Soldotna artist raises money for school in Philippines

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Soldotna graphic designer is taking his craft to the far shores of the Philippines in an effort to give impoverished budding artists a leg up.

Photo Courtesy Of Lester Nelson
Photo Courtesy Of Lester Nelson
Lester Nelson, left, and Jeffrey Anos, give food to some of the 50 street kids who showed up to their street child feeding program held on Oct. 25 in Camarin, Caloocan City in the Philippines.

Lester Nelson, the executive director of the Ferdinand Center for the Creative, a non-profit group, is in the beginning stages of fundraising $50,000 to build a graphic design school just north of the Philippine capitol of Manila.

Nelson has been splitting his time between the icy climes of the Kenai Peninsula and the tropics in his effort.

The school, when completed, will offer free courses in graphic design to Filipinos who otherwise couldn't afford such an education.

Additionally, Nelson said the building will serve as a school; providing lessons in reading, writing, English and creative projects for area street children.

The 27 year-old Nelson has run a graphic design firm since he was 16, but was drawn to the equatorial archipelago in 2008 to help a friend film a documentary there on what few options the poor have for earning an income.

According to Nelson, the impoverished and the undereducated struggle to find work in the densely populated nation, estimated to have some 92 million citizens.

The metro Manila area alone has over 11 million residents in an area about half the size of the central peninsula.

With a short supply of jobs and a huge demand for work, Nelson said employers hire those with the best qualifications.

"The problem is there are millions of people who want jobs and there's not that many jobs being offered, so when hiring, you're hiring the people with college degrees," he said.

As a result, he explained, it's not uncommon to find positions at fast food restaurants going to a person with a college degree.

This is not to say that an education is easy to come by either, Nelson said.

"There are a lot of students who are dropping out in elementary school which is something you don't have here," he said. "Their family can't afford it so they'll pull their student out."

With no education and no job prospects, Nelson said many are drawn to the sex industry, an illegal and unsafe line of work.

While upper and upper middle class citizens might hardly know of its existence, for the poor, the underbelly industry is all around them.

"When that's the only job that's hiring, then what can you do?" Nelson said. "You either starve or accept the job, and for some people that's really the only option."

While filming the documentary, Nelson said he watched some of his subjects join the industry, and it soon became apparent to him he needed to do more then tell a story.

They canceled the documentary, and the same day, Nelson launched Ferdinand.

During the filming he said one of his subject's confided in him that he also wanted to be a graphic designer, but didn't know where to turn.

"It seemed like it made the most sense. It's what my background is in; it's what I knew I could do to help," he said.

Nelson said he hopes to see the school completed sometime in the next year depending on how fundraising efforts go. He said it will be the first of its kind in the Philippines.

He anticipates having students taking classes in a range of topics related to graphic design three days a week over the course a year. The classes would be free to the students, paid for through donations and corporate sponsorships.

Students would also have the opportunity to work on real projects, either through businesses or by doing pro-bono work for other non-profits.

He said the school would raise some additional revenue through selling products like T-shirts.

The end idea he explained, would be to get students into paying jobs, and he said he hopes to use internships as a way to, if not get students in the market, at least bolster their resumes.

Nelson said he's getting offered support from almost every direction for the project. They've acquired land to build the school on, obtained free architectural plans and have received numerous offers from electricians and construction workers willing to volunteer their services.

"When I thanked the architect, she thanked us for being willing to build this," Nelson said.

He said the planned three story building will include as computer lab, an art room, screen printing facilities, a gallery to showcase student work, a classroom for the street child program, a kitchen and limited living quarters for students or volunteers who live too far away to make the commute.

All of that, he said, comes with an estimated price tag of $50,000, which he hopes to raise by March 13 through an online drive.

On Tuesday the group had just four percent of that, but Nelson said he was confident they'd reach their goal.

For more information on the group visit their Web site at

Dante Petri can be reached at

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