Redefining Balikbayan: Announcing the 2015 Kaya Collaborative Fellows


  Kaya Collaborative ( announces its second annual fellowship cohort: nine emerging Filipino leaders from across the US, ready to take on a summer of learning and action in the Philippine social sector.

The fellowship is Kaya Co’s first step toward its mission of reconnecting Filipino diaspora youth with opportunities for transnational action in the Philippines. During the summer, fellows immerse in personalized 8-week internships with homegrown social ventures, learn from local community partners, and collectively design new solutions to bridge the disconnect between diaspora and home. After the summer, fellows are launched back to their diaspora networks to engineer and implement this reconnection at scale.

This year’s fellow profiles range broadly across disciplines, regions, and perspectives, but they are driven by some core similarities: a deep connection to the Philippines, a desire to understand it better at the personal level, and a drive to engage others in the same intentional exploration.

One fellow, Sierra Jamir, remembers her first moment of inspiration: “Iskwelahang Pilipino (Filipino School) exposed me at a young age to communities halfway around the world with a common face and culture as my own.” She has since explored this sense of connection by founding her high school’s Southeast Asian Association; creating PinoyJeep (, a blog on Filipino culture for young Fil-Ams in New England; and organizing to raise funds for Aeta children in the Philippines.

Jade Verdeflor, another fellow, points to an Alternative Spring Break on Filipino American leadership as a critical step in her journey to find power through her identity. “I was so eye-opened and in awe,” she recalls, “of how powerful the solidarity in the community was.” During her freshman year, Jade found herself playing a leading role in initiating Taskforce Haiyan as a campus-wide collaboration across Stanford. Typhoon Haiyan was her call to action to translate this sense of collective power to involvement in Philippine causes.

Many stories like these emerge from the fellowship. There’s Anthony Garciano, a USC sophomore who moved from Camotes Island, now driving a deliberate transformation of his Filipino cultural group from a social club to one that’s more rooted in culture and service. For Sarah Santos, a Georgetown freshman, the intersection of her interests has brought social impact, storytelling, and her cultural identity to the forefront of an intensely personal journey.

In all of these stories, the same animating questions of impact and identity play out in different forms – and the same energy buzzes around the promise of what comes next.

Sierra will be interning this summer with Food for Hungry Minds, an elementary school program for low-income youth, creating an alumni youth leadership network to empower both past and current students.  Jade will be exploring her interests in health through a project with Kythe, a social venture that aspires to create a Philippine health system where all children have the right to learn, play, and grow – even in the hospital.

Together, the fellows will be learning about a new wave of leadership and innovation in the Philippines, about the different ways that local Filipinos have taken their future into their own hands. Together, they will unlock the roles that our global community of balikbayans can play.

This is the second year of the Kaya Co. fellowship, which launched last summer with the support of Brown University (, Ayala Foundation (, Ashoka’s Youth Venture (, and our own inspiring Filipino communities.  Last year’s fellows are now back in the US and mobilizing others to unlock their identities for transnational impact. Learn more about their stories and their work through Kaya Co’s Medium channel (


*              *              *

Read more about our 2015 fellows:

JadeVerdeflorJade Verdeflor is a sophomore at Stanford University studying Human Biology. As an intern for Stanford Pilipino American Student Union (PASU)’s Kababayan committee, Jade played a key role in facilitating and driving Taskforce Haiyan, a cross-campus initiative to galvanize support for Philippine relief and recovery after the typhoon. Currently serving as Community Service Co-Chair, she has led an Alternative Spring Break trip on migrant solidarity, striving to link short-term service efforts to long-term dialogue.




Sierra Jamir is a freshman studying Nutritional Science and Food Science at the University of Connecticut.  Raised in Massachusetts, she is a proud alumna of Iskwelahang Pilipino, a community-run Filipino school that teaches Filipino culture and history to young Fil-Ams in the New England area.  This experience has inspired her to start her high school’s Southeast Asian Club, establish a fundraising initiative for the Aeta people in the Philippines, and create PinoyJeep: an educational blog for Fil-Am youth in New England.




Sarah Santos is a freshman at Georgetown University.  During her senior year at high school, she took part in Ashoka’s Catapult Incubator for youth entrepreneurship, where she became part of the co-founding team of aventure called Everything Origami.  A trip to the Philippines for her senior project after this has inspired her to tie her interests in storytelling, arts, and entrepreneurship to her identity.  She is now preparing for a journey into social entrepreneurship through an internship with Ashoka’s Search team in DC.




Mae Verano is a sophomore at Brown University pursuing a degree in Ethnic Studies and Public Health.  She is a proud member of Archipelag-a, Brown’s Filipina spoken word group, which was created as a space to share the perspectives of Filipina women in the diaspora with a greater audience.  She also serves as the External Affairs Chair of Brown’s Filipino Alliance, where she works to strengthen the group’s ties with other Filipino student groups in the region.  Outside these pursuits, she dedicates herself to understanding and giving voice to the histories and present struggles of marginalized populations.


SStephDofitastephanie Dofitas is a senior at University of Pittsburgh studying Biology. After playing a leading role in a chapter of difficult transition and eventually growth in Pitt’s Filipino Students Association, she is now President of the group: a role that she has leveraged to open new spaces for collective growth, action, and learning about Filipino identity and the Philippines. She has started a new Ate/Kuya mentorship program in the group, embedded education about Philippine history in regular meetings and events, and is on the lookout for opportunities to dig even deeper.




Jon Caña is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Media Studies.  He is passionate about building communities, generating ideas, telling stories, and developing the potential in people: passions that have played out through his involvements with Pilipino American Alliance and the greater Filipino community in his college.  His work has contributed to a Pilipino Cultural Night of over 1000 attendees, a Haiyan fundraiser that netted $6000, and a series of workshops to prepare 17 rising leaders to lead within PAA.



GabbGabbieSantosie Santos is a junior at Middlebury College studying International Politics and Economics.  She attended school in the Philippines before attending United World College in Canada, where she found herself suddenly the only representative of her country.  Since then, she has flourished in diverse and international spaces, serving as Co-President of the International Student Organization at her school, and has learned about service and development through Habitat for Humanity and the MiddCORE social entrepreneurship summer program.




Anthony Garciano is a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying History and Social Science Education.  As Culture & Community Service Chair for Troy Philippines, Anthony has piloted new learning models to ignite a shift in his organization from a social club to one that centers on culture and history.  His interest ineducation models for civic engagement is also visible in his work with History in a Box, a history lesson incorporating arts and crafts in an effort to build civic awareness in Boyle Heights.



Adam AdamJacksonJackson is a junior at Ohio State University pursuing a degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. In high school, he made a slight name for himself as a Youtube Partner with more than 2000 followers on his tech channel;today, he exercises the same passion in his pursuit of opportunities in social entrepreneurship. He has also played a key leadership role in OSU’s Global Leadership Initiative, fostering an intercultural community of 27 student leaders on campus.