New York-based Filipino nurse turned artist Rommel Rico has long been printing his paintings on shirts.
What started out as a personal passion for art in 2017 has now become an avenue to save those in need, as Rico uses the proceeds from the shirts to help Filipino children with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
This advocacy was kickstarted when Ico Johnson, the founder of Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation, personally visited Rico in New York in November 2019.
Having seen Rico’s artworks and shirts on social media, Johnson thought both advocacy and art could go well together, especially in Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation’s Duyan Program, which seeks to address the medical needs of children with HIV such as laboratory tests, vaccination, medicines, and blood transfusion needs.
The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation has been tapping private corporations and individual partners for the Duyan Program since 2017 to sustain the medical needs of Filipino children with HIV.
According to Johnson, the foundation has more than 40 partner companies conducting several fundraising activities to aid children with HIV under the Duyan Program
With the foundation reaching out to individual partners as well, Johnson had thought Rico’s art exhibit in Manila, which was slated to happen in May 2020, would be the best platform to sell the artist’s printed shirts and raise funds for vulnerable children.
Rico didn’t hesitate to join the project, as his past stint as a nurse gave him a soft spot for children.
“It's about time that we focus our attention to children who have HIV, whose parents already died of AIDS, and most are under the care of relatives and neighbors,” he said.
For Rico, helping children with HIV with their medical treatment is necessary especially during the pandemic, as their condition makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus.
The initiative, however, faced a major hurdle when Rico was forced to postpone his art exhibit indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He had already been in the Philippines as early as February to prepare for the exhibit.
Although there was no longer an exhibit, this did not stop the Filipino artist from selling his printed shirts to raise funds for children with HIV.
Rico continued selling his shirts through his website, where interested buyers can order their preferred designs for P1,500 each.
Now that he is back in New York to go back to work as a creative project manager at Pfizer, Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation processes the orders and coordinates with buyers for delivery transactions.
As of August 29, Rico has sold 30 shirts, raising P25,000 for the Duyan Program.
These shirts are created through sublimation printing, a printing process that transfers image onto fabric.
The funds raised from the initiative will help the foundation purchase more medicines for Filipino children with HIV that are vital for their continuous treatment.
Making printed shirts is not Rico’s first foray into art. The former nurse has always dreamed of pursuing arts as a profession ever since he was a child. However, his parents had discouraged him from pursuing an artistic career as they worried that it wasn’t profitable.
Rico instead pursued a degree in physical therapy in college, later earning a license as a nurse after studying a short-term nursing course.
Due to limited US visas for Filipino physical therapists back then, Rico decided to work as a nurse in 2008 at Hillside Manor Nursing Home, Queens New York. He later delved into leading an events and marketing agency, and being a clinical review nurse supervisor at New York State Health until he ended up at Pfizer.
Fueled by his passion for arts, Rico decided to juggle his job with painting in 2016.
Within a span of 3 years, the Filipino artist has painted over 40 artworks and hosted several art exhibits in New York.
For someone who spent most of his years in the medical field, Rico said his journey and experiences towards pursuing art and creating shirts make these creations unique and special.
“If you are buying an artwork, you are not just buying the number of creative hours spent in creating the artwork, you are also buying the life years the artist has [spent] in this lifetime,” he said.
Hoping to bring in more funds for Filipino children with HIV, Rico will be creating and selling shirts until next year.
With the Christmas season rapidly approaching, Rico has introduced Christmas-themed designs for the Duyan Program.
The Filipino artist used line art designs for his new batch of shirts as they symbolize the Christmas season’s theme of “connectedness.”
“This Christmas, our wish is that this shirt connects you to all your family, friends, and [loved] ones out there in the world who have survived the challenges of 2020,” said Rico.
These new designs will be available starting September 2020.
Aside from reaching out to individual buyers, Rico aims to tap corporations to purchase his art-inspired shirts to generate more funds for the program.
Those interested to buy and check Rico’s works may check his website at https://www.virrco.net. You can also reach out to him on Facebook and follow him on instagram at virrco. – Rappler.com
Lance Mejico is a Rappler volunteer from De La Salle University-Dasmariñas. He is an incoming junior taking up Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism. Currently, he serves as the Director for Programming and External Affairs of 95.9 Green FM, the official radio station of DLSU-Dasmariñas.