As an artist, creativity and storytelling have always been central to Issa Barte’s identity. Now, it has become a tool for uplifting indigenous communities through the project The Philippine Youth Atlas.
“My earliest memories of creating art were these cute love letters for my mom when it was her birthday, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas. I’d put beads into the paper and throw glitter at it,” Issa Barte shares. Little did she know that from handcrafting sparkly love letters to her mother, her art would be a tool to spark change.
Together with her friends Maita Jalandoni and Clara Pettersen, Issa founded For The Future (formerly known as Fund The Forest). This organization aims to provide avenues of environmental action for the Filipino youth and provide immediate and long-term aid to local climate Refugees in the Philippines. In partnership with the Kids for Kids organization, Issa and her team have crowdfunded over USD 390,000 to distribute solar lights, water filters, temporary housing, and livelihood aid to typhoon survivors since 2020.
The experience has been fulfilling for Issa. “When we threw our first fundraising party, it was empowering and encouraging because you’d see people singing and dancing to plant trees and taking the time to learn about the cause,” she says. “People do want to help; they just need to know how, and that’s what For The Future always tries to do. To show people the avenues they can take to support other communities.”
Working with indigenous groups and communities, Issa advocates empowering them to tell their stories through art. “One of my qualms is that there are a lot of outsiders telling the stories of these communities and groups,” Issa says. It was this desire that led to her first grant from National Geographic. “I wanted my project for National Geographic to give the opportunity of storytelling back to the people who own the stories themselves,” she says.
She adds, “If anyone wants to learn more about the crisis, what it means and brings, we should be listening to the people here. My voice is just an echo of the conversations I have on ground. If we want to learn, we have to give space and amplification to the frontliners and indigenous people who experience and solve the threats to our home.”
Currently, Issa is working on The Philippine Youth Atlas project with Gab Mejia, Natasha “Tasha” Tanjutco, and Isabella “Bella” Tanjutco. “We’re going through all the 17 regions of the Philippines teaching art photography, counter-mapping, and tapestry-making to all these kids so they can tell us the story of their community,” she says.
“My favorite part of the workshops is when we go through the photos they took, and they tell us their favorite one,” she shares. For Issa, it’s a profound experience to hear about these stories. She recalls encountering one child in Basilan who had chosen a photo of their grandmother. “Out of all the beautiful pictures she took, she chose the one with her lola because it tells the story of her family,” she says.
In these stories, Issa would find common themes that reveal facets of the Filipino identity. “Throughout all the communities, I realized that the Filipino is spiritual. That’s why we want to conserve our nature. That’s why people are fighting for our ecology,” she says. “Ecology informs our culture and informs our systems, and when we degrade it, we lose that part of ourselves as Filipino people. And so the fight for climate is also for our identity, culture, and heritage.”
Like Tasha Tanjutco, Issa believes that “culture saves climate.” “If we can uphold culture and heritage, ancestral myths, and indigenous knowledge systems, we will have more efficient, more sustainable climate solutions that can be spread across the whole country,” she says. “Filipinos already know how to save the Philippines. We just need the proper support. We can take so much opportunity in the climate space.”
Issa rattles off a list of organizations when asked how Filipinos can contribute. “To help communities that don’t have access to clean water, there’s Waves for Water. If you want to plant trees, there’s Masungi or For The Future, Dulungan Youth in Antique, the Mount Apo Forest Rangers in Davao, mangrove reforestation in Sorsogon,” she says.
She encourages the Filipino people to use their passion as a tool to spark change. “For people, that can be writing, dancing, or cooking. FTF (For The Future) is a group of writers, artists, data scientists, product managers, jewelry makers, and we all came together because we believed we could make a difference,” she shares. “We thought, ‘These are my skills, how can I put them to use? I believe that everyone can and should do that.”
She continues, “You don’t need to be anyone else to be a person who can change the world. Whatever you are, whatever you have is needed. We need you; I believe in you. You can do it.”
- A Lifetime Of Growing And Protecting Forests: Ann And Billie Dumaliang On Their Ongoing Battle For Conservation At Masungi Georeserve
- Creativity As Catalyst: TAYO Philippines Founders Tasha and Bella Tanjutco On Using Creative Solutions For Climate Work
- Camille Rivera On Bringing Life Back To Communities Through Mangrove Conservation
- Riding Waves, Growing Stories: Nicola Sebastian’s Path To Climate Justice In The Philippines