“My proudest moment is the time we were featured on TV. And when we watched the show, with my mom and dad beside us, my mom was just staring at the TV. I think she was thinking, ‘Are these my daughters? Are they really there, talking about our story?’ My parents really felt like we were doing something good.”
A stuffed plushy in the shape of a brain, with a cute little smile and wearing a small band-aid. A pair of lungs, beaming the same bright smile. A stuffed toy in the shape of a bean, which turns out to be a kidney. Ainee Idanan holds each of them up as we sit down to speak with her about her toy line. She’s the creator of LaruAin – the name, a clever twist on from the Filipino laruan, meaning toy, combined with her own name.
“I used to make toys for my students. I’m used to creating teacher-made materials, I enjoy sewing small items for them like finger puppets.”
The toys she offers are distinct – largely based on body parts and organs, with a little cartoonish twist to give them some appeal for the kids. But the cute appeal of those plushies doesn’t give a picture of the story behind them.
When Ainee was working at Cambridge Philippines, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme 4 and soon had to go into radiotherapy and chemotherapy. To take care of her mother, Ainee left her job as a schoolteacher – but the therapy wasn’t cheap. So, her sister set up a support page called Tumor No More, which gave updates on her mother’s condition and thanked donors for their generosity.
A friend designed a mascot for the site, as well – the smiling brain named “Brainee”.
Brainee became the inspiration for an idea, which would help Ainee earn more for the costly treatment of her mother. With a few simple materials – sheets of felt, some thread and needle – she turned Brainee into a stuffed toy. Following the brain, other organs of the human body followed – heart, kidney, even a uterus – and each wore the same, encouraging smile that Brainee wore.
“Before I started college, I wanted to be a doctor…” Ainee says, explaining the choice of using body parts, “This is the closest I come to working with organs. But I guess my path led me to a more creative side, crafty side. That’s why I became a preschool teacher.”
And her passion for education really comes out in the plushy of a heart she had designed. This wasn’t the kind of “heart” shape kids are used to; it was the shape of the actual human heart, vessels and all.
She sold them to some friends and family, and the word spread. As demand grew greater, Ainee needed more hands on deck and enlisted the help of her sister and friends to sew together more of the toys. Her sister took on the role of LaruAin’s marketing as well, spreading the word.
And their mother – though limited in her ability to walk or to speak – managed to get in on LaruAin’s production process as well. She became the group’s de-facto quality controller. Ainee would put the finished stuffed toys in her hands. If she liked the designs and the product, she could at least nod and smile her approval.
Maybe, the familiar Brainee in her hands was not lost on her.
Of course meeting the demand isn’t always easy, considering that every single one of LaruAin’s toys is hand sewn. Ainee even tells of how her sister once accepted a large order around Christmas time. They managed to deliver the large order on time, but it was quite a challenge.
When asked about the proudest moment she’s had so far, though, Ainee had a quick answer:
“That time we were featured on TV… we were interviewed on Mars (a local station’s morning program). The people were very welcoming, but they only learned the story while we were doing the shoot. So everybody was like, ‘oh, you’re such nice kids!’ We felt like we were doing the right thing for our mom.”
“And when we watched the show, with my mom and dad beside us, my mom was just staring at the TV. I think she was thinking, ‘Are these my daughters? Are they really there, talking about our story?’ My parents really felt like we were doing something good.”
In the end, it became a perfect marriage of something she was serious about doing – helping her mother – with her passion of making things that kids could use and learn from.
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