I've always believed that design had a role to play, and this belief has been our team's main driving force. We know that it can tell stories, incite action and, though difficult, build communities. This belief was further deepened thanks to a program I've been part of.

Our small and young studio was invited to be part of Door to Asia 2017. It's a design residency program (though I'm not sure if “program” is the best way to describe it), supported by Japan Foundation. The program invited 8 designers from Asean countries to come together in Tohoku Japan to collaborate with the local businesses so that they can grow and expand through communication design solutions.

At first, I was just thankful for being part of it, but what I thought was a short few days in another country turned out to be one of my most humbling experience so far as a designer.

In Door to Asia, I was able to meet new people who love the same thing I do - visual arts and design. We shared experiences, moments, and “chismis” together. I realized that we are different as much as we are the same.

But our main objective was not just to meet each other, but to really immerse and get to know the people of Tohoku - what they've been through and where they are now.

At first, it was difficult to appreciate the culture and stories in Tohoku given the language barrier. In the days that followed though, after spending so much time with them, it wasn't difficult to build a connection and learn about their stories.

"I realized that we are different as much as we are the same."

The designers were distributed to different local businesses, and I was assigned to a non-profit called Peace Jam together with Jay-san from Taiwan. I've been working with so many social enterprises in the Philippines and I've always been a fan of community-based enterprised. To see something like Peace Jam, which responds to the specific needs of the people in Kesennuma in Tohoku, amazes me. They have a different context compared to the Philippines but in the same way, it is a response to what the community needs. I'm reminded of how much we can do because of how much we care.

Ken-san, a music lover and owner of a bar, created Peace Jam after the Tohoku Earthquake, seeing that there is a need to support mothers and their children during the tragedy. Initially, he was only thinking about taking care of his daughter, however, he saw how many people needed the same kind of care and support. So he did a lot of emergency relief. He knew he needed to do something more and that's why he built Peace Jam to create something more sustainable and long term.

Peace Jam is a space and community that provides jobs to mothers allowing them to bring their babies so they can take care of them as well. Because of Peace Jam, they don't have to choose between working or taking care of their kids. Here they can do both. More than that, they have a community that supports them. I guess my favorite part here is that the children get to see their hardworking mother, and the mothers get to see their kids play and grow. Both mothers and kids are happy.

"My favorite part here is that the children get to see their hardworking mothers, and the mothers get to see their kids play and grow."

After staying in their homes and experiencing their day to day lives, including the other designers who were assigned to the other businesses, we've become friends, family, and nakama 仲間 (meaning comrades working towards the same goal, a word that Gook and Jeff used for their campaign.)

We come home to Hakoneyama Terrace to work on the design proposals that will help effectively communicate their stories and products.

Jay-san and I worked on design solutions that allowed the brand essence to come out. When we stayed with the whole team of Peace Jam for three days, all of them, including the two other core members Miyuki-san and Mitsu-san, said the same thing about what mattered to them most - the environment that they are building for the mothers and their kids. We both worked on branding, hoping that more people would know about Peace Jam's story and provide support in their own way. More than that, other people can even replicate what they are doing in their own communities. The possibilities are endless for Peace Jam.. but it can only happen if they know the story first.

The other designers, also shared their amazing experiences and design works. I love the innovation from Mag and Xiaoxi's works on a 300 year-old Nori business. Sudeep and In-ah worked on a difficult brand from the company Sanriku, because of polarizing concepts, but still creatively managed to communicate it effectively. Gook and Jeff's teamwork for the Apple farm touched the hearts of everyone. They were able to visualize and capture the story and the vision that the Apple Farm team has always wanted to say - which was nothing grand, but to simply have people they can work and be with, their nakama.

To find our comrades who we can share our stories and vision with.. isn't that what we're all looking for? Regardless of our background or the place we come from, we are all looking for people who we can be with as we work towards our goal of making our communities a better place.