Katherine Estember, the initiator of Tuburan Institute, quit her job because of her desire to mainstream a better, more nurturing way of teaching and learning. Together with a colleague she opened Tuburan Institute in 2012, a community-based educational institution in Davao City on the Philippines. Tuburan means “wellspring” in Cebuano, one of the languages on the Philippines, and reflects the hope to become a wellspring for an independent, community based Steiner Waldorf-inspired 12-year curriculum.
Kate, please introduce yourself!
Seven years ago, when I was working as a guidance counsellor for high school and elementary students in a catholic school in Iloilo*, I was hit by a question: What is true love? This question didn’t leave me in peace and made me restless. It eventually led me to a three weeks seminar where I met people connected to Waldorf Schools here in the Philippines. All my initial questions were answered through and with the children. It is by educating their whole being that love, truth and freedom can be achieved. I quit my job, decided not to become a nun and declared to my family that I’ll start a Waldorf School with a friend in Davao* whether they like it or not.
What are your personal challenges?
It was not easy to live in a new place, learn a new language and live within my means. We started with nothing: no parents, students, building, money, teachers, and not enough knowledge about Waldorf Education. We didn’t even have salaries for the first two years. In our first year we just tried to make our dream of a Waldorf School come true. The school opened in June 2012. We started with 12 children and now we have 33 children: 21 in kindergarten, 6 in class 1 and 6 in class 2.
What is special about your school?
It is first and foremost a Steiner/Waldorf School which is something unusual in the Philippines. Further, we incorporate and embed green practice as our goal: from design to waste management to site development and of course to the curriculum. We are also a community school, run and managed equally by parents and teachers. It is accessible to all children regardless of race, religion, and above all socio-economic status and therefore we have a “social school fee”. Parents with a higher income pay more and parents with lower incomes are accepted and may volunteer to work and pay in different forms like gardening, carpentry, cooking or cleaning. We work together, have fun together, learn together, and mutually support each other. These are values and behaviors that the children see and imitate. It’s healthy for them to grow in this kind of spirit where people are holding each other and are making things possible! As a school, we value community building as much as we value curriculum building.
Which challenges is your school faced with?
Being a parent-teacher run school, our school management went through a process of so many transitions. From the management of the two co-founders (my friend and I) to involving the teachers and – in our third year – bringing in parents, was one of the most challenging and liberating parts of the work. It has been a source of tremendous growth for initiative and for the Self.
What has teaching taught you?
I’ve never imagined that my question on love would bring me this far. And yes, I am confronted with more questions that bring me to the different areas of life e.g. into self-mastery and human transformation and its role for education and societal transformation. And I document my observations about my children and my own personal journey everyday. I intend to do a longitudinal study of my children in class and my own personal journey to see patterns of behavior and possibilities, given certain conditions and circumstances. And I ask myself questions like how is community possible nowadays. How is willing, feeling and thinking responsible for the development of love, truth and freedom?
What significance has Steiner’s work in your life?
Actually, I don’t find it strange or remote. It affirms so many things about my own questions. In this context, I immediately resonate with his concept on “archetypes” and human wisdom. Every time I read his books, my question is always about what’s the equivalent to our context in the Philippines. I haven’t read all his work and I must admit that his ideas about the angels, archangels and different beings is still a mind blowing thing for me, but I am enjoying the certainty of his words and wisdom. Another thing about his work that I am so in love with is his concept of the development of the “whole being – head, heart and hands”. Its sounds simple but every time I read parts of it, my mind can’t stop metamorphosing it into different aspects of life. He is such an inspiration for self/spiritual mastery – a possibility for a human being to reach that certainty and wisdom!
Thank you very much for the interview!
*Iloilo – is a small city located in the island of Panay, Visayas.
*Davao – is the biggest city in the Philippines and is part of Mindanao Island.
Katherine Estember and Maya Flaminda Vandenbroeck, the initiators of Tuburan Institute, are college educators and teachers who quit their jobs because of their desire to mainstream a better, more nurturing way of teaching and learning. In 2011, they pooled their savings and donations from family and friends and in 2012 they opened Tuburan Institute, a non-stock, non profit, and community-based educational institution in Davao City. Tuburan means “wellspring” in Cebuano, one of the languages on the Philippines, and reflects the hope to become a wellspring for an independent, community based Steiner Waldorf-inspired 12-year curriculum.
Maya and Kate have a Masters in English Language and Literature Teaching from Ateneo de Manila University and a Masters in Education and Guidance Counselling from University of the Philippines, respectively. After teaching college students for some years, they fell in love with Steiner Waldorf education and decided to open Tuburan Institute’s first kindergarten class. They took one year to prepare for the school’s opening by visiting the 6 major Steiner Waldorf schools and kindergartens in the country, training in the foundations of Waldorf education, pedagogy, and curriculum, and tapping volunteers’ support. The Eco Village “The Blissful Wellness Institute” invited Maya and Kate to use their facilities free of rent for two years. Contributions were then collected to refurbish a printing room and turn it into a classroom, build a playground and toilets, and fence the school grounds. The Tuburan community has expanded steadily and now includes a dynamic Board of Trustees and active parents who have been enjoying seminars and workshops with visiting mentors from the International Waldorf Movement. Tuburan is now on a new school site on a donated one hectare of land, full of hard and fruit trees. At the moment they are constructing their admin, kindergarten and classes 1 & 2 rooms. All the money for the building work has been donated.