How it all began – the Operation Brotherhood Pagsasarili Montessori to the rescue
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - February 6, 2020 - 12:00am

(Part II of “Facts About Volcanoes of the World”)

In 1965 I just returned from Italy after I trained as a Montessori preschool teacher at Centro Montessori in Perugia using a ‘borsa di studio’ grant of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I set up the first Montessori preschool beside the Operation Brotherhood International office at the Syquia Apartments in M.H. del Pilar in Malate. There were two dozen three- to five-year- old students which included my daughter Rachelle, my nephews and nieces, Dennis, the son of NEDA Chairman Locsin, the sons of Kokoy Romualdez and Tony Ayala, the Mutuc twins, the son of Xavier School principal Jenny Go and the daughters of Human Rights advocate Quisumbing and culinary expert Nora Daza.

Every afternoon I would train new teachers.  At the beginning some children would go into tantrums while others constantly ran around disturbing the class. Within the month everyone settled down and was busy working.

Leading female columnists discover Montessori education

The Montessori system was not known at all in the country so I held a press conference which the leading female columnists of the major dailies attended. They were surprised to see the whole class concentrating on different individual works instead of playing. Nina Daza was busy laundering hankies while the Romualdez brothers traced geometric insets and my three-year-old daughter was busy polishing her shoes. Peter Mutuc focused on putting together the puzzle map of the world. The materials were different and there were no toys.

Within the week the ladies wrote articles praising how the Montessori system allowed them to discover the new type of children who preferred work to play. The enrollment suddenly increased so we needed to transfer to a bigger house like the huge mansion the CuUnjiengs left in Escoda Paco to transfer their residence to the posh Forbes Park village of Makati.

The 1965 Taal Volcano eruption at Mt. Tabaro crater

It was 1965. Taal Volcano just erupted then (Taal Volcano erupted at Mt. Tabaro crater. Four other eruptions followed in 1967, 1968 and 1969). To fulfill the Operation Brotherhood advocacy to help the poor, the OBI president Oscar Arellano was busy helping relocate the volcano refugees to the towns of Taal, Lemery and his seaside hometown of Nasugbu. When he asked me to set up a preschool for their children I focused on the Montessori Practical Life activities such as sweeping, laundering, folding, pouring and the equilibrium or balancing exercise carrying materials while walking on a circular line on the floor.

Bundles of clothes, rice and canned goods were donated. The barrio children looked good wearing the hand me down clothes from Manila. A three-year-old girl repeatedly polished the floor with the bundles of banana leaves that made it shine. Although learning materials were limited like the Sandpaper Letter boards, Classified Nomenclature picture cards identifying family members, clothes of boys and girls, etc., the Pink Tower and Brown Stairs, the children enjoyed working with them.

The parents saw the change. At the start they were noisy and some were crying. Later instead of playing and running around everyone settled to work with enthusiasm. They expected the teacher to be shouting and scolding but she remained calm attending to different children. Each child was occupied with different materials unlike the conventional class where children did the same work at the same time. Without any trace of fear everyone happily finished their work in order.

Relocating squatters   from Intramuros

Earlier in 1963, before I trained at the Montessori Center in Italy, I was then assisting a Swiss Montessori teacher at Telly Albert Zulueta’s preschool in San Lorenzo Village in Makati. Oscar Arellano invited me to set up a preschool for the poor at Sapang Palay Bulacan, part of the relocation project of 3,000 squatters from the heritage site of Intramuros. This was funded by the top three newspapers – Manila Times, Manila Bulletin and Chronicle.

Mr. Arellano believed that training the poor adults in occupational skills would spur them to build the new community, so he asked me to keep the children busy to allow the parents to concentrate in livelihood training. It was free so long as the children would take a daily bath before coming to school. While the men learned animal husbandry and tailoring the women were taught basic cooking and bottling fruit preserves. To lift their morale they were introduced to personal grooming including the rudiments of hair cutting and perming.

The UNESCO preamble states that war starts in the minds of men. Therefore the defense of peace must start in education. Illiteracy causes poverty. What is poverty? The poor begs believing he is nobody, he is helpless. He keeps begging for he believes he has nothing whatsoever. How can the poor learn to believe in himself if politicians and businessmen frequently try to dole out goods? This has created a culture of mendicancy.

Determination to build faith in Filipinos

Oscar Arellano had hundreds of innovative ideas to uplift the poor. Even if only one of them works it would make a world of difference. With assistance of UP Los Banos he lent out pigs to the farmers to breed them to maturity and share the income. In addition the experiment to produce Chinese ham was tried. Because of this OB stood for Operation Babuyan. He also kept the housewives busy and encouraged them to engage in well-known Batangas home embroidery. Aware of the European taste for high fashion he thought it a good idea to produce reptile leather bags and tried initiating the crocodile farm in Tawi-Tawi but met obstacles so that it was referred to as the “Waity Waity” project.

But one day he visited the new Montessori preschool of Nancy Rambusch in Connecticut, Massachusetts. He was so impressed seeing very young children concentrating on a variety of work. Instead of playing with blocks and play dough they were laundering with precision, setting the table with breakable plates and glasses, enjoying advanced arithmetic operations with golden decimal beads. Having observed these “miracles,” Oscar was determined to have it duplicated in the Philippines.

 On the ground floor of the Operation Brotherhood Montessori headquarters in Greenhills is a bust of Dr. Maria Montessori under which is stated, ”Laws and treaties are not enough. What we need is a world full of miracles, as it seems miraculous to see the young children working independently, manifesting a wealth of enthusiasm and love. A new world for a new man: that is what we sorely need today.”

CENTRO MONTESSORI
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