#ProjectVoiceMNL: We are all made of stories

Renee Julienne M. Karunungan

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'In a world consumed with technology and fast-paced lives, Project VOICE allows us to stop, listen, observe, and feel whatever needs to be felt'

I have long believed that we are made of stories. Our DNA, our atoms, our limbs, the scars on our knees, the way we walk, the color of our eyes, even our body temperature have their own stories to tell. Sometimes we just have to listen.

The first storyteller I ever had was my grandmother. When I was a child, we shared a bed and, every night, before going to sleep, she would tell me stories – from the Japanese occupation to the morning cartoons I did not have the chance to watch because I went to school early.

The next storytellers I had were my English teachers. I still remember the stories they read to us in class. Corduroy and The Rainbow Fish became my first favorite books.

I grew up loving stories and words. I have become fascinated with writers and poets, those who can string the rights words together to convey experiences or emotions I have found difficult to express myself. 

Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye are among those poets whom I’ve grown to love and follow.



SPOKEN WORD. Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye are spoken word artists from Project VOICE. Photo by Franz Pantaleon

Poetry? Theatre acting? I didn’t know what it was but, whatever it was, I definitely gravitated toward it. I would watch videos after videos of their poetry and would even transcribe their performances. I would quote them in my photo captions and would memorize some of their poem’s lines. I have been a fan of Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye since my college years, when I didn’t even know how to call what they were doing on stage. 

I loved them and fell in love with what they did, which I eventually came to know as spoken word. (WATCH: Young poets and the art of spoken word)

What is spoken word? Sarah Kay defines it as “theater and poetry’s baby.” It is poetry performed on stage. Project VOICE – composed of Sarah Kay, Phil Kay, and Franny Choi – uses spoken word as a tool to entertain, educate, and inspire. They not only perform on stage, they give workshops in classrooms. They have been dedicated to use spoken word for literacy, empowerment, engagement, education, and community-building.

I have always dreamed of watching Project VOICE perform live. When I heard that they were coming to the Philippines, I knew I had to watch them one way or another. I was heartbroken when the first show sold out, so when their second show opened, I purchased a ticket in half a heartbeat.

AVID FANS. Audience cheers for Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye as they perform on stage. Photo by Franz Pantaleon

When Sarah and Phil went onstage, there was loud cheering from the crowd, overwhelming the two poets. They were welcomed the only way Filipinos know how to welcome their guests – with warmth and cheer. Even Phil Kaye’s undeniably bouncy hair was cheered on. Organized by Words Anonymous, #ProjectVoiceMNL’s first show was held at iAcademy on Sunday, March 1. The auditorium was full, some even started lining up as early as 4 pm for the 8:30 pm show. 

On the second night, held at the Henry Lee Theater at the Ateneo de Manila University, a different set of poems were performed. The theater was full, all 1,100 seats. The second night was more emotional as Sarah Kay cried in the middle of her performance of “Ghost Ship,” which she dedicated to her younger brother. Both shows ended with a high note as they did a duet of “When Love Arrives,” a crowd favorite.

In both shows, the audience sat, listened, watched, and felt the power of stories move them. 

Every poem was met with enthusiasm. The audience gave the duo a standing ovation at the end. 


Their poems, although based on their personal experiences, remind us that there are universal things which we all share, no matter if they are cliché: sadness, friendship, love, grief. 

Sarah Kay’s “Point B” about a mother-daughter relationship, a personal favorite, reminds us of how much we learn from our mother’s strength:

“Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing.
And when they finally hand you heartache,
when they slip war and hatred under your door
and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat,
you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.”

“The Type,” which Sarah Kay performed on the second night and which she dedicated to her friend, helps women remember to love ourselves, to never, even for a second, doubt our worth:

“Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours.
Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.
You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.”

“Ghost Ship,” the poem which made Sarah Kay cry in the middle of her performance, reminds us that we are all worthy of love, no matter our wreckage:

“No matter your wreckage,
there will be someone to find you beautiful despite the cruddy metal.
Your ruin is not to be hidden behind paint and canvas.
Let them see the cracks.
Someone will come and sing into these empty spaces.”

  PROJECT VOICE MNL. Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye in their first performance in the Philippines. Photo from Words Anonymous

Phil Kaye’s “Beginning, Middle, End” is a reply to his student who once asked him if people are made of stories:

Every great story
has a beginning, middle, and ending –
not necessarily in that order.
We are all great stories.”


His poem, “Repetition,” on the other hand, shows the power of words and how they can either make us or break us:

“They whispered to each other ‘I love you’ so many times over
that they forgot what it meant
Family, family, family, family, family, family
My mother taught me this trick
If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning”

Their joint performances of “An Origin Story” and “When Love Arrives” are about how we build, and sometimes lose relationships, and yet at the end of it all, we leave doors open for new people to come in:


“When the walls come down –
when the thunder rumbles –
when nobody else is home, hold my hand –
and I promise –
I won’t let go.”


“When love arrives say,
‘Welcome, make yourself comfortable’
If love leaves, ask her to leave the door open behind her
Turn off the music, listen to the quiet
‘Thank you for stopping by.’”



In telling one’s personal story, we realize we are never alone. This is probably the magic of poetry, of spoken word.

The world is full of stories waiting to be told. 

Sarah and Phil have inspired many young people to continue telling stories. In a world consumed with technology and fast-paced lives, Project VOICE has allowed us to stop, listen, observe, and feel whatever needs to be felt – something we all too often forget. – Rappler.com

iSpeak is Rappler’s platform for sharing ideas, sparking discussions, and taking action! Share your iSpeak articles with us: move.ph@rappler.comTell us what you think about this iSpeak article in the comments section below.

Ayeen Karunungan is a community coordinator for Rappler’s ProjectAgos.

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