Tatum Rae Contreras’ father is from Cavite while her mother is an American. The FilAm photo
She’s living the dream in Palos Verdes in California while dreaming of visiting Guintigui-An in Leyte.
“I have never been to the Philippines. My dad has always wanted to take me and my sister, however traveling there and back as a family is very costly,” said Tatum Rae Contreras, 16, whose father is from Cavite and whose American mother is a Southern California native.
This junior student at Palos Verdes High may seem like the typical teenager. She does well with her studies and keeps busy with her dancing and photography.
But unlike some teenagers whose lives revolve around dating, hanging out at the mall, and watching movies, Tatum is busy with community work that benefits Filipino children in the typhoon-ravaged province of Leyte.
“I have always wanted to get involved in the Philippines in some way, considering that is where half of my family is from,” she said during our interview.
When she saw the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda, she said, “I felt obligated to help.”
She wanted to reach out to impoverished Filipino children so that they may continue with their schooling. Her concern led her to the organization called Volunteer for the Visayans, which connected her to the Guintigui-An Elementary School in Ormoc.
“I have always valued education, so I thought that supporting an under-funded or under-privileged school would be a perfect way to give back,” said Tatum.
With the help of her best friend Hannah Glazer, she put up Project Philippines at Palos Verdes.
“Our club collects school supplies that we send to the Philippines through our mother organization, Volunteer for the Visayans,” she continued.
Giving back is not always easy, especially to people one hasn’t met, but Tatum said she is up to the task.
“Fortunately, everything about starting this project ran smoothly,” she said. “Since Hannah and I have been friends for eight years, we know each other very well and work well together. Also, our school has an amazing program in place that allows students to start and manage their own clubs. Because of this, we were able to involve 120 more students and make Project Philippines a bigger, more powerful project.”
The two are currently on a two-week drive to collect pens, pencils, markers, colored pencils, crayons, erasers, paper, glue sticks, calculators, rulers and an assortment of school supplies for the students of Guintigui-An. They have put donation boxes in their campus, hoping to collect “unused” items.
Project Philippines volunteers at Palos Verdes High School. The FilAm photo
Monetary donations are also being collected as they need money to ship the boxes. Checks or money orders may be mailed to:
Project Philippines c/o
Palos Verdes High School, Room 402
600 Cloyden Road PVE, CA 90274
“Actually, after asking my past English teacher if we could put a donation box in his room, he went on to tell me that his trip to the Philippines a few years back was the best trip of his life. He said that everyone was extremely kind and loving,” said Tatum. “I would love to experience this, as well as the beautiful scenery, weather, and food. I have heard many stories from my dad and his side of the family about life in the Philippines and would love to have the opportunity to see it for myself.”
Meantime, Tatum is focused on helping others first by showing the world what it means to care for others across continents. It’s a simple step that, she hopes, will go a long way. —The FilAm
Jannelle So is credited for creating, hosting and producing ‘Kababayan L.A.,’ the first and only locally-produced daily talk show for Filipinos that ran for 8 ½ years under her leadership. It is the longest-running Filipino talk show in America. Jannelle loves to travel. Through this column, she will share the exciting things she discovers and the wonderful people she meets along the way. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.