Celebrating a life-long love of learning
By Gina Mission

At the end of the 1999 International Year of Older People, some 50 elderly students at St. Scholastica’s College’s Life-Long Learning and Wellness Center (LLWC) graduated from 20 courses the Center offers. And judging from their smiles, their graduation motto seemed to be that learning is a lifetime love affair, and old age need not be boring.

   Started two years ago, the LLWC is an alternative school for older persons who want to go back to school. It was founded by St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) president, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, in August 1997, after a trip to Germany where she visited, and later got inspired by, a similar but bigger and more organized school.

   Basically a non-formal school, the Center serves the need of older housewives and professionals for continuing education, health maintenance, a social life, and even the need to do something productive in their increasing free time. So far, the LLWC is the only one of its kind in the country.

   As Sr. Mary John explained, the Center began as an experiment to find out how receptive older people are to new ideas, and how the classes would change their lives, if at all.

   But what started as an offering of two courses has evolved into more than 20 courses. Joy Sarmiento, LLWC coordinator, said that three new modules are offered every school year, the variety of which depends on the needs of the students.

   Except for courses on Computers, which require a beginner course, students can enroll in all available courses. These are Art and Music Appreciation, Asian Religions and Spirituality, Gentology, Introduction to Women’s Studies, Journal Writing, Holistic Health and Alternative Healing, Ecology and the Senior Citizen, Film Analysis, Cranio-Sacral Therapy and Health Care for Senior Citizens.

   Other courses are Gender Issues for Men, Oriental Spirituality, What’s New in Technology, Emotional Healing, Flower Arrangement, Ballroom Dancing, Watercolor Painting, Shibashi and T’ai-Chi, Soap and Vegetable Carving, Quilt Making and Batik, Tie-Dye, and Shiburi.

   Each course is conducted in eight two-hour sessions over a period of eight weeks. A student can take as many courses as he or she can handle. On the average, a class has six students. Not surprisingly, Ballroom Dancing has the highest number of enrollees.

   SSC’s Computer College center coordinator Loida Jimenez said that majority of the students who enroll in the computer class do so out of curiosity about this modern machine. Another noticeable trend is that students in the same class would become good friends and would agree to enroll together in future courses. "It really brings out the sociability in them, which most of us tend to put aside, as we busy ourselves climbing the social and economic ladders during our younger years," said Jimenez.

   "The nuns really want us to continue learning," said 73-year old Lourdes Aboitiz.

   Mananzan, amused at how her experiment has helped a lot of older people become productive even after their corporate years, recalled how an elderly male student got intimidated by the mere site of computers. Now, he has conquered his fears and is communicating to his grandchildren in the US via e-mail.

   One of the more interesting parts of being a student at the LLWC is that the classes are highly interactive. This means the students are free to talk about whatever they feel is relevant to the course, or the topic at hand. The teacher is there to facilitate. So free is it that most of the time, it is the students themselves - after going through several courses together – who suggest to the Center what other courses should be offered.

   Sr. Mary John observed that this is a very promising trend, certainly more than she bargained for when she decided to put up the Center. As she said at the graduation: "One is never too old to learn, much less to direct his or her own learning."

   According to Helpage Asia, a UN-affiliated organization with regional headquarters in Thailand, the population of Asian countries, including the Philippines, is aging. In this country where the Magna Carta for the elderly, a law that is supposed to take care of the welfare of older people, remains unfunded, it is heartening to know that the Life-Long Learning and Wellness Center is doing very well and holding its own.

No more tears
By Gina Mission

It is unmistakably a classroom. The teacher, the students are all there. On a closer look, however, one observes that the teacher is younger than the students. And in this classroom, unlike other classrooms around the country, there is only one rule: There are no rules.

   "Anything goes here," declared Lourdes "Ruby" Aboitiz, 73, and the most articulate of the students at the Life-Long Learning and Wellness Center at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.

   "We’re very spontaneous here," joined Florinda "Linda" Aquino. At 69, Linda is running a pre-school and gives piano lessons. Two of her four children are successful career professionals in the US, and two others are also making their mark in the local scene. Linda and Ruby became the best of friends when their daughters became best friends in school.

   Everything is pleasantly unruly inside the classroom at the Center. The big table at the center of the room, from where the class is conducted, is littered with handbags, drawing pens, papers, and other stuff. There’s a free flowing conversation going on. The students move excitedly from one bench to another.

   As soon as everybody, especially those who are scheduled to make a presentation, is in, the teacher, Vivien Mangalindan, announces the activity for the day. Today, it is "Color My World."

   "This activity addresses some unresolved conflicts in one’s life. For my students, this activity brings out their awareness, and brings them to places without having to leave where they are now," explained Vivien. "And, there are no wrong answers."

   The activity finds Ruby and Linda, who have finished early, in a tete-a-tete. They involve their teacher in the conversation. On the far end of the bench, across Ruby and Linda is Urbana "Bunny" Ferrer, 67. She is fidgeting and complaining that she cannot draw and that she has never drawn anything in her life. Meanwhile, in an isolated corner away from the table is 75-year old Purificacion "Puri" Villegas, quietly working with her crayons and paper.

   Ruby, Linda, Bunny and Puri are four of the five students in the class on Emotional Healing. The other student, a man, is absent, and the ladies couldn’t be happier.

   "Kasi nakakahiya. Personal ‘tong mga ‘to no (It’s embarrassing. These are personal things, you know)," said one of the ladies, referring to her drawing.

   As the teacher interprets them, the drawings reveal the students’ secrets pertaining to their families, their love life, their pains and sacrifices. One drawing shows the contrast between the student’s vision of what she wants her life to be, how she wants to be free, and her own boxed-in existence.

   Yet another drawing shows how someone wants to leave a husband she doesn’t love and will never love, to which another student reacts: "At 67?"

   "There’s much more to life than we think we know," enthused Ruby. "That’s why we should not stop learning them, learning things, learning about ourselves."

   The ladies agreed that the Emotional Healing class has given them an opportunity to rediscover themselves. And this time, Ruby said, "There are no more tears."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.12.23