‘Differently special’ artists tapped for calendar with a cause
Nina Bantoto let out a giggle as she looked at her drawings of Baymax and Hiro from the animated film “Big Hero 6” on her sketch pad. As the 18-year-old who was diagnosed with autism at age three flipped the pages at a fast clip, it appeared as if the two were mimicking Korean pop star Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dance moves.
“Sometimes her drawings are copies of what she has seen. But most of the time, they are her [version] of her favorite animated characters doing the things she loves, in this case dancing to ‘Gangnam Style,’” her father, Lord, told the Inquirer in a recent interview.
A look at her other sketch pads showed her renditions of her favorite characters from Disney’s “Frozen,” as well as Mickey and Minnie Mouse—artworks so good that these ended up being featured in Christmas cards sold last year. The proceeds which totaled P130,000 went to an organization helping the handicapped.
This year, Bantoto is one of the 10 artists featured in the 2015 calendar being promoted by the NGO Differently Special Achievers Movement, in partnership with Prosel Pharma Inc.—a local pharmaceutical firm which started in Cebu province 30 years ago—and Brahma Kumaris, an international group providing spiritual education to more than 825,000 students worldwide.
The calendar project, according to Differently Special Achievers Movement cofounder Karen Navarro, aims to show everyone that “these kids with special needs are great in their own way.”
“People with special needs aren’t different from us. They are not to be pitied,” said Navarro, an occupational therapist.
Founded early last year, the NGO offers free recreational programs for children with special needs through “expression” and “mentorship.”
Entezar Abdulwahid, Differently Special Achievers Movement’s cofounder, explained that “the expression phase of the program is about honing the different talents of the kids and giving them a venue to showcase it. On the other hand, the mentorship phase is focused on providing [coaches or teachers] for underprivileged kids who are good in art.”
As part of the NGO’s expression program, it launched last year the “echo” bag project which featured the artworks of 10-year-old Miggy Ignacio and 11-year-old Miguel Pedroso on recyclable bags.
The boys are also among the featured artists in the calendar project and like Bantoto, have been diagnosed with autism.
Navarro said that they were able to sell 500 echo bags last year with the proceeds going to the NGO’s mentorship program.
One of those who got a bag was Prosel owner Ellen Luna. According to Navarro, Luna loved the artwork on the bag so much that she talked the NGO into doing the calendar project with her firm providing the funding.
Tough screening process
A total of 19 artists responded to the call for entries for the calendar, sending in more than 200 artworks. After much deliberation, the pharmaceutical company trimmed the number of artists to 10, six of them from Differently Special Achievers Movement, while only 19 artworks made the final cut.
One of the youngest artists to be featured in the calendar is seven-year-old Ramon Diego Villavicencio who had an exhibit of his paintings at a mall in Mandaluyong City two years ago.
Diagnosed with autism at age two, Villavicencio started training under the NGO’s recreational program because his parents wanted to find an activity that he would find interesting and be good at.
“We tried to look for where his gift lies, from cooking to swimming. When he was four years old, we passed by an art workshop at a mall and enrolled him there,” his mother Winnie said. “Diego is hyperactive; he can’t sit still for a long time. But… he shows great focus while painting.”
According to Winnie, every time a painting of Diego is sold, she makes sure that a small note about him is pasted on the back of the artwork. “He may not be able to do a lot of things but this is [one thing he can do well],” she added.
Abdulwahid said that this was the type of parent acceptance the Differently Special Achievers Movement was aiming for.
“We want to show people that children with special needs can contribute [to society]; [for them to] appreciate and open their minds to what these kids can do because most of them are hidden [from the community],” Abdulwahid said. “We want them out in the open and we want the parents to dream big for their children.”
According to Navarro, 9,000 copies of the calendar bearing the artworks of Bantoto, Ignacio, Pedroso, Villavicencio, Liwell Kleo Magalpo, Democrito Mendoza, Juan Gabriel Naval, Isaac Bo Yogore, Nicole Alyssa Co and Jenelyn Lipon will be distributed by Prosel Pharma to doctors nationwide. Another 2,000 will be given to Brahma Kumaris for distribution.
The NGO, on the other hand, will receive 1,000 copies of the calendar that will be given away to the public for a donation of P250 each. All proceeds will go to the Differently Special Achievers Movement’s mentorship program. For reservations, go to the group’s Facebook page.