MANILA, Philippines - The amazing true story of how a retired Spanish school teacher helped build a “heaven” for street kids.
Maria Dolores “Maruxa” Pita, PeopleAsia’s first “People’s Choice” awardee, is a true-blue Española born in Madrid. (She was nominated by readers and garnered the most votes in an online poll posted on Facebook.) She arrived in the Philippines on December 1959 to help establish the Institucion Teresiana School (now known as Saint Pedro Poveda College).
Maruxa, who had been teaching in elementary and in a normal school in Spain, was eager to work in the Philippines. “I was very happy when I received the assignment. I knew it would be a very enriching experience,” she recalls. There was no sense of hesitation in the then 29-year-old lady who would be leaving the city she considered home and a family composed of nine siblings and her father, a military officer, and her mother, a homemaker. “Leaving home and family is part of life,” she reasons.
P-Noy’s preschool teacher
In the next 13 years, from 1960-1973, she would find herself molding young minds, teaching them subjects such as Religion, Physical Education, Spanish and her specialty — Math. At that time, Institucion Teresiana’s pre-school was coed. Maruxa fondly recalls that she taught the four older children of the late former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, who included current President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. Maruxa says, “They were all together (in school) — Ballsy, Pinky, Noynoy and Viel.” The former teacher also says that President Cory fetched all four children every afternoon herself. “It was very nice to see her,” Maruxa says of President Cory. “I will never forget her.”
Maruxa would continue forming young minds as a professor at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) College of Education. Later on, she would promote the Spanish culture to Filipinos as teacher and, eventually, Cultural Affairs Director of the Embassy of Spain.
By the time Maruxa had reached the career retirement age of 65, she had devoted more than 35 years to advocating education and culture in the Philippines, a country she had grown to love as her own.
But the lady’s greatest adventure was yet to come.
Not just food but education
In 1995, the year she retired from the Spanish Embassy, Maruxa decided to start teaching street children. She enlisted the support of volunteers and partnered with Poveda, which became the venue of the tutoring sessions.
Being practically an honorary Filipina and a long-time resident of Metro Manila, Maruxa was witness to the woeful situation of out-of-school youths who resorted to begging in order to survive. She wanted to do something more for them. She relates, “Whenever the children would knock on the window of my car, I would just give them cookies. Then I realized that what they really needed was not food but education.”
A year after, in 1996, Maruxa formally set up a foundation with friends Bishop Socrates Villegas, Rev. Fr. Adrian Magnait, Atty. Felix Sison, Nenuca Santos, Pilar Villanueva, Frannie Jacino and many others. They named their initiative the Makabata Foundation Inc. to emphasize their thrust of educating the poorest of the poor children. The program began with just a handful of street kids attending classes at Poveda in the late afternoons when classrooms were vacant. During weekends, Makabata conducted feeding programs. The foundation’s efforts attracted several boys and girls from depressed communities in Tramo near Poveda.
“When we made an evaluation, we realized that we did a lot but we could do more if we had a formal structure, a real school,” says Maruxa.
Heaven for street kids
Maruxa found a good-priced property (foreclosed by the bank) that would make an ideal site. Thanks to donations from numerous friends and contacts made through teaching and embassy work, the tireless lady was able to secure funds to not only buy the property but also renovate it.
Thus, in January 2001, Makabata School Foundation Inc. moved to its new home, a multi-level building in Armel Subdivision in Pasig City. The lovely school now has its own classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab, library and even an annex building. The improvements or additions have been possible through generous donations. For instance, the paved basketball court was built by a cement company and the trees that outline the court were given by International School Manila.
The over-all environment — including the facilities and curriculum — are comparable to a good private school in Metro Manila. One of the best tributes to Makabata School was given by no less than a visiting Department of Education (DepEd) supervisor who had written in the school’s guest book, “Makabata is a heaven for these street children.”
What began as simply informal tutorials has grown into a private Catholic co-educational school recognized by the DepEd. Makabata School offers preschool, elementary and high school education. The current student population is 160. All the students are scholars and most (if not all) are children of street vendors and casual workers. Without the support of the foundation, they would not be able to experience quality education. “Most of the students are from Floodway,” says Maruxa. Floodway is an urban poor community in Pasig, which — because of its high density and proximity to the river — was one of the hardest hit areas during typhoon Ondoy in 2009.
Hope in education
Every year, Makabata places posters around the area to call for enrollees. They are not required to take entrance exams but are only asked to fill out information forms. Teachers visit the homes of the candidate-students. Those who are deemed the neediest are accepted.
Maruxa turns emotional when she describes the children’s situation. She says, “Every day, they just think of survival. They are very, very poor. They don’t live in houses. They live in caves because their homes do not have windows on the first floor. They are afraid of lights. They are afraid of thieves…It is not rare that there are no less than nine to 10 children in the family. The homes do not have beds. There is no floor, no tiles, nothing.”
She strongly believes that education is the only way out for these children. “Because the worst concept of poverty is ignorance,” she points out.
A better future is certainly forthcoming because since the Makabata School began, it has produced some 15 to 20 high school graduates who are now taking further studies, which in turn would lead them to finding better jobs and becoming productive members of society. Maruxa says proudly, “Some of our graduates are taking vocation courses, while others are in college, studying courses like Education, Computer Science and Management.”
Today, Maruxa is 81 years old. The petite lady may have suffered from a broken arm (caused by a bad fall) in the middle of this year, but she certainly moves quickly and tirelessly as she does her duties as teacher and administrator of Makabata School. There’s more than a glimmer of the wide-eyed and excited teacher from Spain who arrived in Manila in 1959. Raising funds is still her main task, but Maruxa sees to it that the students are taught well; their personalities nurtured. Mediating in fights among students, counseling parents and motivating teachers are all part of her work. No, her mission.
Her sunny disposition inspires the staff and teachers around her. Angel Pescasio, Social Studies teacher for high school, says, “Masipag si Teacher Maruxa kaya bawal sa amin ang maging tamad (Teacher Maruxa is hardworking that’s why we can’t be lazy).”
But Maruxa’s greatest asset may be her unwavering faith in what Makabata is doing. Asked how she’s managed to make the school continue and grow, she replies simply, “You have to be creative. You have to look for different means.”
Maruxa strongly believes that the funds will just come. “Because it’s not the finances that are the most important,” she points out. “It’s the education of the children. When I say education, it’s not only the intellectual; it’s not only the spiritual; but the inner person, their attitude.”
And she has no doubt that this higher goal will carry them towards the many, many years to come.