Conversations: Kiten Capili of Heart School

12:16:00 PM

Kicking off this year's Conversations series is a feature on a former colleague, Kiten Capili. In 2014, Kiten was part of the 150 Beyond Beautiful Filipinas who were celebrated for their contributions to the society, in business and the arts. Rightfully so as a typical week for this busybody is divided between an advertising agency as a copywriter, a university in Manila as a college lecturer, attending to opportunities for community-based initiative Heart School, watercolor painting, and quality time with family and friends.

"If you have a solution to a problem, go for it with every bit and every beat of your heart." 

In this (highly insightful) interview, Kiten walks us through the beginnings of Heart School, overcoming the challenges of starting her own NGO and collaboration as key to its ongoing success.

Introduce yourself: who you are, what you do and something that not a lot of people know about.

K: Who am I? I’m Spiderman. Not a lot of people know that. Just kidding.

I’m an advertising copywriter, a professor, and founder of a non-profit initiative. Not a lot of people know about my childhood dream of being a cashier.

Take us through the beginnings of Heart School.

K: Heart School started with two main objectives: to provide creative education to underprivileged children, and give professionals an avenue to share hobbies and activities they’re passionate about and learn from peers as well.

Primarily, I want children to have access to many creative faculties they never knew they had. I’ve always believed that one of the most effective ways out of poverty is education. Thousands of children end up on the streets because they don’t know what else they can do, but in truth, there are lots!

While there are a lot of organizations that focus on formal and basic education, Heart School aims to immerse these children in culture, the arts, and skills-based learning programs that complement formal education.

Secondarily, the organization gives professionals from different fields opportunities to help. They can teach children as well as learn from each other through the program. A lot of people want to help and wonder how they can give more to society but don’t know how, or they don’t have the time. So there are several levels of participation and volunteerism.

I grew up exploring different sports, musical instruments, tinkering with all kinds of crafts, joining different school clubs like dance or culinary, and setting up little businesses (including saving allowance for capital). Although I realized I liked one thing better than the other, I tried it out. Failures and victories later, the feeling that I can contribute something to the world even before I reached college was always there. That’s exactly what I want underprivileged children to feel and realize. That there are so many opportunities waiting for them. That they are part of the future we’re working so hard towards, and that learning starts where their hearts are.

Looking back at Heart School's first year, what was the biggest hurdle you had to face and how did you overcome it?

K: It was really tough during the first weeks and months of Heart School. Planning, strategizing, and determining where I want to take the initiative were the biggest hurdles. It took a lot of e-mails, phone calls, consultations with people who are experienced in different fields or fields that could benefit the cause. Oh, and explaining what our vision was and how we define ‘creative education’! There’s really no shortcut to starting something close to your heart. Since I have a full-time job, all these had to be done during lunch breaks, down times, and during hours after work. It was a huge motivator to have my immediate and extended family, partner, friends, and work colleagues supporting and helping in any way they can from day one. As the initiative gained traction and people started recommending mentors and the supporter base gradually increased, we got more help and resources to fuel more workshops. There are more hurdles to overcome, but now we are a team.

Within our first six months, we were chosen as one of the Pacesetters (semi-finalists) of LEGO Foundation and Ashoka Changemakers’ ‘Re-Imagine Learning Challenge’, a global competition that champions learning through play. It gave us the chance to network and exchange feedback with other organizations around the world. We were over the moon with that opportunity!

How have your careers in advertising and education helped in shaping Heart School into what it is now?

K: Advertising and school have a lot of individuals and teams who are willing to help and contribute their opinions and rich insights on possible partnerships, workshops, and how Heart School can grow. To date, we have had a good number of advertising professionals who shared their time and talents with the kids, as well as come up with creative tools that help fuel the kids’ creativity further.

Being a member of the academe is also essential to the growth of this initiative because we are working on evaluating the children’s growth and development from our activities. So it pays to have an understanding of that aspect if you really want to be hands-on.

What kind of impact do you think creativity has in improving the overall life of these underprivileged children?

K: Just like other skills, creativity opens doors. These kids receive basic education, and we believe that supplementing that with a consistent dose of creative activities outside normal classroom work can help open their minds to all the other activities they can do and the opportunities they can grab. We hope they grow up and forward, knowing that they have a world of opportunities out there.

Given the chance, who would you be excited to work with in the future?

K: Malala Yousafzai. Lego. Unicef. Shakira (so many reasons why!). Tina Fey. Did I say Lego?

How can others show their support?

K: Heart School's volunteers come from various industries, and we currently have a rolling count of 120 hearts and hands who volunteer as Mentors (who teach), Classmates (who partner with the kids), and Sponsors (who help us financially and in-kind). Several of our supporters are from different parts of the world, too!

You can find out more about our activities when you like the HeartSchoolPH on Facebook.

To end, what advice can you give those who wish to tread a similar path and start an NGO?

K: Keep learning and asking questions. If you have a solution to a problem, a cause you find yourself having a soft spot for, or a need to create a community to champion that cause, go for it with every bit and every beat of your heart.

Hustle soundtracks? 

K: Elle Me Dit by MIKA, Whenever, Wherever and Hips Don't Lie by Shakira, Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men, Weight of Living Pt 1 and These Streets by Bastille

Books you're loving? 

K: The Drucker Difference, Don't Forget the Soap by Marie Claire Lim Moore (re-reading!), Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Biggest influences?

My parents, my mentor Claire Lim-Moore, and very indirectly - Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling.

Favorite breakfast ensemble?

Bananas, berries, yogurt, oats, muesli. Grapefruit! And of course, freshly baked pan de sal from the neighborhood bakeries! Ice cream or cake on certain occasions, too.

Last thing before bed?

[I] pray.

I know Kiten from my previous stint at DDB Philippines. Incidentally, we both used to be part of adobo magazine's editorial team as well—only, she left about two (or three?) years earlier. I had the privilege of witnessing Kiten and Heart School in action when she invited children's storybook writer Russell Molina for the Booklat workshop. Heart School has also collaborated with shoe brand Toms and design company Collective 88.

Catch more Conversations (previously called People of Manila) at Awesome in Manila.

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