• Donate Your Child's Gently Used Toys to the Philippine Toy Library

    This family's 'toy story' gives the gift of happiness — a safe play space less fortunate kids.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Donate Your Child's Gently Used Toys to the Philippine Toy Library
PHOTO BY courtesy of Philippine Toy Library
  • Edsel and Jen Ramirez are not your typical parents. When they saw the play rooms and indoor playgrounds in malls, a lucrative business, for sure, the thought that came to their mind was, "Why don’t we make something like that but for free?”

    You see, Edsel and Jen are no strangers to volunteering and community outreach that began when they were students in Ateneo de Manila University where they first met. They recall that one of their very first volunteering jobs was during the disaster relief efforts and rehabilitation of areas affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. 

    Since then, “this has been our life more or less,” Jen tells SmartParenting.com.ph in an interview.

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    Their life as a couple has always been about the joy of sharing their blessings, a legacy they hope they can pass on to their two daughters, Jessie and Justine. So, in 2011, they initiated a family project where their daughters can participate. 

    “At that point, we had a lot of toys and our youngest daughter, who was around 9 or 10 years old, was not as interested in her toys anymore,” Jen shares. 

    And that's how the Philippine Toy Library (PTL) began, a family project that hoped to turn one room of a barangay hall into a safe play space for less-fortunate children in Loyala Heights, Quezon City. 



    They needed more toys, of course, so the couple asked friends on Facebook for donations. “Ang bilis ng response,” Jen says. “We were able to fill up that space quickly and really nice. By the time we had launched it, we still had so many toys.”

    After Edsel posted the "finished" toy library on Facebook, people started asking if they could still donate. And there was also this: “Can we have like that in our place?” That’s when Jen and Edsel realized a teaching moment for their daughters had the potential to help more kids.

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    From its humble beginnings as a family project in 2011, PTL, now a non-profit organization, has now built 209 toy libraries all over the country. These include various communities in Leyte and Samar affected by natural calamities like Typhoon Yolanda; communities with indigenous people like Aetas, Badjaos, Dumagats, and Maranaos; orphanages and hospitals; and communities caught in the middle of conflicts like Sulu, Basilan, Zambaonga, and most recently, Marawi.

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    While the thought of setting up toy libraries was welcomed by many, some communities were not too keen on the idea. 

    “They would ask us, ‘wala bang pa-feeding?” Jen says. “We can’t argue with the fact that these communities need food, books, and vaccines. But, in our experience, we’ve proven time and time again that these kids also appreciate play as much as their other needs.”



    Jen recalls an instance when a kid in Payatas came up to them to thank them because even if he was hungry, he was happy that he had a chance to play with the toys.

    “We’re talking about kids that don’t have toys, or they don’t have the space to play [with] it. Bago or luma [yung laruan] wala na rin sila masyadong pakialam — they’re just so happy.



    Jen says her favorite moment is looking at the kids’ faces light up when they see the toy library for the first time. 

    “Napapahinto sila at natutulala with eyes and mouths wide open in amazement. Then, after a few seconds of scanning the entire toy library, they inch themselves slowly to the toy that catches their imagination."

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    All communities have their own memorable stories. “Another time, a kid went up to my husband and said, ‘Kuya, thank you. Salamat sa toy library namin kasi ‘yung laruan na to, nakikita ko lang dati sa department store tapos hindi ko pwede hawakan kasi pinapaalis kami ng guard. Ngayon nalalaro ko na siya.” Jen shares.



    It’s not just the kids who are thankful — their parents also express profuse gratitude. “What touches and affects me the most is when you see the parents watch their children in the toy library,” Jen says. “As a parent, I know how that feels — this is something na hindi ko maibigay sa anak ko, kasi kailangan ko muna sila pakainin, kailangan ko muna sila papuntahin sa school. Sa kanila ako naiiyak kasi I can relate.”

    It’s through stories like that Jen considers PTL’s mission to bring happiness through play accomplished.

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    The reasoning behind PTL reflects what child development experts have been saying about the developmental benefits of play: Kids learn the most when they are happy. Jen has seen it in their libraries located inside public schools. Teachers say the toy libraries make a huge difference because children are more motivated to attend their classes knowing that they will have a chance to play after.



    The same goes for libraries installed in communities that are near prisons. “We found out that families with relatives inside the prisons relocate to nearby communities to make visits easier. Naglalagay kami ng toy libraries doon because their children have issues also and kailangan maging healthy and happy ‘yung environment nila,” she says.

    PTL encourages free and active play, and they promote peaceful play to create an environment that’s conducive to the safety and enjoyment of the kids. It means they don't accept toys that promote violence such as toy guns, swords, and other kinds of weapons. “We also screen toys for defects that could cause injury to those who play with them,” Jen says.

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    Some areas also require culturally-sensitive toys, so PTL carefully chooses the toys sent there to be respectful. “In Muslim areas, we do not send toy pigs or books that depict pigs. Dolls that can be undressed, like Barbies, are also not welcome in those areas.”

    While PTL still gladly accepts toy donations, they’ve also made it a point to buy new toys and books for the kids since they can’t always guarantee the condition or quality of the donated items. Here’s what they buy to complete one toy library:

    • Wooden blocks, building blocks, and molding clay. These kinds of unstructured toys encourage the kids to use their imagination, be creative, and allow for self-expression.

    • Jigsaw puzzles and simple games. These toys help children play collaboratively and give them a sense of accomplishment while having fun.

    • Occupational kits like doctor, nurse, police, fireman, etc. These ‘aspirational’ kits inspire the children to dream of what they want to be when they grow up. It gives them the chance to try it out through pretend play.

    • Dolls, dollhouses, cooking or dining sets, toy cars or trucks. These encourage creativity and use of the imagination.

    • Musical instruments and magic slates. Mainly for the kids’ self-expression, these are also aspirational items for budding artists and musicians.

    • Bilingual storybooks. Every PTL has a reading corner or nook, in order to present reading as a fun activity, too! Some kids actually prefer to read stories than play with the toys, according to Jen.

    • A slide and a rocking horse. These toys are favorites in the libraries because they’re so much fun! It also teaches the kids to wait their turn and be respectful to other kids.
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    Since they began six years ago, the PTL has had many memorable experiences with the different communities it has helped. Its very first library in Loyola Heights, of course, is a sentimental favorite mainly because the toys there were donated by Jen and Edsel’s daughters. “Visiting that site is always a nostalgic experience,” Jen says.

    The girls are also growing up to be their parents' daughters. Jen recalls a time last year when her youngest daughter was at Yale University in the United States for a competition.




    “She was 14 or 15 years old. She called me to tell me all the stuff she bought [there], and it included a jump rope. When I asked why, she told me it was for PTL,” Jen says. 

    It’s not just her daughter. Some kids who donated their toys to PTL would also get to visit the libraries and Jen says they are glad when they see other children playing with their old toys. “It sparks something in them,” Jen says.

    While the PTL has made leaps and bounds since they first started, there is still more to be done, and the organization needs all the help it can get. There is an ever-increasing number of request from communities wanting to have toy libraries for their kids.But here is always the challenge of finding the resources so PTL can fulfill these requests.

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    “Most people think that PTL only needs toy donations, but more than half of the expense in setting up a toy library is cash-based. These are the costs for shelves, boxes, shipping and logistics, paint and other materials, and communications and project staff,” Jen says.

    But even with these challenges, PTL’s focus is set on becoming better and providing more outlets for play to different communities. In fact, they are thinking of coming up with mobile toy libraries that can be set up in evacuation sites so kids who are staying in these cramped areas would have access to “safe spaces of play and happiness.”

    Through their efforts, Jen hopes that they can continue bringing joy in the children’s lives and maybe even make a mark in their future. “We’re really about making children happy because happy children grow up to be productive, responsible, well-balanced adults.” 

    We hope you can spread the love for the Philippine Toy Library! You may drop toy donations at 56 Esteban Abada St., Loyola Heights, Quezon City. For cash donations and other information, e-mail PTL at info@toylibraryph.com, contact them at 0917-1507725 or visit their website.

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