A student writes a book that feeds families

Published July 4, 2020, 2:29 PM

by Kerry Tinga

‘7 Things’ by Nicole Castro is a celebration of the beauty of the Philippines, from our nature to our people to our language

“I was in the US, surrounded by many who were complaining about their canceled travel plans, internships, inconvenience of wearing a mask, yet there are Filipinos starving because they can’t make enough money to feed themselves and their families,” said Nicole Castro, a marketing student in California.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Nicole knows she is Filipino at heart. Sympathetic to the plight of the Filipinos back home in the Covid-19 health crisis, she turned her quarantine passion project into a fundraiser to help feed Filipino families.

“The project was supposed to just be for friends, family, myself, and I never intended to profit off it,” said Nicole. With a knack for design, she had been wanting to work on a book about the Philippines, its beauty, and its people. “After seeing and hearing about the injustices and the hungry Filipinos, I decided I should donate what I could earn.”

All the profits she makes from her book go to the Communities Organized for Resource Allocation (CORA) and Fund the Forest’s Food Not Fear initiative. Each book sold equals a donation of P500, which she was assured would provide a family with eggplants, sweet potatoes, uncooked rice, and more. With one book, a whole family could be fed. With one book, Filipinos around the world could come together to help each other out.

Nicole sought to inspire others to appreciate the nonpareil wonder of the Philippines that she had grown to love in her childhood. The book is divided into seven sections to represent the over 7,000 islands of the country.

“I included places to hike, euphoric music like ‘Mundo’ by IV of Spades, the diverse languages, the people, of course, food and more. It consists of a simple, colorful, and modern aesthetic that I thought would appeal to Millennials and Gen Zs,” added Nicole.

The striking images and design make for a coffee table book and travel guide unlike any other, allowing people to understand the Philippines like a local. While travel may be restricted, the book lets people delve into an exciting new culture and environment from the other side of the world. That may have been why it became so popular with overseas Filipinos looking to reconnect with the motherland while most flights are still grounded.

“It is so fulfilling and shocking to have my work purchased by many,” Nicole said. “I wasn’t expecting others to purchase it apart from family and friends but my boyfriend posted it on a Facebook page called Subtle Filipino Traits. The post reached around 1,500 likes, leading to around 50 sales in one day. A lot of those who purchased it mention they are Filipino but grew up in the US and are out of touch with their Filipino culture. Helping them learn more about their roots while they help their country and their people makes me extremely happy.”

Dedicated to her country and to her people, Nicole shares that one person’s story, in particular, pushed her to start the fundraiser. Once the threat of the health crisis was thoroughly appreciated for what it is, she reached out back home to her family and learned of some troubling news. Someone who worked for her family told her that government aid was simply not enough. It was not that they were ungrateful, but it could not sustain them for the length of the quarantine.

“It was not enough nor edible, arriving three weeks after the enhanced community had started,” said Nicole. “The family was given a small bag of rice that they claimed tasted like plastic and had a weird consistency after being cooked. The social media posts were concerning, the reality check humbled me, but this news from someone I personally knew made me furious. I wanted to help and I wanted to be there to do so, but for now, fundraising and donating are all I can do.”

While Nicole calls it a “small project,” she has been able to feed 70 families just this past month, inspire others to extend aid where they can, and shared the beauty of the country through the colorful and engaging pages of her book.

“Though I have praised the Philippines in the book and painted it in a positive light, we must not ignore or forget that the Philippines, like any other country, has its flaws,” Nicole added. “Whoever is reading the book and is able to experience the fun things I included, I hope that they also take into account their fortune and their ability to help solve those problems. […] Though the things we can do are small, they still can create a big impact.”

‘7 Things’ is available to order on Blurb.