California native Amber Folkman aka A Momma Abroad has been living in the Philippines with her family for the past decade – and she has found a way to turn daily Filipino life into creative inspiration. #PerksofPinas is a community hashtag that celebrates all the good things about living in the Philippines, which has evolved into tailored workshops for people who are seeking positivity, particularly those who are still trying to navigate their way around Manila.
Amber shows us around her colorful home and shares with us her insights on building an online community.
Tell us how ‘A Momma Abroad’ started.
“I started ‘A Momma Abroad’ in 2015. I started it because we had just moved from our old neighborhood, where a lot of foreigners and expats were living, to Pasig. I didn’t know anyone and my friends whom I hung out with were gone so decided I was going to find all the great things in our new neighborhood."
"I also wanted to show my family back home what our life was like in the Philippines so I began with sharing the places I found on Instagram. It keeps evolving into what it is – I grow with it and hopefully it will just keep getting better.”
“'A Momma Abroad’ is not a parenting blog. I’m not your person for parenting advice but I am your person for activities to do with your family and loving the place where you live.”
Amber wearing the Jasmine earrings
Have you always been interested in arts and handicrafts?
“I have always enjoyed arts and crafts. Sewing was one of my favorite ways to create. I wasn’t particularly gifted with painting and drawing so I really enjoyed decorating my bedroom and sewing clothes, toys and odd-and-end projects. Since living in the Philippines, I’ve been amazed at the local arts and crafts. I realized I had all these amazing finds at my fingertips – I just needed to go out and find them."
Amber's home is filled with local handicrafts and colorful weaves
"As I began decorating and feeling attached to these local handicrafts and textiles as well as their makers, I felt more indebted to the community and the Philippines. I felt an actual attachment to the Philippines and that’s why I’m a big supporter of decorating with local finds. Every time you see an inabel blanket, you feel a positive emotion about it and then you feel positive about where you’re living.”
Amber loves decorating with vibrant pieces like this yellow inabel tablerunner and 'sari-sari store' pillowcase
What’s one place you’ve visited in the Philippines that has inspired you?
“Some of the most inspiring places I’ve visited are the different weaving communities in Ilocos. Two years ago, we did an Ilocos Norte tour and we went to 4 different communities and it was so inspiring to see local woman use their talent and skills to create beautiful textiles.”
Amber wearing the Arenas earrings with a conch shell necklace
Do your travels inspire your DIY projects?
“I do believe that my travels and living in a different country inspires the way I decorate my home. I’m drawn to cultures and countries that have vibrant colors. I’m also drawn to people that are warm and friendly and that’s why I feel very comfortable living in the Philippines – I really feel at home."
"When I do travel to a new region or even a new part of Manila, I love discovering a local find and bringing it back and incorporating it in my home. I love textiles and I appreciate getting pieces from places I haven’t traveled to or where I hope to travel to.”
Amber DIY'd these walls by her home office where you can find books and baskets of different sizes
“I collect mobiles from all my different travels, most recently from Myanmar and Cambodia, which I hang in my children’s room. They add an element of design to our home that reminds that we’re not just from one country but we’re part of an entire world. Another element that inspires me in my DIY projects is color. I like having white walls as a blank canvas then adding something bright and vibrant around it.”
Inside the kid's playroom
Mobiles from different countries can be found in the kid's play area
Can you tell us what inspired #PerksofPinas?
“I wanted to narrow down what my dominant voice was with ‘A Momma Abroad’ and our online community was really supportive of sharing my perspective on finding daily magic. As a community, we decided on this hashtag #PerksofPinas and that was to help us look for the positive things whether it’s on your walk home to and from school or at your palengke and you see a really pretty walis tambo. I was at a wet market in Kamuning and I saw these beautiful brooms woven in bright colors. We don’t have beautiful brooms in America. That is a perk of Pinas. That is beauty and daily magic that can be specifically attributed to the Philippines.”
Amber wearing the Sundari necklace
“Whether it’s a Manileno or a foreigner, sometimes people have a hard time living in Manila. We can have a list of all the things that are frustrating about Manila but let's not forget about all the great things about Manila, too. The ‘Perks of Pinas’ workshop is to get people together and look at the skills they already have to find these daily bits of magic and actually love where they live."
"There’s a term in environmental psychology called ‘place attachment’ and it’s the relationship you have with your place and I’m fascinated by it. You do these tiny experiments to help create a positive relationship with where you live. ‘Perks of Pinas’ is a space where we teach that. We give them a positive perspective and help them see that Manila is a liveable city and that they can find happiness here.”
Will you be having a new workshop soon?
“I have a new workshop coming up in June called ‘Celebrate Perks of Pinas Gracefully’. That will be around the same week as Philippine Independence Day. It will be about celebrating all the uniquely Filipino things that we have here like arts and crafts and cultural practices like pasalubong."
"Gift-giving is my love language and when I hear this term from Filipinos, I feel that I understand them and they understand me. I’m also working on a super secret project for people who can’t come to the workshops or for those who need some type of support to help you find #PerksofPinas daily, which will be done by the end of the year. Until then, Instagram is a great place to connect with other people who are part of this community.”
What are your top 3 #PerksofPinas?
“Number one, endless summer. I don’t like cold weather. I’ll be happy even if I never see snow again. My second one is the people. The Philippines really is unique and Filipinos are generally warm, friendly and happy. I love that they are family-centered. My third #PerksofPinas that I’m sure no one is surprised about is suman. I love it and I can eat it any time of the day.”
What’s your advice to people like you who started out with a blog that evolved into a community?
“Don’t be a know-it-all. When you have a community, you might be a facilitator, in some cases you might be the torch-bearer, but you’re never better. Whatever you want to share, be equally as open to receiving that knowledge. I have learned so much and I never want people to think that I’m telling them ‘You should love this, you should do this, you should buy this.’ I just want to share a perspective of positivity and have others share that with me. As much as you are the facilitator, the leader or the sharer, also be the student and learn from your community.”
“Just be real. Be wise about it and hold a space for other people to also be that. People need to see more of that online and it goes a really long way. When you are truly who you are and you present yourself that way, there’s nothing to hide and be unsure of.”
“Also, make art every day. Do something creative every day. I am a terrible artist – I can’t draw but I buy art books that help me draw every day. I’m not good at it but I love it. If you're someone who has a career or a role that dominates a lot of your time – let’s say you’re a parent or you’re working in a call center all night – if creativity speaks to your soul, keep a little bit of that for yourself. Do something that ignites that creativity within your soul even if it’s just drawing something that takes 10 seconds or cooking something with a new ingredient.”
Follow Amber: @amommabroad
Photography by Sheila Catilo (@sheilacatilo)