Shared Stories: School at Welfareville in the Philippines

After World War II, Lisa Filler’s parents worked at a government facility in the Philippines Welfareville Compound, which provided for the care, education, and training of orphans, homeless, neglected, and “delinquent” children. As the daughter of a teacher, Lisa went to school with these children, and she describes a happy time in a unique school. The name was later changed to the Jose Fabella Memorial School. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Lisa Filler
I spent most of my childhood life in Welfareville compound. I studied kindergarten to grade 5 in Welfareville School. The compound was a 56-hectare land founded in December 3, 1924, as a public institution intended for the care, custody, correction, education, and training of orphans, homeless, neglected, abused, defective, and delinquent children

Dr. Jose Fabella, the father of Public Health and Social Welfare in the Philippines, laid the plan for its development. The entrance gate was in Acacia Lane. Dr. Fabella’s big white house was located before the entrance. As you entered the gate, the Administration building was on the left.

A block further to the right were two buildings, Unit A, that housed orphan boys and girls. In front of these buildings was the Catholic Church. On the left of the street was the Mess Hall, behind it was the Administrator house. Further behind was the automotive work shop next to the vegetable and flower garden.  

The central part of Welfareville was a monument to Jose Rizal. To the right of the monument was the school, home economics building, and the vocational work shop for boys. Next to the school was a hill with a dome-shaped water tank on top. To the left of the monument was big field for baseball, soccer and a basketball court.  

Behind the field were the boys training buildings (juvenile house). This is where young males below 18 years old, who had committed crimes from small theft to murder, were confined.  
This area was fenced with wire and the only entrance was through the tower building that had a tall tower like a light house and offices on each side of the building. Whenever somebody tried to escape, the siren would blast and the light at the tower would roam the area.

Inside the boys compound were academic and vocational schools, a clinic, and several buildings to house delinquent boys according to age. The school was only for the delinquent boys living in that compound. They left the compound only when there was a special event.  

Beyond the circle were two streets. In between these streets were the amphitheater stage and a lagoon behind the stage. The street to the right of the stage led to Unit B that housed children of parents with contagious diseases. Beyond was another circle road surrounded by three buildings for the clinic, hospital, and Unit C, the house for mentally deficient children.
The street on the left of the stage led to the two-story Social Hall. The first floor had the sewing room, printing room and one bowling alley. The second floor was used for parties and declamation contests.  

Beyond the Social Hall was the building for juvenile girls who committed crimes from small theft to murder. Special rooms were set aside in the building to use as a dormitory for single female employees. Behind these buildings was a fence that marked the end of the Welfareville village on that side.   

The children of employees, children from Unit A, Unit B, Unit C and Girls Training, went to the same school without a fence. In my class, we were eight girls and five boys who were children of employees. The rest of 30 to 40 students in the class were inmates.  

Almost everybody was part of a big family because our parents were friends and we attended the same social gatherings. The teachers needed to keep track of the number of students from the different units, especially the girls training inmates who were escorted by security guards in and out of their unit.  

We started school by falling in line by grade and singing the Filipino National anthem while the flag was raised. Each row was assigned a day to prepare and clean the room. So, we had to be early on the day when assigned this job. During recess time we liked to get snacks from the cooperative store and then play around the structure of Jose Rizal monument.  

Aside from the academic subjects we also had vocational subjects for girls such as sewing, crochet, embroidery and cooking, while the boys had carpentry. Gardening was assigned to both boys and girls.  

We had a very good music band with selected dancers and singers. They used musical instruments made from bamboo. They were invited to perform in many places specially where there were dignitaries from different countries.  

We enjoyed many different events at the Welfareville School. There were weekend movies at night, athletic competitions for all kinds of sports, a Christmas program, Declamation contest, and Welfareville Foundation Day on December 3 that started with a procession to the cemetery of the founder, Dr. Jose Fabella.  

We watched weekend evening movies at the stage amphitheater and played around the monument. We watched Tatay (Daddy) bowl on the first floor of the Social Hall.  

Next to the Social Hall was a big open area where we could watch basketball, baseball, and soccer games. Runner athletes practiced around the big field. Most of the time there were sports competitions to prepare for the yearly Provincial Competition. This area was the center of activities in the Welfareville compound.     

One Christmas program I was one of the angels singing “Hark the Heralds Angels Sing.” Kuya Jubert (eldest brother) was one of the Three Kings and my mother was a bird in the story of creation. One time I was in a ballet with my classmates and Jean’s classmates. That was my first and last dancing performance.  

Sometimes I was in the Tinikling dance where dancers dance in between two bamboos. My role was to hold the wood for the bamboo clicker.   

I also carried memos from the principal’s office to the classrooms of the different teachers.  One time I was running with a memo and fell. I hit my head on a step and my head was bleeding. I was unconscious and when I opened my eyes, I was in the arms of the most popular basketball player of Welfareville as he carried me to the clinic.  

I was not even crying when the nurse cleaned and sewed stiches on my head. The nurse was surprised because she knew me as a cry baby. (I still have the scar on my head).  

I was known as cry baby because I cried whenever I saw the Red Cross van for vaccinations. I continued crying and won’t let anyone touch me until my mother came and held me in her lap. Then they could give me a shot with no trouble at all.    

When I was in grade four, I sat next to Josefina and her sister Carmelita from the Unit A orphanage. I shared my food with them during recess, especially the guava that I bought from Florencia, the smartest student in our class.  

On our Christmas party I gave soap to the sisters. After the Christmas vacation,on top of the hill next to school to practice. Her student, Lily, won first place.  

The Declamation Contest was very competitive. My mother would take her students on top of the hill next to school to practice. Her student, Lily, won first place.  

When I was in kindergarten, I got third place in the Declamation Contest for our level. That was the first and last time I participated. I did not like memorization. Actually, I did not like studying. I just liked to play. Homework was not in my vocabulary. Our music teacher offered free piano lesson. I got two lessons and I quit because I would rather play.  

My favorite subject was Arithmetic. In grade 4 my mother was our teacher in arithmetic. We practiced arithmetic in a game contest by row. Each one in the row would go to the board to solve arithmetic problems that she dictated. The first one to get the correct answer received a point for their row. It was fun and students would help each other.   

When I did not want to go home, I would go to my mother’s classroom in the Boys Training compound. I hung out and played with my classmate, Merle, whose mother was also teaching in the same building.  

We played jackstone and made paper dolls. We were not supposed to be there but the guard would let us in, knowing we were the daughters of the teachers.
Sometimes I hung out with my godmother, Miss Blanco, who was assigned in the sewing room. She taught me how to use the sewing machine and how to crochet.   

Sometimes I joined my classmate, Arleen, or my cousin, Jean, to play in their house after school and my mother would pick me up when she went home.  

One Friday, Jean asked me to stay overnight in their house and she promised to give me some of her paper dolls. I agreed and we played. When it got dark and time for dinner, I wanted to go home. I continuously cried until midnight. Tio Zosimo had to take me home by walking a mile away.  

That’s the last time I was asked to stay overnight.