Friday, May 15, 2020

Baguio City artists join forces to make PPEs for garbage collectors

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a dismal effect on our economy. Lots of workers have been displaced as businesses have been put on hold. Among those badly hit is the art community. With lockdowns and quarantines in place, exhibits and cultural shows have been postponed, if not canceled. Artisan stores and shops have also been closed.

But in Baguio City, the country’s first ever Creative City as awarded by UNESCO, local artists are extending their hands to those most vulnerable. Although most of them are also struggling financially, these artists have been using their skills and talents, coming together to provide food assistance for medical frontliners and to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for the city’s garbage collectors.

This initiative is headed by sculptor and fashion designer Laydeh Alberto, working together with performance artist Francis Siapno a.k.a Miz Kiki Krunch. In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, these two creatives share how Baguio City’s local artists have come together to make this project possible and what inspires them to do it.

Delicious food, relief packs, and PPEs

Laydeh owns Café Cueva, a food store at Ili-Likha Artists Village. Under quarantine, the store has been closed, only available for online and take-out orders. With access to a kitchen that serves mouthwatering food, she decided to provide delicious meals to medical frontliners. While doing this, she thought of the garbage collectors tirelessly working around the city.

“Cafe Cueva has been feeding frontliners from the get-go,” she says. “But I wanted to do more. I can see that the focus is on helping medical workers but we somehow neglect the garbage collectors. They’ve been working continuously even in the ECQ, rain or shine. They work unprotected, to think that they are the ones handling hazardous wastes from hospitals.”

With a limited budget, she looked for ways she could turn her vision of helping these workers into reality. She came across Miz Kiki’s donation drive and that was how their collaboration began. “The café’s sale is down and as much as I wanted to help, I didn’t have the funding for it,” says Laydeh. “That’s when I saw Miz Kiki’s fundraising and I pitched to her my ideas.”

Unexpected collaboration

Kiki’s original plan was to hold a one-man drag queen show for the celebration of her 30th birthday this year. But thanks to Covid-19, this plan was canceled, so she found ways to divert this project into something more useful and helpful.

“I had initial sponsors for my supposed show. Then naisip ko na yung ibibigay sana nila na sponsorship for the show, i-laan ko muna dito sa donation drive since ito naman mas kailangan (I thought of using that sponsorship money to set up a donation drive since it was what was more urgently needed),” says the drag show performer. “We raised around P90,000. We used the initial P60,000 to provide relief packs for the jeepney drivers of Baguio and La Trinidad, Benguet. We also gave to utility workers of the city hall and University of the Philippines-Baguio. The remaining budget, that’s what we’ve been using to make PPEs for garbage collectors.”

According to Kiki, some artists, who didn’t have cash to donate, sent their crafts and products instead for her to sell. The money from the sale has gone to the donation drive. Meanwhile, some used their social media influence to inform people about the fundraising project.

With all these efforts combined, Laydeh has been able to start making PPEs for the garbage collectors. Due to limited access to materials, she used umbrella textile she bought from a local shop. Using an old sewing machine, the fashion designer has been tirelessly sewing these PPEs by herself. The empty Ili-Likha, owned by National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik, serves as her studio and production house.

“I’ve been doing it alone, from cutting to sewing,” she says. “We’re aiming to give PPEs to garbage collectors of five barangays. That is equal to 30 PPEs. My thought is, if we protect them, we protect ourselves. It really goes hand in hand.”

Kiki and Laydeh say they are doing all of these because they appreciate the efforts of garbage collectors to serve the community. “They are so brave,” Kiki says. “We’re truly grateful for their service. They are too passionate about their job and I hope they have the same passion when it comes to taking care of themselves. They are frontliners and we need them now more than ever.”

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