In 1995, a group of 15 women professionals decided that it was time to give back and be of service to their fellow Filipinos. They knew they had the capability to make a difference and that it would mean a missed opportunity if they could not make use of what they could share. They came up with a nonstock, nonprofit organization called Families in Art and Culture (Fiat), which has remained active in pursuing its goals, especially those involving women, for the past 27 years.
Poy Pantaleon, one of Fiat’s founding members, recalled that they used to call their group “Friends in Art” because they wanted to concentrate on art and culture in the daily environment. It is very important, she said, that exposure to art be “every day, so it becomes a way of life, an improvement on how people behave, our attitude, etc.”
It seemed fitting that within the year of Fiat’s founding, its first project involved the arts: It sponsored the last night of the exhibit of Vatican artworks and collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
“Rita Ledesma was at that time the museum directress, and we asked for one night to sponsor the exhibit, and we had nice cocktails to accompany the exhibit,” Pantaleon said, recalling the “very, very successful” affair attended by more than 500 guests.
Fiat succeeded, through its sponsorship of the exhibit, in raising funds for its projects, such as the education and formation of young women and scholarships for those who cannot afford education.
‘The power of the woman’
Why does Fiat focus on helping women? Said Pantaleon: “No. 1, because we are women. We want to bring up the worth, the value, of the woman. Pope Francis spoke about the power of the woman and what she can do for good. And so let’s say, in any profession, such as a housewife, she can be a very, very good professional housewife.”
Fiat’s primary aim is to develop the worth of women by forming their spiritual, emotional and cultural values, Pantaleon said, adding: “We have different facets of forming the woman—from taking care of children, taking care of herself, and how to be confident about things happening in society. [In short], a woman of worth who’s well-rounded and well-formed.”
Fiat makes sure to involve as many women as it can, especially those in the peripheries who lack opportunities for development. It extends the necessary help through seminars or webinars and referrals by friends.
In organizing an activity, conversations with different people become opportunities for learning about problems with household helpers, or relationships with children and husbands, among others, Pantaleon said. “These gave us the idea to organize seminars, talks and activities along these issues, because the main thrust of Fiat is to make art and culture workable in everyday life and to show that life can be beautiful if it is understood well with the correct values,” she said.
A number of sessions concerning the empowerment of women have been organized by Fiat, with issues on parenting, husband-wife relations, and even how to fix one’s home being part of the discussions.
Home tours, social issues
According to Pantaleon, one very significant project is Fiat’s yearly home tour: “We would go to different homes, but the main feature of each house is to show and bring back the Christian meaning of Christmas. We encourage them to put up a belen (Nativity scene), and we have talks on the meaning of Christmas with the belen as the special feature. It has been very successful. We have it every first week or so of December, when the homes have been decorated and especially feature the belen—because that should be the emphasis of Christmas.”
Fiat has also come up with socially oriented symposiums and forums. For example, Pantaleon said, when incursions into the West Philippine Sea were “a very hot topic,” the group invited Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to serve as speaker.
When the national concern of the nation was drug addiction and criminality, Fiat invited Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. “Then we also had an economic forum with [among others] economist and newspaper columnist Solita Monsod,” she said.
In 2018, Fiat made mental wellness its flagship project.
“At that time, there were a few suicides of young people, and we had friends who had concerns about mental health… These problems have become bigger now because of the pandemic…. From there we were led to many interviews, to experiences, to many people and so forth, until we [organized] our own mental wellness program,” Pantaleon said.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Fiat organized in-person forums on mental wellness. Pantaleon cited friends who had problems concerning mental health but who refused to discuss the matter publicly.
She recalled: “So we tried to be bold and organized psychiatrists, doctors, counsellors, etc., and put up a face-to-face forum. The first one was so successful—we had it in De La Salle—that people did not want us to stop after one hour. It inspired us to bring that forum to Cebu and Davao. And after that, we were going to continue in Baguio and Pampanga, but the pandemic hit. We still wanted to continue, so we had to do it through webinars.”
The group’s most recent mental wellness webinar was held last Aug. 29. It was titled “Pagtutulungan”—or “helping one another”—and featured a psychiatrist and a family specialist discussing depression and how family members and friends can help the sufferers.
Fiat has 11 active members—Vicky Cuisia, Doris Bautista, Agnes Reyes, Merle Basco, Evelýn Mate, Meg Aguila, Marilen Peckson, Ave Blanco, Nina Santiago, Judith Pantangco, and Pantaleon. “We welcome those who want to be members, especially younger people, because all of us, I think, are already seniors. We need continuity… But [those interested to join us] should be ready to serve and work hard,” Pantaleon said.
Since its inception 27 years ago, Fiat has seen its share of challenges, but it takes heart in the positive outcome of its efforts and the sincerity and dedication of its members in helping those in need.
“All of us work on a voluntary basis. No one gets a salary,” Pantaleon said. “We try to raise funds to be able to continue with our projects, and it is doing well that way because it also develops the Fiat members, helps them know how it is to serve without any reward. The reward is, not material advantages, but seeing that the projects are successful and well received, that people are helped….”
For free online consultation details, webinar schedules and other queries, please visit the Families in Art and Culture Facebook page. —Ed.