Sama Sama Cooperative: Helping kids discover their Pilipino heritage

Sama Sama Cooperative: Helping kids discover their Pilipino heritage

Selected as a finalist for the 2014 Torchlight Prize for community-strengthening work.

IT all began with a group of five Pilipino mothers interested in creating a summer camp to open opportunities for their children to explore Pilipino and Pilipino-American language, culture and history.  Thus, Sama Sama Cooperative—or “altogether” in Tagalog—was founded aiming to create an alternative educational space for their kids. With diverse experiences in art, education, environmental justice, science and community organizing, these mothers tapped within their networks to find other families who would commit to making their vision a reality.  Twenty families quickly stepped up to participate.

In an e-mail interview with Asian Journal, Sama Sama Co-Op said that they “also aim to reconnect our Pilipino-American children with their heritage and cultural roots through our indigenous languages, core values and belief systems predating the Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.”   For them, it was a venue to strengthen ties to their homeland, and foster a healthy bi-cultural identity and sense of self in their children.

Just last June, Sama Sama Co-Op launched its first 3-week summer camp, which was open to children ages 5-10 years old.  Priority was given to campers with Pilipino heritage, as well to families who could commit to the cooperative model.   “The bulk of members come from Berkeley and Oakland, with a handful coming from Richmond, Stockton, Castro Valley and San Francisco,” they said.

With a curriculum focused on language, migration and water, campers had daily Tagalog lessons, field trips and hands-on workshops.   With Tagalog lessons, the focus was on language functions, with emphasis on conversational skills, and how to use the language to communicate and construct meaning.  Sample lessons included exchanging greetings, making requests, as well as describing people, places and objects using Tagalog at the beginning level.  Core values and customs such as ‘tabi-tabi po’ and kinship terms (respect for the human and physical environment) were integrated in lessons all throughout the camp.

As a finalist for the 2014 Torchlight Prize

Last August 18, Sama Sama Co-Op hit a milestone when it was selected as a finalist for the 2014 Torchlight Prize for community-strengthening work.  If chosen as the winner, the group will win $10,000.

The Torchlight Prize is annual award that recognizes and rewards self-organized groups of families, friends, and neighbors from across the US for their efforts to strengthen their communities.

“Sama Sama Cooperative is honored to be selected among the 10 finalists of the Torchlight Prize.  The Torchlight is an award that recognizes the impactful work of everyday people making change in their communities. It is important to share and support the creative and innovative solutions that families and communities are taking to address issues that are impacting their daily lives. These initiatives, driven by the most impacted, are the initiatives that thrive,” said the group.

“Sama Sama’s emphasis on collaborative work, collective leadership and cooperative learning—all of which are encompassed by the Filipino concept of bayanihan — makes its nomination as a finalist to the Torchlight Prize significant. It is because organizations like Torchlight recognize how grassroots organizations and communities like Sama Sama incorporate culturally and linguistically relevant and appropriate values in its work. It is truly empowering when one’s indigenous core values are what drive an organization todo this type of work in the community.”

Mia Birdsong, Vice President of Family Independence Initiative said in a statement, “Sama Sama Cooperative’s work is a great example of the power of collective action. This community of people is bringing together their knowledge and resources to create a space for their children to understand their culture and their identities as Pilipino-Americans. The connection to community, pride in culture, and sense of self-determination these kids will grow up with is what will sustain them into adulthood. We’re pleased to celebrate them and help bring attention to their work as finalists for the 2014 Torchlight Prize.”

At present, Sama Sama is made up of 20 families, with a coordinating committee of seven parents.  Since summer is over, the group has a series of family field trips planned through fall of this year.  “This school year we will pilot a weekly after-school enrichment program,” they said and added, “We are also gearing up for a parent retreat where we will sharpen the vision and mission of Sama Sama and plan for 2015.”

Future lessons in Tagalog, which progress from the lessons during the summer, are also included in the long-term plans, as well as to incorporate the Filipino cultural calendar in its Tagalog language development component.

When asked why they think for the Pilipino and/or Pilipino-American youth should take part in Sama Sama’s programs, they said, “Pilipinos are the second largest Asian group in the United States and yet our young people have little opportunity to learn about their history, language and land-based traditions. Sama Sama Cooperative is an alternative model that demonstrates the ability of families to provide this opportunity to their children by working together and collectivizing their resources.

“It is important to cultivate a healthy sense of self and identity among Pilipino/a American youth, so that they may thrive and succeed in our multicultural landscape.  As Filipinos continue to increase in numbers, with Tagalog becoming the third largest language group in California, it is highly relevant to make them more aware, if not, value their roots as part of their developing self-concept.”

To learn more about Sama Sama Co-Op, log on to

To learn more about Torchlight Prize:

*Many thanks to Arron Neal of C.Fox Communications for Torchlight Prize for her assistance.

“Pilipino” instead of “Filipino” has been used throughout the piece to remain consistent with what Sama Sama Co-Op is using. 

(SF September 5, 2014 SF Magazine pg.2)

Email Email  |  Print Print

Leave a Reply