Education and Home

The school angel upholds the motto ‘ad dolore, ad gloriam’

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

(Last of a series on Angels Are Real)

Every project or art creation in Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center (OBMC) school headquarters in Greenhills has a story to tell: hard work, frustration, patience, and deep faith. In the end, this special dedication would finally be converted to a spiritual achievement. “ad dolore, ad gloriam” – from pains to gains.

In 1995, the Operation Brotherhood Montessori school headquarters in Greenhills launched the college department – referred to as the Operation Brotherhood Montessori College (part of which has become Istituto Culinario). It also celebrated the 30th year of its establishment since 1966 when the first O.B. Montessori school started in the Syquia building in Ermita,

On the façade of the eight-story college the giant mural of the school angel mystically named Angelique Victoria was added. According to mystic-artist Punay Kabayao Fernandez, Angelique Victoria has been gifted to the school to symbolize all the pains and gains she has experienced in almost three decades. “Ad dolore, ad gloriam” (from pains to gains) is inscribed beneath the Angel who carries the golden Holy Grail crossed by a sword.

Helping the poor to help themselves

The O.B. Montessori schools trace their roots back to 1964 when the mother organization Operation Brotherhood International (OBI) helped relocate 3,000 squatter families from the walls of Intramuros to Sapang Palay. It was the first massive transfer of illegal settlers from the old Manila. OBI, founded by the late Oscar Arellano had helped in the difficult task of settling down dislocated families from war-torn Vietnam and Laos between 1956 and 1973. The OBI team was made up of Filipino doctors, nurses, food technologists, agronomists, and social workers, who assisted these ignorant refugees in resettlements to learn skills, which would make them economically independent. To instill the spirit of “self-help,” all OBI activities, emphasized the education of the whole family unit. Thus, while the adults were engaged in productive community activities, their children attended the nursery school.

When OBI’s projects in Vietnam and Laos ceased due to the war, Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center (OBMC) was incorporated in 1975. The OBI board headed by Oscar Arellano, with Fr. Fritz Araneta, S.J., Angel Limjoco, SEC Chairman, Jobo and Vic Fernandez (Far East Bank) as members, appointed me as president of this non-stock, non-profit school corporation. The original board members were Securities and Exchange Commissioner Angel Limjoco, then Sen. Salvador Laurel (who later became Vice President of the Philippines), Greek Consul General Alexander Adamson, Philippine Sony President Elena Lim and my husband Max V. Soliven, publisher of The Philippine STAR. It continued its mission to spread the Montessori way of life to everyone.

Learning the international ‘self-help’ system of education

In 1964, Italian Ambassador Sig. Rubino awarded me as project manager for Operation Brotherhood village children’s schools, a government scholarship to train in Perugia, Italy. Eight of my teachers received the same kind of scholarship grant. They were enrolled at the same Montessori Internationale for three to seven year olds. Later, I specialized in Montessori Language Arts in London, England as arranged by Mario Montessori with Muriel Dwyer, head of the Maria Montessori Center at Lyndhurst Gardens. A British council grant was given to me then to include observation of British and Scottish primary schools.

In 1968-69, I was awarded an additional Italian scholarship to take part in the International Montessori course for seven to twelve year olds in Bergamo, Italy. Meantime I got acquainted with Mario Montessori with whom I corresponded until his death in 1983. World renowned Montessori experts with whom I have worked were Antonietta Paolini, Elnora Honegger, Camillo Grazzini and Sofia Cavalletti of AMI Italy; Muriel Dwyer and Hilla Pattel of AMI England; and the Lanterniers, Jacqueline Oudin from Rennes, Britanny. My classmates in Perugia and Bergamo, Italy were Hisako Matsumoto, Sr. Jacinta, Jim Roy, Jean Miller, Liz Hall, Sanford and Martha Jones, now running schools of their own.

Growing pains

It was very kind of Italian Ambassador Rubino and Ambassador Solera to allow me to work out a series of borsa or scholarships from Ministero deghi Far Esteri in Rome to train my assistants in teacher training. Each training course, if paid for, would have cost then half a million pesos. Unfortunately, except for Elias Guevarra, our former academic chairman, Mayette Tecson and Portia Mayo, each of those I sent to Bergamo, Italy committed a breach of contract.

Max, my husband, decided that I should do my own teacher training. This move worked better. However, we discovered that not all teachers can become effective the Montessori way. Even cum laude applicants fail because they lack maturity. It was better to “drop them” after the first year for their incompetence hurt the children’s development.

Problems of renting schoolhouses

The Casa dei Bambini (or Children’s House, which is the accepted kindergarten term for Montessori preschools) in Italy were either in old convents, which served as happy transition places between the children’s own homes and the formal grade school. I convinced Mr. Arellano to allow me to rent old mansions and houses in Manila. The Cu-Unjiengs, Rufinos and Madrigals were leaving their large family residences in Paco, Taft and New Manila for more modern homes in Forbes Park, Makati.

The “growing pains” started. Although the OBI office was ready to finance minor repainting and repairs of the old houses, we realized that there were major overhauling of the entire plumbing and wiring systems of the large mansions. In the sixties one repair would cost P50,000 approximately.

Between 1966 and 1976, the O.B. Montessori Children’s House started at the Cu-Unjieng mansion in Paco. When typhoon Yoling left it in disrepair, we moved to the Rufino mansion along Taft Avenue. The weekend fires and floods made us move to the Lizares mansion near Roxas Boulevard. The 1973 oil crisis tripled the rent.

At least, we were able to convince the parents to bring their children to our O.B. Montessori preschool at one of the houses of Gil and Armi Hilarion at Dasmariñas Village. We also shared 2 ancestral houses with the OBI headquarters of Oscar Arellano at Ambassador Lichauco’s at Sta. Ana.

A revolution in education

I realized that it was going to be a feat persuading Filipinos that effective education must transform the conventional system. The media was the answer. I invited the press to come and discover the “new teacher” and the “new children.” The lady journalists and columnists from all the local dailies readily came to see the true Montessori kids at work. False Montessori pre-schools were by then mushrooming already. (Between 1970 and 1972, to show the public what is the authentic Montessori way of learning I hosted live, the weekly TV show at ABS-CBN “Montessori for Everyone” every Saturday after the Ariel Ureta show, then repeated the following Tuesdays and Thursdays.)

At first they expected to see the usual group singing, cutting and pasting, and story-time. Instead they discovered that children prefer work to play. Each of the two dozen fours and fives was concentrating on individual apparatus: the Geometry Solids, the Decimal Golden Beads, Color Tablet Boxes 1,2,3, and Puzzle Map of the World, etc. The laundry table, the ironing board and the shoe polishing box were systematically used.

They also discovered that preschoolers can fully concentrate. Not a single child was curious about the visitors. No one was distracted by the photographers with their heavy flash cameras. They were all focused on their work.

The new teacher

The teacher was more of an alert guide, making sure each one was working on a Montessori apparatus. Not one who constantly dictated the class to read, to write, and to open books.

I personally guided the children with four teacher trainees. The technique was more psychological than pedagogical. Given a “Montessori smorgasbord” of Practical Living exercises, Sensorial, Language, Math and Sciences, the trained teacher would have to offer each child an apparatus according to age and temperament.

The short kindergarten summer course usually given in the country just would not do. A full college course with a lengthy in-service training is the only sure way of training Montessori teachers.

The angel upholding perfection – the end of martial law

About this time, on Dr. Maria Montessori’s birthday, Aug. 31 in 1986, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the school. It was also the year the Marcos dictatorship ended. In celebration, the EDSA Shrine with Blessed Mother Mary’s steel statue along EDSA and Ortigas, was established. Saddened by Filipino cult of worshipping her alone, Mother Mary’s mystical instruction is worship must be accorded her Son who is God while as His Personal Associate and just a mortal being we just revere her as our intercessor. Therefore Jesus should always be given prominence by heightening His statue beside her.

To fulfill her request, the grotto shrine with two of them together as the Lord of Sacrifice and the World Mother was placed in the OBMC school yard. Soon after, a giant angel of The Pointing Hand was placed above the grotto.

According to author Geoffrey Hodson, this angel, who reminds us to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is given this admonition: “Let this be the motto for you all, THE HIGHEST – and let all who join our ranks pledge themselves to that motto. We, too, will pledge ourselves, and every time this inward pledge is uttered by a man, an angel shall repeat his pledge like a torch to add to the great reservoir of power apportioned.”

“Thus, perchance, we may remove the blight that threatens your race, the blight of apathy in which you are sunk so deep that only war, earthquakes, fires and floods, famines and sudden death can stir your somnolence.”

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