Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Evigan.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 2013, my husband, sister in law and I planned a six-week backpacking trip around South East Asia. Two months before our trip, Super Typhoon Yolanda struck The Philippines which was one of our stops. We could not imagine vacationing there without doing something to help during our visit. Luckily, we had our friend Benjo Ramos to guide us, who you could call the Filipino Rambo. Benjo assured us he would take us to a community in need. On one of our stops, we ended up in a small indigenous fishing village called Lajala.
I connected deeply with a young girl named Anabelle, as she reminded me so much of my niece. I realized the only difference between her and my niece was that Anabelle was living on the other side of the world under very different circumstances. I knew how challenging the future was going to be for her and I desperately wanted to be a mentor figure in her life. I wanted her to believe in herself, and to understand that by putting in the hard work, her dreams could become tangible. I wanted that for all of the kids in the village, but didn’t know how I could impact that many kids myself.
The night we left, we had crying kids clinging to our legs as we said our goodbyes on their broken dock. We were crying too, my sister in law pointed at the stars explaining that we see the same stars at our home as they do. We said, “look at these stars every night and we will be looking at them too.” We promised that we would come back. My husband looked at me and said under his breath “that’s a pretty big promise”, but I had a burning in my spirit and I knew we would be back.
On the way home, I contemplated how we could uplift all the kids like I wanted for Anabelle. And then it clicked—Pen Pals! Pen Pals would give kids around the world a way to see how similar we are to one another as opposed to looking at our differences, and cultivate deeper understanding and compassion. I wanted this pen pal exchange to be as deep, personal, and limitless as possible. A pen pal program would be a much-needed break from technology and give kids a more tangible way to connect with another soul. Instead of looking through a screen, kids would get to physically hold items sent to them from the other side of the world.
A year later, we showed up to Lajala with 103 American contacts ready to be paired with new friends. I explained the concept to the teachers of the elementary school and it was a hit! We spent years working out the kinks juggling 150 kids on each side at a time. When I started, I was a full-time hairdresser and had no idea the challenges I was in for, but it has been beyond worth it. We have visited Lajala every year since and have seen a drastic change in the local children’s confidence. This confidence has decreased the number of students dropping out of elementary school and increased the number of students entering high school. Today, many kids have the same pal they’ve been paired up with since 2014. I have been told by many American participants over the years how eye-opening this has been for their entire families.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest challenge has been when our American families miss the mail deadline. This leaves the Filipino kids feeling left out when they are left empty handed as all the other kids open their goodies. The kids in Lajala look forward to receiving mail more than people fully understand.
I find every family that signs up has pure intentions of wanting to connect, but when it really comes down to fitting Picture This into the busy western lifestyle, our mail is not always made a priority. But over the years, I have found better ways to communicate and engage with the families and exchanges have gotten much smoother.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Over the past five years, we have helped students with basic needs in small yet impactful ways. Along with creating bonds through our pen pal program, we have wired Lajala Elementary School with electricity, donated a boat to transport kids to school, and provided school and hygiene supplies for the students. We have also employed twelve local high school students to tutor the kids in our pen pal program. We make it a point to empower and employ locals from their own community who are relatable role models the kids can be inspired by. We mindfully navigate Picture This to uplift a community of local leaders who believe in themselves, instead of a community dependent on us. That’s why we believe the Pen Pal program is the most impactful, unique part of what we do.
The level of personalized relationships built between kids through our pen pal program is what makes us stand out from other non-profits. Throughout the years, we have seen what truly has the biggest impact on community is human connection, and our pen pal program creates that connection. The self-confidence boost our pen pal program has given the Filipino kids has been a driving factor behind why many of them have continued to stay in school, and continue to learn English which is crucial for their economy. I’m so proud that we are able to activate confidence and drive in children that face difficult obstacles as they work to exit a cycle of extreme poverty.
A recent effort I am proud of is that we started an environmental movement in Lajala. We are working alongside the teachers to educate the community about the crisis our planet faces as we drown in single-use plastic. On our most recent trip, we started an eco brickmaking program that provides a little income for the brick makers. Eco-bricks are a brilliant way to clean up and repurpose plastic. Our Eco-bricks are made by stuffing plastic bottles with plastic trash until you get a hard “brick”. Once we collect enough bottles, we will build our first eco-brick house. I believe this is just the beginning of the second most impactful thing we are doing in Lajala.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I believe in divine appointments and I would not have even have started PT if it wasn’t for that first random trip to the Philippines.
I wholeheartedly believe when I’m guided by the spirit, I will be taken right where I need to be. I have found when I depend completely on my own efforts, I get overwhelmed. The birth of PT has been shocking to me. If you told me six years ago that I would start and run a non-profit, I would have laughed in your face. When starting it, I felt completely unskilled, but I’ve remembered to take one step at a time each day and use my heart as a guide.
There’s most definitely been enough, we can call it “bad luck”, in the process to make me feel like giving up time and time again. These tidal waves have brought me to tears, to the brink of hopelessness and exhaustion. It’s not until I remember to get on my knees and ask for direction that I’m jolted with perspective to push through. I was given this vision for a reason and there’s no stopping me. 🙂
- Website: http://www.canyoupicturethis.org/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/canupicturethis/