HOUSTON, Texas — There are an estimated 2 million orphans in the Philippines and with the previous president Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” a generation of lost children is further behind. Extreme poverty in the Philippines, the COVID-19 pandemic and the current political turmoil leave the children of the Philippines neglected, impoverished or orphaned. Fortunately, many organizations are stepping up to aid orphans and orphanages. One such organization is the Colors of Kindness, a unique initiative that a high schooler founded to help orphans in the Philippines.
Kaila Pierson, the founder of the Colors of Kindness has lived in the U.S her whole life. Still, she had always felt disconnected from her Filipino heritage until she started the organization. Colors of Kindness operates by personally tie-dying children’s shirts and shipping them to Bethany House Sto. Nino Orphanage in the Philippines. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Pierson said, “I thought this approach would be a good mix of my love for the Filipino community and creativity.”
Orphans in the Philippines
Teen pregnancy is one of the leading factors contributing to the orphan crisis in the Philippines and the economic development agency declared it a “national social emergency.” In 2019, pregnancy among girls below 15 rose by 7% and the situation even worsened with the pandemic. As many of these young mothers are in low-income households, they have little resources and knowledge on raising children, causing young mothers to abandon their children.
The Philippines is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and the socio-economic toll that these natural disasters have on children is significant. In 2013, the record-breaking cyclone, Typhoon Haiyan, killed more than 6,000 Filipinos and affected around 14 million lives. The resulting loss of lives from disasters leaves many children trapped in poverty.
The “war on drugs” that Duterte initiated has resulted in many killings of people suspected of using or dealing drugs, according to Human Rights Watch. Often, the victims come from impoverished areas, leaving their children behind orphaned and poor. Additionally, the children of the victims often drop out of school and experience psychological distress, Human Rights Watch reported.
Orphanages in the Philippines
Many orphanages in the Philippines suffer from underfunding and poor staffing. Government agencies also demand documents, which prolongs the process of children getting cleared for adoption and other simple procedures. As a result of the lack of resources and government support, many orphans age out of the system without adequate preparation to live independently outside the orphanage. “From the get-go,” Pierson said, “these children don’t get the opportunity to make it out of poverty.”
Colors of Kindness Mission
In March 2022, Colors of Kindness shipped the first box of 54 tie-dye shirts to the Bethany House Sto. Nino Orphanage. Pierson traces her inspiration behind the organization to her Filipino community in the U.S., which has been her only real tie to her heritage.
“I feel like this community helped me learn about who I am and feel comfortable with my own identity,” Pierson remarked. “It really made me want to do something to give back to my community.”
With high school and time constraints, Pierson decided on donating clothes and adding her own personal touch to them. The funding for her project’s materials came out of her own pocket as she bought around 100 shirts and a lot of dye. She repurposed her backyard, bathroom and laundry room into a tie-dye art studio. Knowing she could not do it alone, she recruited her friends to help her out.
Once she finishes the process of dying, rinsing and washing, she would finally ship them to an orphanage in the Philippines. The orphanage she serves is in an impoverished area near slum settlements and as a result, it does not receive much government support or aid.
“Providing items like clothing relieves some of the burdens of the caretakers,” Pierson explained. “We can provide the kids with fresh necessities that the staff and caretakers may not be able to pay for themselves.”
Inspiring Others to Reach Out
Taking on this initiative as a high schooler was definitely challenging for Pierson. She spends much of her time doing taekwondo competitively, so her main challenge is time management as she juggles coursework, taekwondo practice and tie-dying shirts.
Nonetheless, Pierson is encouraging her peers and other students to give back to their communities. She has advised them to match the scope of their project to their time constraints if they plan on working internationally. She is also encouraging students to utilize family ties to help with donations and support. Family ties were a “huge help” for her as her aunt and cousin, who live in the Philippines, helped donate the clothes.
Pierson plans on expanding her organization’s reach by using her school’s platform to mobilize her community members to tie-dye shirts for the cause or donate money. Despite the limited reach her organization had in the beginning, Pierson feels that her initiative has bettered the lives of orphans in the Philippines, having been “extremely successful in being able to brighten the kids’ day.”
– Samyukta Gaddam
Photo: Courtesy of Colors of Kindness