By Ofelia C. Empian, VERA Files
The grandeur and mystery of Mount Pulag through the eyes of children.
That is what Juan Portrait wants to share with the rest of the country when it stages the works of 20 pupils of Mount Pulag Primary School in Kabayan, Benguet who attended their photography workshop last July.
For one week last July, the participating school children, between Grades 4 to 6 learned the rudiments of photography in a classroom 7, 748 feet above sea level, in one of the most diverse biodiversity in the country today.
Mount Pulag is the third highest mountain in the Philippines. It is Luzon’s highest peak.
A large part of Mount Pulag is designated a National Park hosting 528 documented plant species. Threatened and endangered animal species can still be found in the mountain forests like the Philippine Deer, Giant Bushy-Tailed Cloud Rat and the Long-Haired Fruit Bat, Dwarf cloud rat and the Koch pitta bird.
The photography mentors were from Juan Portrait, a non-profit community of photographers, writers, artists, professionals, and other volunteers bonded by their collective drive to use their individual skills to give back to communities across the country. One of their core projects is "Community Frames.”
The Mount Pulag workshop mentors -Alex Constantino, Geloy Maligaya, Geric Cruz and Jake Verzosa – did not confine the photography lessons in the classrooms. They brought the kids to the Mount Pulag summit to make them appreciate and capture the gift of nature in a frame.
Lawyer Christopher Linag, founder of Juan Portrait, said photographers and friends from Manila loaned them 20 digital point-and-shoot cameras for the children’s use during the workshop and training afterwards.
Photography, Linag said, “empowers these kids to express themselves through every click of the trigger.”
Some of the volunteer mentors went back Mount Pulag after the workshop to check on the progress of the young photographers.
Constantino said that it was a wonderful experience teaching the children and making them appreciate their surroundings with their newly-acquired skill. “It’s my fourth time to come up here in Mount Pulag but it was worthwhile coming here, being able to teach these kids,” he said.
Linag said the culminating activity will be an exhibit on September 6 at 2 pm at the "Klasrum Ng Pag-asa” of Mount Pulag Elementary School in Barangay Bashoy..
“How is the grandeur of Pulag seized by the eyes of the children? What are their dreams and aspirations reflected in the images they took? The answers will grace us on that day the exhibit will open,” he said.
Juan Portrait volunteers will be arriving in Baguio at four in the morning and will proceed to Kabayan for the much-awaited exhibit.
“As planned, the exhibit will be brought to Manila in December for another staging at a still undisclosed venue,” Linag said.
Teachers of the primary school thanked the Juan Portrait group saying the Community Frames activity enhanced the love of the children for nature and the environment.
“We enjoyed the program very much, not only the children but also we, the teachers have learned a lot from their workshops,” said teacher Neda Garcia.
Garcia added that the pictures taken by the children were even used as visual aids during classroom discussions.
“We never thought that our land is really that beautiful; only when we saw the pictures taken by the kids and printed them out did we fully appreciate our place,” she confessed.
Linag said Juan Portrait members travelled to remote communities where school children never had their pictures taken. The group earlier organized the first-ever ID picture- taking at Mount Pulag Primary School.
“In the last four years, this undertaking has evolved tremendously through volunteer support and very recently, the group took it to the next level,” Linag said.
Linag said they are honored to have been given the privilege to help the children document their beautiful place and heritage. He said those who want to join their group may call 09176284835.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)