Born out of a shared desire for progressive, sustainable action, the WoonHung Mia Series, created by WoonHung in collaboration with Mia Watanabe, is dedicated to Filipino domestic helpers in recognition of their sacrifices in leaving their families to come to Singapore to care for ours.
WoonHung’s Natural Collection is handmade in Cebu, Philippines, and it is only fitting to give back to its people. Proceeds from the WoonHung Mia Series will fund the Anecito Panolino Elementary School in Iloilo.
To honour the unsung heroes who care for us, we return in kind by nurturing their children, and their children’s children. Their welfare is our collective responsibility.
It started with a simple conversation.
Miss Lin, as we call our beloved helper, mentioned how her hometown had been hit a few times by typhoons and subsequent flooding. We sent towels, cooking supplies and household items to the Philippines, to help in a small way.
Miss Lin’s sister is a teacher at the school that she herself had attended as a child. I asked if the school was all right, following the storms and floods. It was not.
The school had been hit by Typhoon Yolanda in 2014, and then by subsequent storms. The roof had blown away, along with desks, chairs, books, notebooks, paper, pens, pencils – the whole lot. Everything a child would need to learn was gone.
Recent photos of the school revealed how the schoolrooms were basically shacks with makeshift roofing riddled with holes. The school signage had blown off, and a makeshift sign with the words “Anecito Panolino Elementary School” was hung on one of the walls. Miss Lin was as shocked as I was at the state of the school.
Her sister told us they were lacking even the most basic of supplies, such as notebooks and pencils. Miss Lin and I started a Facebook group with the teachers so that they could tell us directly what they needed. The list was long and growing.
We received more photos of the school and the children. The children sat around what looked like folding tables, on plastic chairs, sharing what limited supplies they had – basically a few pencils and some loose paper. We also realised that the children had no shoes, and some didn’t have uniforms.
I scoured our house for stationary supplies to send over, and asked friends if they had any too. We quickly collected enough to fill two large suitcases. My husband Al happened to be attending a conference in Iloilo not far from the school, and Miss Lin’s sister and son picked up the suitcases from his hotel.
Shortly after, the teachers sent us photos that made my heart melt. The joy on the faces of the children, surrounded by coloured pencils, was incredible. They sent us pictures of artwork created with the supplies we had sent.
This made me realise that it is possible to make an impact in a young person’s life by meeting a need, even if the act itself seems small or simple – without hype, fanfare or grandiose gestures.
In subsequent weeks, we helped fix up more things around the school by sending small sums of money and more goods we had collected. Some things I paid for, and others, I discovered, Miss Lin paid for.
However, several concerns gnawed at me: What if another natural disaster hit? And while it was great that we were able to support this year’s cohort, each year would see another group of children with their own needs.
My husband, an expert on seafood sustainability, has influenced my thinking a lot over the years, and I was convinced that there have to be commercial drivers for “doing good”. A pure charitable model has its limits, and may eventually result in fatigue and the dry-up of time volunteered, resources or monies, no matter how well-meaning the actors involved.
I came across WoonHung after searching on the internet for a business that was Singapore-based, had an interest in sustainability, had a connection to the Philippines, and was producing beautiful work.
I pitched my ideas to its founder and designer Yvonne, and she was incredibly thoughtful and receptive. It was sheer coincidence for me that she had an interest in caring for not only the future of our planet but also its young inhabitants.
That was how our collaboration was born.
I have always been incredibly humbled by and grateful to our Filipino domestic workers who have tirelessly given of themselves to taking care of us, our boys, our dog and our home. As a working mother, I could only keep the long hours at work worry-free knowing that my kids were well taken care of.
Miss Lin has cared for my own children tirelessly and with incredible patience, kindness and enthusiasm, and she also cares for the children of her hometown school, some of whom are her grandchildren.
To express my gratitude to her and the other unsung heroes of countless households, I hope to give more of their children, and their children’s children, access to education. One child at a time, we can positively influence their collective futures.
I dedicate my contribution to this collection to the children of the Philippines. Their welfare is our shared responsibility. And to Miss Lin, and to all the other nannies working tirelessly in homes around Singapore, a heartfelt thank you!
Number of students: approximately 315 as of July 2017 (fluctuates)
Anecito Panolino Elementary School is a public elementary school located about an hour north of Iloilo, in Passi, in the barangay (or village) of Dalicanan, a rural area with a population of approximately 2,000 (as of 2010). The school year in the Philippines commences in June and ends in April. Passi experiences several typhoons annually. Between Passi city and the school there is the Jalaur River which experiences seasonal flooding when there are heavy downpours and typhoons. There are other rivers near the school and when there are heavy downpours, the children must often wait for the floods tosubside before they can get to and from school.