One Million Books for One Million Kids: How You Can Help This Organization Achieve a Daunting Goal

CANVAS started out with one book.

In 2005, a book called Elias and His Trees was published in the country. An adaptation of a short story called The Man Who Planted Trees by French author Jean Giono, the book prefaced the founding of a nonprofit organization called CANVAS, or The Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development. 

CANVAS works with the creative community “to promote children’s literacy, explore national identity, and deepen public appreciation for Philippine art, culture, and the environment.”

Founder and Executive Director Gigo Alampay says the success of that first book made all the difference.

“I wish I could say that I had planned everything that CANVAS is today, but in truth, at the start, it was really just to publish that one book,” he says. “I had secured a grant, but the grant had to be given to a nonprofit entity. The success of that first book, however, led us to other books, which later led to more books, new programs, and to even bigger dreams.”

Photo by CANVAS.

Photo by CANVAS.

Stories from art

Today, CANVAS is involved mainly with two programs. The first is the literacy program where they publish story and activity books for children. An interesting aspect of this program is how the organization commissions a painting from an artist and have writers use that as inspiration for a story writing contest. the chosen story will then be turned into a book, with the artist creating more artworks for the story. 

Through this, the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Writing Competition, CANVAS has worked with revered and up-and-coming artists like National Artist BenCab, Romeo Forbes, Elmer Borlongan, Rodel Tapaya, Farley del Rosario, Sergio Bumatay III, Jose John Santos III, Roel Obemio, Plet Bolipata, Ivee Olivares-Mellor, Liza Flores, Anthony Palomo, Joy Mallari, Don Salubayba, Liv Romualdez Vinluan, Daniel dela Cruz, Manny Garibay and Dex Fernandez.

National Artist BenCab with CANVAS founder and Executive Director Gigo Alampay

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Photo by CANVAS.

“The contest is open to all Filipinos anywhere on the planet,” Alampay says. “Our youngest winner was a 16-year-old high school student studying in Dubai, Phoebe de Leon. Her story, Moon Rising, was inspired by artist Iggy Rodriguez’s contest piece. The book is still in the making. We also have winners who have Palanca awards like Eugene Evasco (Ang Aklatang Pusa), Becky Bravo (The Rocking Horse and A Fish Tale), Genaro Gojo Cruz (Ang Dyip ni Mang Tomas and Ipapasyal Namin Si Lolo). Some are first time writers such as Recle Etino Vibal (Inang Kalikasan’s Bad Hair Day), Francesca Nicole Chan Torres (Nadia and the Blue Stars), Melvin B. Atole (Si Ponyang at ang Lihim ng Kweba), and Jessica Olmedo (Mga Munting Patak ng Ulan).

The goal, he adds, is to distribute one million CANVAS books to one million children. To do this, the organization partners with individuals and other groups who work directly in the field and with communities all over the country.


“They make it possible to get our books to children in all corners of the Philippines,” Alampay says. “Communities visited by horrific calamities, both natural (Typhoon Yolanda) and caused by man (armed conflict in Zamboanga) are some of the beneficiaries of this initiative.”

Photo by CANVAS.

Photo by CANVAS.

Exploring social issues through art

CANVAS’s other program is called “Looking for Juan” which makes use of art to explore social issues.


“This is where our efforts on creating public art comes in, particularly our annual Outdoor Banner Exhibit; the Salinlahi Park we built in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; and our special events like TEDxDiliman,” Alampay says.

The website of Looking for Juan now also offers books for kids and merchandise with artwork images of some of the best contemporary Filipino artists. There are notebooks, bags, art cards, and shirts, man of which can be customized and turned into gift items.

“When companies order gifts from us, they are also helping us with our advocacy,” Alampay says.

Other ways people can help is through direct donations through the CANVAS website, purchasing their books at Fully Booked or through their websites, and helping distribute their books.

"So far, under our literacy program, CANVAS has produced 30 titles, we have distributed 250,000 books in partnership with about a hundred volunteers and partner organizations to communities from Ifugao to Basilan," Alampay says. 

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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