of donated goods like sardines, noodles, champorado, banana chips and others.



Day 2. August 27, 2017. Sunday.

Thank you so much to Miss Tina Ignacio and her family for sponsoring this day’s meal for the kids during our After School Program.

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Aside from sponsoring, together with our regular volunteers, our sponsor’s whole family also took their time to help us in the repacking of toiletries.

After the feeding at the courtyard, we were all again headed to the Pearls’ clinic to do the repacking.

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Just like yesterday, because of the great teamwork we had, we were able to pack 700 sets of toiletries that consisted of toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, diapers, shampoo, towels, bath soap and detergent. Together with the set of eating utensils already packed, all non-food goods were placed in a bucket.

Good job, volunteers!


Back to the Project Pearls headquarters, we had the sorting and repacking of clothes again. Packing of more than 700 sets of clothes were finally completed and for the Day 3, we were all then ready to spread the blessings we collected.


The Final Day – Distribution of Fire Reliefs for the fire victims.

August 28, 2017, Monday, National Heroes Day, Nationwide Holiday.

Bayanihan at its finest. That’s how we would describe this day’s morning in Helping Land. As early as 6 in the morning, everyone was already busy in preparing all the goods for distribution.

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The courtyard was divided into several sections:

  • Huge bags that will hold all the goods
  • Toiletries and eating utensils
  • Banigs and blankets
  • Instant noodles, can goods, biscuits, milk, instant champorado and tetra packed juices
  • 2 sets of packed lunch courtesy of Chicken Bacolod Inasal

Volunteers were assigned to distribute the goods in their according section.
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The distribution of fire reliefs started at 8 o’clock in the morning.



Families properly lined up outside the courtyard bringing their validity cards issued by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).


This served as proof that they are affected of the recent fire. Most of them are still living at evacuation areas allotted for them. We hope that by sharing these goods for them, we were able to somehow lighten their burdens.

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In just few hours, everybody collected their relief goods.




Thank you to everyone who did the tasks assigned to them wholeheartedly. Our hearts and spirits are filled with so much gratitude and prayers.

Not all heroes are written in history books. Some heroes are the ones we meet every single day. August 28, 2017 was declared as National Heroes day in the Philippines and we are thankful enough that in Project Pearls, we have a lot of unsung heroes also known as…volunteers.


We also thanked everyone who donated and sponsored for this drive.

Thank you so much, angels! We are so overwhelmed that Project Pearls had a lot of non-winged good souls here on earth!


More photos are on our Facebook page.


Photos by: Sidney Snoeck


Re-blog: Beyond “Art of Us” pt. II: Medical Mission in Zambales


Project Pearls has an adopted community in Botolan, Zambales wherein we help the indigenous people of LAKAS tribe. They are the tribe of aetas who were displaced from the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 12, 1991.

Project Pearls volunteers together with our founder, Melissa Villa and “Art of Us” team headed by Francesca, our Project Pearls co-founder and Empire in the Air founder, joined forces to reach out through medical mission, feeding and distribution of cereals to our dearly aeta community.

This was more than a mother-daughter bonding since a group of tireless and kind souls aka volunteers were with them in fulfilling a seven-year-old mission which is, Helping the poorest of the poor families have a better life.

Here’s the complete breakdown of activities the whole team did during the visit in Botolan, Zambales. Francesca originally wrote this article.

Thank you for sharing!

– written by ChiChai@Empire –
photos by Ray@Empire and Sidney Snoeck (with PEARLS logo)

Some of you may have heard of our project Art of Us in which we collaborated with The Company to create a  dance summit for Project PEARLS. (click here to learn more)

Along with succeeding our mission to bring dance to the kids of Helping Land in Tondo, Manila, we also participated in other volunteer events at two more Project PEARLS communities in Bulacan and Zambales. (learn about our trip to Bulacan here)

What brought us to Zambales?

The Lakas Tribe!

The Lakas Tribe is a tribe of aetas who were displaced from Mount Pinatubo’s volcanic eruption in the 90’s. Rising from destruction, they built anew and continue fighting for cultural preservation.  PEARLS works with the community leaders to assure they continue thriving.


On August 17, sponsored by Valenzuela Medical Center and Christine Mojica,  Project PEARLS hosted a Medical and Dental mission in which we gave check-ups to the community members.

We began this day’s mission with a dance exchange! Lakas showed us their traditional dance moves…

Mel, Jolo, KJ, and Aiko shared with them theirs


Next thing you know, the Project PEARLS team went to business.
In other words, our very own Aiko, KJ, and our homegirl/PEARLS volunteer Mae Mae became doctors for the day.


We had a full roster of volunteer dentists but only one medical doctor volunteer. Lucky for us, Aiko is a nursing student, Mae Mae is a med student, and KJ is a physical therapist in-training who has volunteered for medical missions before.

Too good to be a coincidence, right? Look at these doctors go!


What another successful Project PEARLS day ❤


For anyone wondering what Jolo, Mel, and I were doing while our friends were doctors and Ray was photographing…

We were passing out cereal donations, thank you lol

Re-blog: Beyond “Art of Us” pt. I: Cassie’s Bag of Dreams in Bulacan


After the successful dance summit of “Art Of Us” team which was a joined project of Empire in The Air and The Company, the whole team even had a journey in Batia, Bulacan to be with our Pearls kids living in there.

Cassie, one of our youngest advocates distributed her Bag of Dreams in Batia and the team helped out.

By the way as we know, this year was the fourth year of Cassie’s project – Bag of Dreams Challenge.


Thank you everyone!


Here’s the full blog of our outreach and Bag-giving in Batia Bulacan. This article was originally posted at written by Francesca aka ChiChai@Empire.







– written by ChiChai@Empire –
photos by Ray@Empire and Sidney Snoeck (with PEARLS logo)

Some of you may have heard of our project Art of Us in which we collaborated with The Company to create a  dance summit for Project PEARLS. Along with succeeding our mission to bring dance to the kids of Helping Land in Tondo, Manila, we also participated in other volunteer events at two more Project PEARLS communities in Bulacan and Zambales.


First up: Bulacan!

Project PEARLS ‘ original adopted community was Ulingan. All-in-one, Ulingan was a garbage community and a charcoal factory. In partnership with the local government, Project PEARLS relocated many of Ulingan’s members to Bulacan in which they can now thrive in a significantly safer and cleaner environment.

What brought us to Bulacan was actually a project created by a dancer from The Company’s junior division APT. This dancer– and longtime advocate of Project PEARLS– is Cassie.

Cassie’s advocacy through Project PEARLS is “Cassie’s Bag of Dreams”

Cassie Eng is not only a dedicated Project PEARLS volunteer, she is also one of the youngest. Her “Bag of Dreams Challenge is in its 4th year now!   Cassie’s Bag of Dreams Challenge is about helping kids escape poverty by getting an education.  (

In the past 3 years with the help of generous sponsors, over 1000 students from impoverished communities in Lucena, Bulacan, Zambales and Guimaras have received gifts of hope in the form of high quality backpacks with school supplies.

4th Cassie’s Bag of Dreams Challenge 2017 was made possible thru the generosity of the Rotary Club of San Francisco Chinatown, Rotary Club of Novato, and Ralph & Gia Suarez! This year in addition to backpacks with rainhoods, we have included Hygiene Kits for Kids.

For each $5 donation, you have helped provide a child with a kit that will include: a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, face towel, hand towel, and a comb. Hygiene kits are aimed at promoting self-care and basic hygiene to fight illness and the spread of disease. More importantly it allows kids to attend school with dignity and confidence.

For our morning in Bulacan, we helped distribute these bags of dreams

to Project PEARLS’ nursery kids in Bulacan.

The kiddies welcomed us with songs and dances prepared by Teacher Nestor.

Aren’t they adorable?! During this song, Mel whispered to me I want to keep that one!

We thanked them for their warm welcome with Jollibee!

Mm, sarap!


The kids were super excited when it was time to receive their bags and the Art of Us team was excited to help Cassie!

Afterwards, we continued to bond with the kids through reading…

photo by ChiChai
photo by ChiChai

and playing

It was another great Project PEARLS filled day

Re-blog: The Art of Us 2017 Unfolded


Last August 2017, Project Pearls co-founder and Empire in the Air founder, Francesca Mateo visited the Philippines to be with the kids of Helping Land. But this time during her two-week visit, she was with her tenderhearted friends and Empire’s partner, ‘The Company’, which is a dance group in the US.

Here are some of the outreach activities they did:

  • Joining the daily feeding program to volunteer.
  • Leading the selected kids with dance lessons so they will be able to present dance performances on our 7th Project Pearls anniversary celebration in Helping Land, Tondo.
  • Joining our team as we celebrated the Project Pearls 7th Anniversary at The Blue Leaf Filipinas in Paranaque.
  • Having a fundraising through dance workshop for the benefits of kids that Project Pearls is helping.
  • Distributing Cassie’s Bag of Dreams to the kids in Batia, Bulacan.
  • Joining our outreach/medical mission and visit at our adopted community in Botolan, Zambales.

Thank you, guys! You are all amazing!

Here’s the blog post made by Empire in the Air which was written by Francesca herself aka ChiChai@Empire.


“Art of Us 2017” Unfolded

– by ChiChai@Empire –

Welcome to Art of Us

A year-old idea recently came into fruition.
This idea revolved around giving the children of Project PEARLS a positive “outlet” from their harsh environments. Project PEARLS is an NGO that aims to alleviate children from slum communities out of poverty through education and health. Its main community is Helping Land of Tondo, Manila in which the children not only live in a garbage dumpsite but also depend on  garbage for food.

Over dinner in summer 2016, Bernie Bernacer of the Company and I discussed how a positive outlet for PEARLS could be art– or, more specifically– dance. What if we could show kids that dance has the power to help one cope through everyday hardships? We strongly believed that by providing tools to develop this positive outlet, it would divert these children from choosing rougher paths.

Also, mainstream dance in Manila isn’t always age-appropriate. Kids copy what they see, including our Project PEARLS kids who already super duper love to dance. One of our goals was to show them that dance can be more– it can be an extension of who they are, what they feel, and what they strive for.

This idea grew as the Art of Us team did. Soon enough, Russell Banzon of The Company chimed in as well as Chris@Empire,  Aiko@Empire, and Ray@Empire. We further discussed how to stabilize the idea. We all agreed on the two goals, but how do we go about it? We then began planning a dance summit for Helping Land: The Company would pick three choreographers who would 1) host workshops for the PEARLS kids and 2) prepare them to perform for the Project PEARLS seventh anniversary celebration.

But who would those three choreographers be? After weeks of deliberation, The Company director Pat Cruz selected Jolo Cabrera, KJ Estudillo, and Melissa Batesting.

It is clear to see why the three are perfect candidates. In the video above, each one of them expressed how dance impacted their lives for the better and that they want to give the PEARLS kids an opportunity to experience that. Melissa said:

Dance is my refuge

and it could be the refuge that these kids need.

Just like that, Art of Us grew even more. We had our goals, we had our plan, and we had a set team. All we needed was the funding to make all the above happen.

That’s how you– our supporters– became part of our Art of Us journey.

First, we at Empire in the Air hosted the “Art of Us” showcase this past February to fundraise (click here for recap) and it was a full house!

Then, in a course of months, generosity fueled Art of Us through GoFundMe and post-shares. As I said in the beginning, this year-old idea recently came into fruition. We owe a lot of that to you.

by Ray@Empire

On August 11,  the three Company members and three Empire members arrived in Manila to unfold Art of Us from an idea into reality. And, from that day forward, strong relationships flourished between the Art of Us team and the Project PEARLS community.

Feeding Hungry Bellies

Regardless of photos and stories, the environment in Helping Land is difficult to fathom. It was the first time in the Philippines for Aiko and Mel, the first time staying in Manila for Jolo and KJ, and the first time going to the Philippines without family for Ray. Because my mom founded Project PEARLS, I find myself in Manila often. However, walking through Helping Land to reach the PEARLS learning center never gets easier.

Photo by Sidney Snoeck

Jolo admitted that walking through Helping Land put him in a state of shock and sadness. But, as we approached the PEARLS center, hope rose once the children’s laughter and smiles surrounded us. It was as if we were entering a “sanctuary,” he said.

Every time we entered the PEARLS center, each of us gained a role for this “sanctuary.” The first role was to feed our community by participating in the PEARLS Daily Soup Kitchen:

For children living in extreme poverty, breakfast can be their one and only meal. A meal that can define if they will survive or not. This is a heartbreaking reality that Project PEARLS aims to change. Through our Feeding Programs, we want to provide a delicious and nutritious meal to children to help decrease the incidence of malnourishment.

Daily Soup Kitchen (Monday-Friday) in partnership with Feeding Metro Manila. This is done everyday in Helping Land, a slum community in Tondo, Manila. Helping Land sits on an active dumpsite and is home to hundreds of families whose main source of livelihood is scavenging from garbage.  Most of them fill their hunger by relying on “pagpag” – leftover food from restaurants scavenged from trash. In Filipino, “pagpag” literally means “to shake-off”, and this refers to shaking the dirt, maggots, and flies off the edible portion of the leftovers.  Not only the children do not get the nutritional requirements they need, but they are also very prone to food-borne diseases which, often, can be fatal. (

KJ and Aiko distributing food alongside Cassie– a longtime advocate for Project PEARLS as well as a dancer for the Company’s junior division APT

Jolo and Mel passing out meals as well with Cassie’s mom, Tita Mailou.

My role during the trip was the acting liaison between PEARLS and Art of Us teamThus, during the feeding, I was organizing our dance workshops with the PEARLS team, photographing this project unfolding, and… in all honesty, playing with the kids.

Photo by Sidney Snoeck

Ray, on the other hand, kicked off documenting Art of Us 2017  in video format. Be on the look out for the end product! *video coming soon*

The dancing hasn’t started yet but the fun already began!

Photo by Ray@Empire

Photo by Ray@Empire

After DSK, we would clear the learning center to transform it into a dance studio. The children were seamlessly drawn to Jolo, Mel and KJ as their dance teachers and their eagerness to learn kept our energies up. Also, upon seeing how our nanayvolunteers were excited for the dancing-dancingtoo, Aiko became their impromptu dance instructor.

by Ray@Empire
by Ray@Empire
by Ray@Empire
by Ray@Empire

To further recap the Art of Us dance workshops, I’ll let the photos and our dance teachers speak for themselves. As you go through the photos, I want you to keep in mind that our dance teachers’ Tagalog skills are limited. But, as I’m sure you could tell through the photos, the language barrier did not stop the power of dance and fun from connecting the dance teachers to their students:


Feeling super fulfilled and grateful to be able to make a different in these kids lives even if I’m only able to take them out of their daily troubles for a couple of hours a day. Definitely puts life in perspective for me.


These kids… in just three days, we were able to put a small dance together but to be in their community and to be part of what they endure daily was an experience itself…


It was well said by Cassie but you think we are giving back to them by giving our time and presence to these children but they are the ones giving back to me tenfold. you think we are giving back to them by giving our time and presence to these children but they are the ones giving back to me tenfold. It’s amazing to see how a simple art form can enlighten these kids who experienced a small distraction from their normal lives.



Whenever I find myself in a position to give back, especially to the younger generation, I feel completely in my element. I’ve found so much joy and purpose in teachingover the years and to be able to travel and work alongside the amazing Project PEARLS and Empire in the Air has been such a life changing experience so far.


My experience with the tita squad was fulfilling and exciting. I have a soft spot when it comes to mothers, especially lolas. Growing up I saw how hard work it is to be a mother. Seeing them enjoying themselves and just having FUN is definitely the most rewarding part of this trip.


Each practice concluded with simply hanging out. On top of developing relationships with their students, our dance teachers also grew attachments to them.

Photo by Ray@Empire
Photo by Ray@Empire

The night before the dance students big performance at the Project PEARLS Anniversary celebration, KJ, Jolo, Mel and Aiko went back to work. They decorated each and every one of their dance team members a t-shirt to wear for their performance.

The Project PEARLS Anniversary Celebration

Out of all of our days in Helping Land, the Project PEARLS Anniversary Celebration was the biggest. It had more volunteers, more children, more nanays, more smiles, and even more energy for dancing.



As always, we begun the PEARLS day with feeding. This time around our Art of Us team joined their beginning prayer to wish them all a brighter future.


As happy as Jolo was to distribute the food

The kids were even more excited to eat!


And soon after our special feeding, performances kicked off for the Project PEARLS family of volunteers and community members. Up first were KJ, Mel, and Jolo:


Following the teachers’ dances were the students’:


If you ever think you have it worse, I encourage you to take a step back and think about what you already have. Don’t ever take a day for granted. And, if you have the energy and the life to show it, be compassionate because you never know how many lives you can touch around you.



On our first day at Helping Land, we walked through and experienced first hand the harsh condition this community lives in. Project PEARLS, along with their many volunteers, provide a safe haven for these children and I feel so honored to have been a part of it all these past few days, and all the while build relationships with the children.


Just like the end of our workshops, we ended the celebration by hanging out with the kids and playing games.

Photo by Ray@Empire
Photo by Ray@Empire
Photo by Ray@Empire

Photo by Sidney Snoeck

The Last Day of Art of Us aka the Last Day in Helping Land

We came back to Helping Land for the last time a week later. KJ, Mel and Jolo’s flight were scheduled that day but they wanted to make sure they could see their kids one last time. We had our usual fun with the kids but our morning was doused with an emotional goodbye.

Photo by Ray@Empire

Photo by Ray@Empire

Photo by Ray@Empire

Photo by Ray@Empire

The best part of our last moments with Helping Land was seeing the kids perform once again.
Within our week away from Helping Land, the kids taught each other the dances that Mel, Kj, and Jolo taught them.  Their hunger to learn and dance allowed them to work together for the best performance yet. If you ask me, the three groups dancing together validated the success of Art of Us.

Art of Us Unfolded

A year of planning and two weeks with Project PEARLS became an experience of a lifetime.

We arrived in Manila with two goals in mind: 1)provide the PEARLS children a positive outlet from their harsh realities  and 2) show the PEARLS kids that dance has the power to be an extension of themselves. We may have met the these goals but we are coming back home with a lot more. To quote Cassie and KJ once again, you think we are giving back to them by giving our time and presence to these children but they are the ones giving back to me us tenfold. 

On behalf of Ray, Aiko, Jolo, KJ, and Mel, I would like to thank all of you who have supported our Art of Us Journey. Again, without you, none of this would have been possible.

Thank you to our teams back home– The Company and Empire in the Air– as well as to our Manila family, Project PEARLS. Special shout-outs to Karen, Jay-r, Tito Nonoy, Monica, MaeMae, and Christine for the hospitality. Also, extra special shout-out to my mother Melissa Villa for entrusting us in creating this program.

To our loves of Helping Land in Tondo, Manila
We all hope to see you again soon ❤


A Lesson-break Sunday


Project Pearls After School Program

August 6, 2017


Helping Land Tondo Manila


Learning Math can be difficult and sometimes tiring. So, for this day, our goal was to let the kids simply have fun.

We present to you Board Games Day for our PEARLS scholars in Helping Land!


The scholars took a break from their academic lessons and had a great time with their co-scholars and volunteer-teachers!

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A huge thank you to “Shine for Joy”—a group of friends that sponsored this day’s feeding.







Not only did they sponsor our feeding, “Shine for Joy” also gave the kids toilet kits and snacks as take-home gifts.


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Another shout-out to Ms. Jaye-jaye! Thank you for spending your special day with the kids of Helping Land! Happy birthday!

Loot bags were also distributed for the children. Thank you so much!


We also had some special visitors all the way from the USA.


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Thank you to Ms. Mahalaya Tintiangco-Cubales of Mahalaya Movement for joining us this day! Last month, she started a fundraising to support our scholarship program.

Together with Cassie Eng, Mailou San Gabriel, Haley and Allyson Chin – our US based Project Pearls advocates, they also distributed umbrellas and raincoats for the children!




New volunteers and regular ASP volunteers, we have a very deep and bottomless appreciation for all of you!









PEARLS 7th Anniversary Celebration in Batia, Bulacan



August 5, 2017 | Saturday

Batia, Bocaue, Bulacan, Philippines




This day marked the 7th Anniversary celebration of Project Pearls in Batia, Bulacan!


Few years ago, it was just a mother-daughter’s mission to help a single family. Who would have taught that seven years later, this mission would fall into greater aspirations? And that very single mission has turned into establishing a humble organization that supports hundreds of kids and even hundreds of families!



“Helping the poorest of the poor families have a better life through education, empowerment, nutrition, health services and other various programs.”


This was now our greater mission. Aiming for this goal was never easy (and never will be!) but with the help of kind and generous souls, this is possible.

Thank you to everyone who supports Project Pearls and the different programs that we provide to people in need.



Families that Project PEARLS helped a few years back from Ulingan in Tondo, Manila were relocated to Batia, Bocaue, Bulacan.


Even though they were transferred to a much better place, we didn’t stop supporting these kids and families. Hence, we tend to help more!


For this day, we celebrated with them!


Volunteers, more than 300 PEARLS’ Scholars and families were gathered to commemorate the establishment of our organization.


The day started with a prayer that was lead by one of our PEARLS Scholars.

Opening remarks of Kuya Juan, our operations manager, followed the prayer. Not only is Kuya Juan our operations manager, he is also our devoted cook who wakes up every day at 3 a.m. just to prepare and cook food for the hundreds of kids.



Thank you, Kuya Juan! We will always be so humbled and proud for having you!

Then, our PEARLS Preschoolers presented dance numbers! Oh, such cuties! ❤️

After the presentations of two batches of Nursery scholars, the kids then had their food. Thank you TORM Shipping for being with us and for sponsoring the feeding!

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After eating, our kids were then ready to have their Art time!


For our Brain Booster activity, kids learned how to do colorful wall patterns! Inside the patterns, they wrote a short message for Project Pearls. Volunteers were assigned per group per grade level to distribute the art materials and assist the kids.

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We were deeply touched by their messages to us!


Very good, children! Thank you so much for all your heartfelt messages!


Hygiene kits were then distributed as gifts for the kids. This was also sponsored by TORM Shipping. Thank you so much for your generosity!



Thank you also to Corito Bautista and Caress De Castro-Banson for all the Kellog’s Cereals distributed too for the children.

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Lastly, an enormous THANK YOU for all the people behind Project Pearls. All of this is possible because of the good souls who tirelessly and endlessly support our mission.


Maraming Salamat!


Happy Anniversary everyone!


More photos are on our Facebook page:


Photo credits: Sidney Snoeck






Reading Books and Math Time!



Project Pearls After School Program

July 23, 2017 | Sunday

Helping Land, Tondo, Manila, Philippines


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss



For the whole month of July, as volunteer-teachers under the After School Program, we mentor PEARLS scholars in math. Our goal is to help them excel academically. Having good grades will not only make us prouder but also themselves and their parents. Therefore, we work hard in ensuring they understand their lessons better.


But before we feed and refresh their minds, it’s very important to fill their tummies first.

Thank you volunteers for maintaining a well-organized system during the feeding activity!


We would like to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to ‘Books for The Barrios’ and Ms. Nancy Stowe Harrington for all the donated books for all the kids. These served as their take home gifts for this day.




Kids enjoyed having new books. Many of them were so eager to open and read it right after the distribution.





There’s truly nothing more beautiful than seeing children being lost into reading wonderful books.

After the feeding and distribution of books, all the kids went out of the court yard so volunteers could have the chance to clean and rearrange the tables and chairs for the teaching session.

A brief orientation, assigning of volunteers per grade level to handle and distribution of learning materials were then held before the kids can re-enter the courtyard.


Mentoring time!


We hope we touched our scholars’ minds and hearts while changing their lives for the better.

Thank you for today, volunteers! You are all living proof that volunteers are love in motion.


And once again, thank you so much ‘Books for The Barrios’ for all the donated books for the children!







Crazy Hats Art Attack




Project Pearls Brain Booster

July 22, 2017 | Saturday

Helping Land, Tondo, Manila, Philippines


“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”

“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”

–Dr. Seuss


Let’s be crazy and funny this time!


This Saturday morning, after the feeding activity, kids in Helping Land created colorful and unique paper hats! The short film they watched today titled, ‘Cat in the Hat’ by Dr. Seuss, inspired this day’s art activity.




The story was about ‘Cat in The Hat’ and the hibernating bear.

When the short film was done rolling, kids were instructed to make crazy and colorful paper hats. The volunteers distributed art supplies and readily assisted them to start the project.


Our volunteers presented crazy hat samples as inspiration for the kids to uniquely create their own hats.

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A few moments after, a wide variety of colorful and wacky hats filled our learning courtyard!

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Keep up the creativity, kids!

Azusa, one of our volunteers who is from Japan, has been volunteering every Saturday in Helping Land for more than a month now!


Here’s what she said for this day’s activity.

“As always, we had so much fun! I usually don’t understand Tagalog explanation about the Brain Booster Activity at all then just learn from what kids are doing. Ha-ha-ha! But for this day, the crazy hat making, there are some samples presented during the orientation so it was easier for me to do it and assist the kids or I got used to it, easy to understand what to do.”




“A few kids didn’t like wearing their hats maybe they wanted to decorate or make it more but everyone including me really enjoyed making those hats. Thank you! (Salamat po)

See you this Saturday again!”

No, thank you Azusa! Thank you so much for sharing your time, love, effort and care for the kids of Helping Land! And yes, see you more during our outreaches.


A huge thanks to all our volunteers for today—new and old!