As a part of this school year’s curriculum, we had to endure 10 Saturdays of crazy heat and crazy rain (courtesy of our bipolar weather), commuting to Fairview to teach children art. At first, the idea of sacrificing two months worth of rest and leisure seemed daunting to almost all of us, and it lead up to a point of questioning the system itself. But the thought of inspiring young children eventually got to us – although it didn’t really sink in until the semester was about to end.
NSTP or the National Service Training Program is a part of Ateneo’s four year Ateneo Formation Program, and our block was one of the few who were lucky enough to be part of their flagship program where selected students were to teach subjects regarding their majors. Before the actual insertions though, we had briefing sessions about the things that we were about to encounter. Of course we were taught about how it was to teach little children, but for most of the sessions, we were advised about how the area would be different from our normal living conditions. Our formator described the area as very dirty. He even showed us a picture of an inhumanely filthy toilet, which is something that our stomachs weren’t used to. This wasn’t necessarily the best thing, because it didn’t do as much informing as it did scaring us to death. Nonetheless, we readied ourselves to experience a setting much different from the ones we were accustomed with.
Our designated area was Manuel L. Quezon Elementary School and to arrive in the area, we had to pass along a narrow road surrounded by shanties. People basically clogged the place as they roamed around every nook and cranny of the site, not minding the vehicles that passed by the roads. We observed people doing their laundry alongside the passing cars, and kids running without even minding the constricted and fume-filled streets. Sometimes they even hung to our jeep as if it were a typical gesture for them. It was also a common sight to see people bathing outside their homes and grown men strolling around the place not wearing any shirts. Nearing our destination, the number of vendors dominating the area has also increased, with their food stalls further confining the already congested area. In essence, the trip to the school already gave us a basic impression of what kind of community we would be expecting once we arrive.
The moment we arrived in a clearing, our prediction did not betray us. Amongst the backdrop of a worn-down school, we saw a huge crowd of poverty-stricken people taking over the scene. There was a basketball court just in the vicinity of the school where most of the population was concentrated. Most of the time, this place gathered old and young people alike to host some of their basketball games as a form of entertainment. The players donned make-do athletic attires to make it seem like a legitimate game. Nearby, simple kiosks selling different kinds of street food took advantage of the potential customers. There were also plenty of untamed cats and dogs wandering the area. Sometimes some kids clustered around to play with them. Other times, people did they same as they ambled like the animals around the place in their baggy shorts and slippers. To describe the way they conversed with each other, there were no formalities used whatsoever (aside from the president of the school, of course). People weren’t ashamed to shout and say obscenities. The words “hoy!” and “psst!” were quite typical to hear in this crowded setting. Despite this, the community didn’t really border in being uncouth. In fact, most of the people we exchanged words with when we bought food still remained courteous and well-mannered. Yet if we were to give just one basic characteristic to describe this community, we would have to go with them being very cheerful and jocular people. Indeed, albeit the obvious troubles they have in life, we noticed that laughter and smiles were often plastered on their faces when we went around the area.
When we got to the Manuel L. Quezon Elementary School for the first time, we were introduced to our tutees. The head of school then showed us to our rooms and we introduced ourselves to the children. The first thing we noticed was the environment. It wasn’t at all what our formator described it to be. It was actually clean and it had many trees. The school was strategically placed in the center or their little town, and in front of their covered activity area so it was convenient for everyone.
Teaching the kids was definitely a whole new experience. It was already hard having zero knowledge on how it was to be an effective teacher, let alone relaying art terms to little children, we also had to do so in Filipino. This was almost close to impossible, not because we didn’t know the language, but because of the technicalities. We had to teach 5-year-olds terms like Hatching and Cross-hatching and this really presented itself as a challenge. But we guess this is where our teamwork and camaraderie came in. This didn’t only affect the children, as it also helped us become closer as a block.
We also noticed how the area had a very tight community. After our art classes, we would go out and buy food from the vendors across the street, and usually, parents would come up to us and ask us stuff about the classes we conduct, and sometimes, even questions about us. There was this one time, a kid was crying because another kid was teasing him and he ran away looking for his mommy. Out of concern, we came closer and asked him what his problem was. After a few minutes, a parent approached us and talked the kid into smiling. We assumed that she was his mother, but to our surprise, she wasn’t. She just happened to be one of their neighbors. With this, it’s quite comforting to note that their shady environment doesn’t get in the way of their concern for one another. It was comforting how their community was like one big family.
To further incorporate our passion, which is art, into this phenomenon has made this whole experience that more personal. We were able to use our talents and skills to help others directly, which is something we don’t get to do every day, and this not only affected them but also us as well. And we really do believe that the impact we’ve made on the children doesn’t even equalize to the impact that they had on us. To use one’s talents for the benefit of others gives a person a special kind of fulfilment; it sets the fine line between a merely skilful person, and a person who actually uses his/her talent, thus in our case, an artist. As artists, one of our greatest hopes in life is to create change. This was definitely one of those moments.
Our NSTP insertions indeed gave us the chance to be part of a bigger phenomenon, something we weren’t really that familiar with before (i.e. environment, different people) and thus enabled us to somehow step out of our comfort zones, and be part of a whole new culture. It’s amazing to think that so many cultures reside in a single society, how one society is primarily composed of different types of subcultures and thus adds to the diversity of the society itself. We don’t live that far from our area, but it is evident how our culture is very different from theirs. This can be seen even through the simplest of things, like how the kids react when we make them do activities, and how they do the activities themselves.
Being part of a whole new culture enabled us to see for ourselves what we were capable of outside of school and further enhanced our capabilities when it came to art, as this time we weren’t only doing art, we were teaching art. And by means of teaching we were able to share our knowledge and our talents with kids who had a passion for the arts as well. It may seem like a relatively small thing, and NSTP may just be some outreach program that our school demands of us, but we definitely took more than what we expected to gain from NSTP, for we not only realized how important it is to share our talent with others, but more important is how we stand as sources of inspiration for these kids, who are less fortunate than us, and through that we were able to teach them the most valuable lesson of all: that their art matters.
As much as we were supposedly the teachers in this scenario, we think the kids taught us so much more than we had ever taught them. Their community, as blatant as this may sound, is a poor community. Yet as we went through this program, we witnessed how the children were able to remain cheerful and full of smiles despite their destitute conditions. We realized that in the end, happiness isn’t based on what type of lifestyle you were born with, or what type of culture/society you belong to, be it a poor one or a rich one, happiness comes from what you take out of that society, or what you make it to be.
-Nicole Castañeda, Kim Hofileña, Aminah Deloria, SA 21 Q