Es­cuela Taller gives the in­di­gent youth another shot at life through the preser­va­tion of lo­cal her­itage sites


In­cor­po­rated in the mas­sive stone walls of In­tra­muros are struc­tures called rav­elins. A for­ti­fi­ca­tion of sorts, they were built to serve as buf­fers in case of an as­sault—a strate­gic hide­out for watch­men and mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

One such struc­ture, called the Rev­el­lin de Reco­le­tos, named after the Reco­le­tos Church, was built in 1771 “to strengthen the de­fense of the cur­tain wall be­tween Balu­arte de Di­lao and Balu­arte de San An­dres,” ac­cord­ing to a his­tor­i­cal marker erected by the In­tra­muros Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The Rev­el­lin de Reco­le­tos, also known as Rev­el­lin de Di­lao, was turned into the Aurora Gar­dens, named in honor of for­mer Pres­i­dent Manuel L. Que­zon’s wife, in 1940. Five years later, it sus­tained heavy dam­age from the Bat­tle of Manila, then was first re­stored in 1969. Its sec­ond and last restora­tion was in 1986.

These days—246 years after the com­ple­tion of its con­struc­tion, to be ex­act—the Rev­el­lin de Reco­le­tos is, aptly enough, the head­quar­ters of a non-profit, non­govern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion that ad­dresses un­em­ploy­ment among the in­di­gent youth and also tire­lessly safe­guards the Philip­pines’ built her­itage.

This is the Es­cuela Taller de Filipinos Foun­da­tion, Inc.

An ini­tia­tive that orig­i­nated in Spain in the ’80s, Es­cuela Taller (ET) has been a train­ing ground for skilled work­ers who spe­cial­ize in the pro­tec­tion, con­ser­va­tion, and restora­tion of cul­tural her­itage prop­er­ties and prac­tices. It has since been repli­cated world­wide and was brought to Manila in 2009. To­day, it fights for the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of our built her­itage as well as the holis­tic de­vel­op­ment of un­em­ployed young­sters in im­pov­er­ished ar­eas by teach­ing tech­ni­cal skills es­sen­tial in her­itage preser­va­tion to out-of-school youth.

“Es­cuela Taller’s role is to build the ca­pac­ity of the Filipino youth to be­come crafts­men or her­itage pro­tec­tors who will ex­e­cute the con­ser­va­tion of the ma­te­ri­al­ity of built her­itage and to raise aware­ness in Philip­pine so­ci­ety about the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing

such cul­tural re­sources,” said ar­chi­tect Car­men Bet­tina S. Bu­laong, ET’s of­fi­cer-in-charge and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Al­though it has now be­come an NGO in­de­pen­dent from its Span­ish and Latin Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, the Philip­pine branch still op­er­ates un­der the orig­i­nal ET mod­els and ap­proaches—the main thrust of which is free ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. The de­vel­op­ment pro­gram, first and fore­most, is one that is geared to­wards al­le­vi­at­ing poverty by ad­dress­ing un­em­ploy­ment.

“Es­cuela is pri­mar­ily a de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion. Our goal is to equip the trainees for em­ploy­ment. Ideally, they take on her­itage jobs, but if they don’t, then at least they have the skills to work any­where,” ex­plained Philip A. Paraan, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and spe­cial projects of­fi­cer for ET.

But the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s twopronged ap­proach al­lows it to put the spot­light on another is­sue: her­itage, gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a young in­dus­try and field of in­ter­est in the coun­try.

“What sets us apart from other or­ga­ni­za­tions or train­ing fa­cil­i­ties is that we be­lieve that two prob­lems, namely youth un­em­ploy­ment and the loss of our built her­itage, are each other’s so­lu­tions,” said Bu­laong.

“The im­por­tance of con­serv­ing our her­itage is not yet as wide­spread as it should be. Our coun­try con­tin­ues to strug­gle with is­sues of loss of im­por­tant cul­tural as­sets, both tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble, sim­ply due to the lack of aware­ness, apa­thy, or due neg­li­gence,” she added.

Through its schol­ar­ship pro­gram, ET is able to break through this apa­thy. Lit­tle by lit­tle, with ev­ery batch that makes it to grad­u­a­tion day, aware­ness about Philip­pine her­itage is spread even in the slums.

The ap­proach ini­tially made some ex­perts in the field skep­ti­cal. After all, why place the fu­ture of im­por­tant rem­nants of our his­tory in the hands of in­di­gent youth? But then again, who bet­ter to do the job than those hun­gry for re­newed pur­pose and an hon­est means of liv­ing? With proper train­ing, a num­ber of ET grad­u­ates have moved on to be­come master plumbers, in­struc­tors, and even crafts­men of var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions’ in-house con­ser­va­tion teams.

Ro­mulo Dela Cruz, a for­mer scholar of ET, is a walk­ing tes­ta­ment to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s suc­cess. He en­tered ET when he was only 18 years old and grad­u­ated in 2014. He is now a li­censed master plumber, an ET teach­ing as­sis­tant, and a mem­ber of its tech­ni­cal work­ing group.

Dela Cruz had al­ways wanted to fin­ish his stud­ies so he could pur­sue bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties but fi­nan­cial con­straints held him back, he ex­plained. When he heard of ET’s schol­ar­ship pro­gram through a re­cruit­ment ac­tiv­ity or­ga­nized by barangay of­fi­cers and the De­part­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment, he grabbed the chance and never looked back, de­spite qualms about what oth­ers would say.

A school year with ET is one that is an­chored on the “learn­ing by do­ing” con­cept. The cur­ricu­lum be­gins with schol­ars be­ing steeped in gen­eral con­struc­tion and safety train­ing for two weeks. Af­ter­wards, they are as­sessed, and de­pend­ing on their de­sired spe­cial­iza­tion or rec­om­mended track, stu­dents un­dergo

We have yet to learn a lot of lessons in all as­pects of her­itage con­ser­va­tion, from gov­er­nance and pub­lic pol­icy, ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, to pro­fes­sional prac­tice and crafts­man­ship.”

in­ten­sive work­shops un­der ma­sonry, car­pen­try and wood­work­ing, paint­ing and fin­ish­ing, metal works, plumb­ing, and elec­tri­cal works. At the end of the year, ET trainees emerge as tech­ni­cal work­ers equipped with the needed skills to be­come “pro­tec­tors of Philip­pine built her­itage.” ET also caters to pay­ing stu­dents who want to un­dergo the same spe­cial­ized train­ing. Slots are limited, though, be­cause the in­struc­tors’ teach­ing loads are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion.

Of course there are still those in im­pov­er­ished ar­eas who dis­cour­age would-be schol­ars from en­ter­ing the pro­gram. For some, it’s a mat­ter of sur­vival: Why take time off to study when you can work and earn a liv­ing for your fam­ily through odd jobs and con­trac­tual work? For oth­ers, the dis­dain stems from a lack of un­der­stand­ing of what restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion work en­tails. Why train to be a mere con­struc­tion worker or welder?

“We have yet to learn a lot of lessons in all as­pects of her­itage con­ser­va­tion, from gov­er­nance and pub­lic pol­icy, ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness, to pro­fes­sional prac­tice and crafts­man­ship,” Bu­laong stressed. This ap­plies not only to the com­mu­ni­ties where ET schol­ars re­side, but to the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion as well.

And al­though ET re­ceives fund­ing from the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Cul­ture and the Arts and Span­ish aid agency Agen­cia Es­pañola de Co­op­eración In­ter­na­cional para el De­sar­rollo, there is al­ways a need to tap more re­sources. There is al­ways an ever-grow­ing list of chal­lenges, such as em­ploy­ment of her­itage pro­tec­tors, rais­ing aware­ness about cul­tural her­itage, and gen­er­at­ing pub­lic in­ter­est to gain more sup­port from the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors, to name a few.

For the past years, though, ET has been suc­cess­ful in its mis­sion to raise her­itage aware­ness through its projects. Among their on­go­ing ef­forts is the restora­tion of the Our Lady of Reme­dies Parish church or the Malate Church, which started in 2010. Another con­crete ex­am­ple of the ET ap­proach to built her­itage pro­tec­tion is the restora­tion of the San Agustin Church choir loft and its 68 sil­le­ria or choir stalls made dis­tinct with strap­work mo­tifs that were in­tri­cately carved in ka­m­agong and with in­lays of narra. ET has ex­panded lo­cally as well, with its sec­ond branch now ac­cept­ing stu­dents in Bo­hol.

And surely too, de­spite the chal­lenges in a third world coun­try where cul­tural her­itage is prob­a­bly the least of na­tional pri­or­i­ties, ET en­dures with a fer­vent de­sire to pro­tect rem­nants of our past and to se­cure the fu­ture of gen­er­a­tions to come.

In­ter­ested in help­ing out Es­cuella Taller and their her­itage pro­tec­tors? Reach out: Es­cuela Taller de Filip­ina Foun­da­tion, Inc. Rev­el­lin de Reco­le­tos, Vic­to­ria St., In­tra­muros, Manila. Es­cue­ 527-6623

Kenneth Acas, ma­sonry in­struc­tor and for­mer ET scholar, chis­els an adobe slab while stu­dents ob­serve the process.

The San Agustin choir loft with its sil­le­ria in the back­ground

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