When Notre Dame of Maryland University students Micah Castelo and Laine Soriano moved to Maryland from the Philippines, they had no intention of leaving their home country behind for good. That’s why, with the help of a recent grant, they’re raising funds to build a library in the impoverished community of Caibiran.
Castelo and Soriano’s project was one of 120 proposals selected in April to win a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace. The foundation was established in 2007 by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis in order to help young people across the country pursue grassroots projects that promote peace. NDMU students have been recipients for the last nine years.
“It was surprising, but it was awesome,” Soriano says about winning the grant.
Despite that victory, Soriano and Castelo have a long way to go before completing the project by their August deadline. Expenses like construction, transporting the books and personal travel have racked the budget up to around $24,500, a cost much higher than anticipated.
After gathering donations through several campus-wide and community book drives, they have spent full days knocking on professors’ office doors, sent hand-written letters to alumni and shared posts on social media to collect more monetary contributions.
“If you find me on Facebook, [the project] is all I post about,” Castelo says.
But they’re still short of their goal. Other obstacles have included working around the Caibiran government, which Soriano and Costello say has a history of corruption. Instead, they have been in contact with residents of the village who are siblings of a parishioner at Soriano’s church. They have helped connect the students with the school and architects in the area. Still, Caibiran residents are skeptical.
“They think [the government] is just going to shut down the library,” Soriano says. “So it’s been hard to have people support us. But that’s how it is and that’s why we’re helping them.”
Despite the setbacks, Soriano and Castelo are determined to complete the project, which they conceived as two lifelong lovers of books.
“Growing up, books have been an escape for me,” Castelo says. “When you’re feeling bad, you just want to go into a whole other world, and books provide that for you.”
Caibaran, where Soriano’s grandfather lived, is not just impoverished, it was also devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The town has only one public school for elementary to high school students, and has never had a public library. It is a community in desperate need of hope, and Soriano and Castelo, who immigrated to the United States in 2009 and 2004 respectively, feel obligated to provide it.
“This means a lot to me, because part of my family is from that area,” Soriano says. “It’s a pretty strong principle that [Castelo] and I have as immigrants, to help inspire other immigrants to give back to their countries. …Family is important, especially in Filipino culture, and you can’t just ignore that. ”