A few years ago, I visited Abot Tala, a self-directed learning community for teens that met at a beautiful facility in Taguig. I remember watching my eldest son, Pablo, take to the environment so naturally, that we signed him up for some of the classes. He spent three enriching years with the community that helped him discover what more he could do, all the while growing alongside other independent-minded teens.
During the height of the pandemic, Abot tala had to make some tough calls that included letting go of their beloved facility and transitioning their classes online.
Fortunately, going online worked! The teens continued to thrive in the new setup and and while they are crossing their fingers to one day have their own physical center again, this has not deterred them from going for their goals full steam ahead.
What do self-directed learners do differently from traditional learners anyway, do you wonder?
While I’ve been sharing a lot about my kids and our journey together, here are 5 other self-directed learners you absolutely need to meet!
Just a quick heads-up, I penned this in June 2023, so they’ve achieved even more since our last chat.
Ligaya Escueta, 17 – Artist, Songwriter, Recording Artist and Video Producer
Once training as a dancer here and abroad, Ligaya stumbled into songwriting during the course of the pandemic. “It was my dream to pursue dance until the pandemic happened, when I discovered my love for songwriting. I had never felt so moved by something until I really found music.”
Working on her first album, Laughing with Milk, Ligaya was privileged to work with respected personalities in the industry which included composer and music producer Mikey Amistoso and singer/songwriter Acel Bisa.
Ligaya did not feel pressured at all despite working with big names. “I would say for this album, songwriting didn’t feel very hard. That’s because I was writing and doing it for myself,” she said.
“Laughing in Milk” is a collage of thoughts and experiences as a teenager during a global pandemic. I like to think of it as a time capsule, patchwork of quilt, or scrapbook of my life at the time, ” Ligaya explains. Her favorite track in the album is “1965” which is a song about unhealthy nostalgia.
“When I was young, I had my own experience with escapism and unhealthy nostalgia, being unhappy with my life and wishing I was born in another era – a ‘better era’ where I believed people looked more beautiful and happier in pictures.” She adds, “I still love old things, but I don’t wish I was born in the wrong generation anymore.”
Laughing in Milk was launched in July of 2022. Ligaya fondly recalls feeling that the moment was like a rite of passage. “I got to play my music to a room full of people I love. It was the best day of being 15! I’m so thankful to Abot Tala, Tenzi Records and to my family that I had that special experience.”
She sees herself doing songwriting for the long haul, but is also working on her academics to go to college and earn a degree. “I want to be a therapist and open my own therapy center, “ she said. “Another one of my passions I’d like to pursue is visual arts and illustration. Recently, media production has been interesting to me since I’ve been writing and co-directing my music video.”
As of this publication, Ligaya has signed a record deal with OFFSHORE music.
Yana Valvieja, 17 – Director, Producer, and Video Editor
Co-directing Ligaya Escueta’s first music video, Yana, or “Direk Yana” to her friends, is no stranger to video production, having been raised by a TV Producer, Angie Valvieja (Kapag may Katwiran, Ipaglaban mo). Production sets and video shoots were simply part of her lifestyle growing up.
“My earliest childhood memories were being in production,” she shares. “It’s mainly my mom who has definitely influenced me greatly in video production. Being homeschooled she’d bring me on-set as a small girl and I was an extra talent, a flower girl, an orphan girl and an unknown monster under someone’s bed sheet. “
Yana’s mom Angie recalls, “I remember at around nine or ten years old, Yana dipped her hand at a website called Powtoon which allows for making short animation. She made a short presentation related to our lesson on the environment and I was amazed at her ability to tell a story and present her insights by way of visual elements.”
Yana did not think about showcasing her works as a young girl, but all that changed when she joined Abot Tala where she had created promotional videos, a 4-Episode series called, Abot Tala True Stories, and a video explainer on Abot Tala’s game show.
Together with other Abot Tala graduates, they formed “Pillow Productions,” a small production team whose first project is producing a music video for “She,” one of the tracks in Ligaya Escueta’s debut album.
“I’m actually co-directing this with Joshua Nepomuceno and Abby herself. I’ve worked with both of them multiple times before in Abot Tala, and being like-minded teens in our desire to grow and take these seriously and with passion. We have such good dynamics.”
“Now the process is, in a sense, new to me because this is the first time we’re working independently as a full teen-only production,” she continues. “We used to always ask our mentors for help, now we’re practicing with only our own hands. So even though I don’t know everything yet, I’m asking advice from the people I know, planning and researching what I can and considering whether or not this or that works for us in the production. From experience as well, not everything will be perfect. This is our first music video project and I acknowledge the possibility of last-minute production changes that can happen.”
Yana is contemplating on doing video production full time. “ I’m sure I’ll use my skills in making videos as a tool in fulfilling my life’s purpose and calling, which I have yet to fully discover,” she says.
Asked what’s next for Yana, she talked about AngatKaPH, an online learning hub on entrepreneurship for the youth that was co-founded by her father. “I will help produce some of the content for the courses and for its social media.”
Angie imparts to other parents of promising young creatives, “Consider homeschooling. Creative learners need a certain degree of freedom. The chance it will give you and your children the opportunity to seek, search and do a lot of minimally hindered trials (and errors) on areas the learner is interested in will be very beneficial to the child’s discovery of self.”
Joshua Nepomuceno, 17, Writer for Write, Write, Write Journal, Assistant Director, Videographer
When Joshua was first presented with the idea to publish a writing journal, he was overwhelmed.
“It was an opportunity for me to write a journal and actually have it published, something that can be held in real life and available in bookstores!” Despite being taken aback initially, he says, “I accepted it, knowing that I’ll be in good hands with Tita Mich as the project manager.” He was referring to Michellan Alagao, published writer and editor, and his mentor in Abot Tala.
“We had plenty of meetings since this was my first time working with an actual publishing firm, so we had discussions and a couple of Q&A sessions with Tita Mich to understand how things work,” he said. However, he admits that at the beginning of the project, he didn’t know how to start. “Tita Mich then told me to put everything I knew and any tips I had into one document, and then she helped me format it into a table format with pages! Now I was able to plan out the content smoothly,” he said.
Asked on how it was for him to work with a real publishing house, he exclaims, “working with 8Letters was easier than I expected! There were moments when I genuinely stopped myself and said, ‘Wait, woah, I really am doing this?’ This is a testament to how smooth the process was.”
He continues,”I did feel a bit of pressure when it came to deadlines, who likes deadlines, right? But I was able to finish writing my first draft a couple of days before the deadline.”
Confident of her son’s God-given talent, Joshua’s mom, Raynelly, proudly said, “I know that Josh has the skill in writing and publishing this journal is an affirmation of this gift. I saw his discipline to ensure that he submits a quality work on the deadlines set. He would be tired as this was on top of his schoolwork but there was motivation to finish what he started. I am happy and grateful that Josh had the opportunity like this to show both his skills and attitude towards work.”
Because of his experience in publishing Write, Write, Write, Journal, Joshua saw the possibility of publishing more of his works with 8Letters, but at the moment, he’s busy doing assistant director duties at Pillow Productions and has his hands full with events management tasks.
He also talks about going independent. “Currently, my focus is on preparing for senior high and eventually moving out on my own in a couple of months. I am excited about the opportunities that I will be able to have in the near future as I grow closer to adulthood. I am leaving my doors open to anything!”
Andy de Asis, 18, Illustrator for Write Write Write Journal
“Between Josh and Tita Owie, I’m not sure who was first in asking me to come on board,” Andy began. “I wasn’t that excited at first, but they managed to convince me. They reasoned that the project would be a great experience to add to my portfolio. It was also a way to try out if I would really want to be an illustrator in the future.”
Andy also went through several meetings to discuss timelines, the concepts and the technical details.
“It was my first time working for publishing, so there were a lot of things I had to learn about,” she added, “such as what concept would suit our target audience as well as more technical things. Such as formatting the cover for printing in a way that it wouldn’t be cut off when trimmed.”
Andy picked up new learnings during the entire process, “Some challenges were me not being entirely in charge of the illustration.” She clarifies, “it was my first time being commissioned for something outside of my immediate family. I had to listen to all the input I got and figure out what it is my client would like. How to bring about the vision that my client had. It was a whole new experience for me.”
On working with 8Letters, Andy reflects, “To be honest, it didn’t sink in until we actually spoke with 8letters for the launch. To me, it was just like another Abot Tala project. I didn’t realize how big of a thing this was until the launch, and even more when our book was sold at Manila International Book Fair.”
The experience prompted Andy to think about her future and ponder on whether she wants to pursue illustrating as a career. “I like drawing to an extent, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if I had to do it for a living. There is a difference between a hobby where you can step back and let it remain imperfect and a job where it has to be perfect in the eyes of your client.”
“It was exciting to see her work with a professional publication,” says Kaye, Andy’s mom. She observes, “she was doing an adult job at a young age. It made her more responsible by managing her time wisely since she had deadlines.”
At the moment, Andy is busy reviewing for multiple college entrance tests and has not been working on her illustrations. You can find her samples on Instagram at @heleina.art.
Megan C. Uyao, 14, Animal Advocate, Founder of Abot Tala Animal Welfare Club, TED Ed speaker, Spotify Artist
Megan was only 8 when she witnessed a sick, stray puppy receiving cruel treatment from other people. “I saw some people pouring boiling water on a skinny, dirty, worm filled, black little puppy,” she says. It was her first time to rescue an animal. She took her home and cared for her. She even gave her a name – Blackie. Megan showed me a picture of a now healthy and happy adult black dog. “She is living her life to the fullest with us,” she smiles.
“My deep love for animals has taught me compassion,” she says. “I could have chosen hatred for those people exercising animal cruelty. But, the animals have echoed into me that that is not the way.”
Megan understood at a very young age that she had to do something to put a stop to animal cruelty. “It will stop only if we work together in providing programs that would educate everyone in every way possible.”
Using her many different talents and skills, Megan embarked on an incredible journey to push her advocacy forward.
In January of 2021, she created a game on an open-software program, Scratch called “ART: Animal Rescue Team” where players need to rescue a goat before they are caught by poachers.
A talented songwriter, as well, Megan wrote a song, Take Me Home, that she dedicated to all stray animals, in April of the same year, You can listen to it on Spotify.
Three months later, as she was preparing her speech for TED Ed for her Public Speaking class, she took the opportunity to use the platform to, again, speak on behalf of animals.
And if that wasn’t enough, Megan programmed a robot to “alert, evacuate, monitor, and rescue the animals affected by the Taal Volcano” and presented it to DevCon Kids Philippines. The project was called “Grand Evacuation Mission” or GEM.
“It’s where I learned that robotics is in the business of saving lives, even those of animals,” she says.
With the help of her Abot Tala mentor, Owie Dela Cruz, Megan spearheaded a fundraising campaign, Love Pawever: A Valentine Treat” for the animals affected by typhoon Odette.
“For the Love Pawever event, it started when we found out the devastation typhoon Odette left,” she shares. “I wanted to help the animals that were left and wounded, so I reached out to the Abot Tala mentors and teens, who gladly helped organize this event.”
The Love Pawever event was a mega hit, surpassing their targeted funds by 200%!
This year, Megan continues to participate actively in community service events. In March, she was a guest performer for Biyaya Adoption Drive at Mandala Park.
“The drive was a success,” she gushes. “Most of the animals there went to their furever home.”
In May, she conducted another fundraising drive for the benefit of families and their pets who were ravaged by a fire in Cavite.
Does Megan see herself doing this on a long term? Her answer is a resounding “yes “ According to her, this is what she believes God wants her to do. “I know that I can’t help everyone all at once, I want to be a blessing or a miracle to even just one. It will start from me and it will start now. “
She acknowledges, “I learned that no amount of preparation will be enough if God is not in the equation,” she says.
Her mother, Mia, says,“Do not underestimate the power that lies within your child. Our children are capable of doing unimaginable things if we just trust them enough.”
Quoting the Bible, she said, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
Ligaya, Yana, Joshua and Andy were among the 10 teens who joined the Send Off, Abot Tala’s equivalent to a graduation, in March 2023, but they continue to go back to Abot Tala to help out in the activities and encourage other self-directed learners in the community.
The Abot Tala Self-Directed Learning Community continues to cater to teenagers who need a positive learning environment that can help them think out of the box and and give them bigger rooms to explore their talents and discover what more they are capable of doing.
If you are interested to know more about and register at Abot Tala, here are the links: