Life begins at 50: Education as public service

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From left: Dr. Sylvia Claudio, Dr. Manuel Dayrit, and Bro. Armin Luistro are stepping up to give Filipinos the education they deserve. Photos by JL JAVIER

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “As I've grown older, I like the fact that my students are increasingly younger than me,” says Dr. Sylvia Claudio. The director of the UP Center for Women’s Studies and professor at the Department of Women and Development Studies, she shares: “It really keeps me in touch with a demographic that's very different from mine so it keeps [me] open to other views and other ways of doing things.”

Claudio’s path to becoming an educator was an accident. Upon completing her Ph.D., she was told that she had to teach, because that’s what Ph.D.s were for. “So I'm like, ‘OK, let's teach!’ And then I found out that I liked it, so I just stayed in that track since then.”

The factors that led Dr. Manuel Dayrit, dean of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, and Bro. Armin Luistro, president of De La Salle University, to pursue education were less driven by chance. Dayrit cites the circumstances of his youth — post-World War II, the space race, the Cold War, Martial Law and the call for Filipino nationalism — to illustrate his rationale in becoming a physician and dedicating his life to the public health sector. “I think it was inculcated in us,” he says. “You have to give back, you have to participate in nation-building. And that had a big influence in me.”

Luistro, on the other hand, had served as a catechist at a public school as early as his second year of high school. Even then, he says, “I looked up to teachers, but not as dispensers of knowledge, [but as] mentors. I think that's where I got this attraction to be one.” He adds: “I was enamored with the power of an ordinary human being creating miracles in the lives of young people.”

Dayrit served as the Department of Health secretary for four and a half years, which he recalls was “very, very tough” work. Doing research on disease control for SARS, he became exposed to the fear and panic experienced by the masses and realized the importance of relaying precise and proper information to the public. “Unless you can get people's attention, and get them to understand what's happening, it's very very difficult to control an epidemic,” he shares. “When you have very complex problems, the solutions to the problem are actually found in so many people. No one single person is the solution to everything.”

Luistro, in his time as secretary of the Department of Education, made it a point to make decisions from the perspective of students and teachers in classrooms. To further his understanding, he visited 500 schools on a quest for any semblance of hope — and he found it at a far-flung school, where there were no textbooks, the rooms were dim, and everything was dilapidated.

“You have to do the things you enjoy … Actually, my politics is alive because of my passion.” — Sylvia Claudio

“It was early on in my work,” he recalls. “This teacher [told] the students, ‘Close your eyes, we're going up a high mountain. It's Mount Everest!’” Seeing how one teacher, even in the most resource-challenged classroom, could create a whole new world with her students’ imagination, it dawned on him: “Then I said, ‘It's not hopeless.’”

Claudio, although she had strong ideas of equality from her youth, didn’t become formally involved with women’s rights until she was serving as a medical doctor, and was made aware of the problems women faced in the medical system. “That wasn’t theoretical,” says Claudio, who co-founded the grassroots organization Likhaan with Dr. Junice Melgar for this specific cause. “That was in our practice.”

She observes that in the classroom, conversations about what used to be considered as taboo have changed, as is the case with issues pertaining to abortion and divorce. A new advocacy for her, she adds, is body acceptance, which she says nobody should ever have to apologize or be excused for.

After almost three decades in his line of work, Dayrit says that his calling is validated day after day as it allows him to get to know the world and its people, as well as tackle different issues that he sees as important. “I've been able to relate with people from all walks of life,” he says. “And [doing what I do], you can influence things of scale.” Luistro’s 35 years of experience can also be boiled down to one thing that gets him up in the morning: the opportunity to sit, share ideas, listen, and change lives.

“You have to do the things you enjoy,” Claudio insists. She shares that she has a tendency to confuse students, who think that her passion is alive because of her politics. “Actually,” she says, “my politics is alive because of my passion.”

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