Mary-Joan Fajardo. Pioneer of Waldorf education in the Philippines

By Nana Göbel, December 2019

Mary-Joan Fajardo was one of the well-educated, culturally interested and independent women in the Philippines. In the 1980s, she worked as a lecturer of the Philippine Educational Theatre Association in Manila and, in the face of the worrying signs in Philippine politics in the 1970s and 1980s, asked herself what was wrong with the world and how better conditions could be created. Her answer was: through education.

Together with her sister, Brenda Fajardo, she embarked on her search and in a study group became acquainted with a number of people interested in anthroposophy. She made contact with the sociologist and environmental activity Nicanor Perlas and his wife Kathryn, who had returned from the USA in 1987, with Bella and Joaquin Tan, with the Waldorf teacher Johanna Rieken, whose husband worked at the Goethe Institute in Manila, and with the drama teacher Manuel Pambid.

As a young mother, Bella Tan was looking for a suitable kindergarten and was shocked when during her visits to kindergartens she saw situations in which small children were beaten with a cane. So she asked herself what the education of small children should really look like. She began to discuss it increasingly intensively with Mary-Joan Fajardo and over time both women became ever better acquainted with Waldorf education.

Both of them realised that a Waldorf facility could be just the answer to the needs of which they had become aware. So they each decided in 1989 to go on a training course. Mary-Joan Fajardo went to Spring Valley, USA, to be trained as a Waldorf teacher at Sunbridge College while Bella Tan did a Waldorf kindergarten teacher training in Melbourne, Australia. In 1991 they returned, examined their plans and prepared  to put them into practice. As a first step, they organised public lectures and presentations and used every opportunity to make Waldorf education known in the country.

In the years from 1992 to 1994, they travelled through Mountain Province in the north and the islands of Bohol and Negros in Visayas region in the south of Luzon, organising workshops on Waldorf and early years education for nursery teachers in daycare centres, orphanages and kindergartens, for workers on the sugar plantations and interested parents. Untiringly they searched for the right place and people with whom a pioneering facility could be set up. In 1992, they established a small improvised kindergarten on Ikapati Farm in Quezon City (Manila metropolitan area) and developed intensive work with the parents and children. But there was too little interest in the work on the farm so that they reconsidered their plans and decided to try in the city itself.

One foundation after the other

In 1994, they opened the first Waldorf kindergarten in a garden hut and in 1996 the Manila Waldorf School in a garage on the property of the sisters Mary-Joan and Brenda Fajardo in Rolling Hills. Brenda Fajardo, an artist and professor of art education at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, remained a loyal supporter of her sister’s endeavours and projects and also supported her upkeep in the first year when there was no money yet for salaries. Bella Tan expanded the kindergarten group and Mary-Joan Fajardo took on the class 1 and in the following year the combined classes 1 and 2. She asked Kathryn Carpenter Perlas to accompany and support her educational work.

Kathryn Carpenter brought a wealth of experience as she had worked for many years as a class teacher at the Washington Waldorf School, Maryland. She now became an important helper. In the kindergarten, Laura Catoy quickly turned up as an assistant, learned the teaching craft on the job and then took on a kindergarten group of her own. She subsequently founded the Acacia Waldorf School outside Metro Manila.

Mary-Joan Fajardo taught; she was inexperienced but had great faith in God and in the first six years went to Hawaii in the holidays to sit in on classes at the Honolulu Waldorf School and seek advice from Diana Bell at the Kula Makua teacher training seminar. As early as from 1996 onwards, German and Australian Waldorf teachers visited the Philippines as mentors and to give courses. Over time, very active parents contributed to the stability of the school. They were involved in the school association, looked for premises, looked after the finances and ensured that the teachers were paid a salary.

Mary-Joan Fajardo and Bella Tan also experienced the constant problem, associated with the destiny of the Waldorf movement, of a shortage of teachers. So they had to think about a training course. Meanwhile the seven pioneers founded both the Anthroposophical Society in the Philippines and the Rudolf Steiner Education in the Philippines association under the auspices of which Bella Tan started a three-year in-service kindergarten teacher training seminar in 1999. This training course from 1999 to 2001 was attended by several pioneers of the Waldorf movement in the Philippines. Mary-Joan Fajardo and Bella Tan set up a basic teacher training course in English and also opened it to other participants from countries in the region in the same way that they opened the various further training courses, including the first three-month course in summer 1996 with Horst Hellmann.

The Waldorf Education Worldwide exhibition by the Friends of Waldorf Education in the Vargas Museum of the University of Manila in 1996 was an opportunity to present Waldorf education to a wider public.

Untiring and selfless

Mary-Joan Fajardo, full of humour and always ready for a prank, from the beginning constituted the core of the group of teachers at the Manila Waldorf School and became the pioneer Waldorf teacher in the Philippines – the one from whom everyone sought advice. She was untiring and selfless in her work, almost a little inconspicuous. That was still true even once the school had found its final location in Timberland Heights and had built a new school building there which it moved into in 2010 and in which it found the longed for permanent home.

In order to work on the quality of the education, she and her colleagues set up the school’s own further training course for which Mary-Joan Fajardo was responsible. She also took on mentoring new class 1 teachers and taught the first school year together with the new teachers. Given all her experience, she was asked with increasing frequency to support young Waldorf initiatives and train teachers on the widely scattered islands of the country, tasks which she was happy to take on – until her illness no longer allowed it and she lost the battle against cancer in 2017.

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