Escuela Taller continues projects and skills learning amid pandemic

WORK continues on restoring the west tower of the Holy Rosary parish church in Angeles, Pampanga. — FACEBOOK.COM/ESCUELATALLER.DEFILIPINAS

EVERY year, a team of young people undergo training in specialized skills for the upkeep of heritage structures — construction, painting, welding, plumbing, and electrical maintenance —  at the Escuela Taller de Filipinas. Like everyone else, the foundation was affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdowns this past year, and had to suspend the training. But it did not give up on its current conservation projects around the country.

Located in Manila’s walled city of Intramuros, Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. is a training center founded in 2009 specializing in training out-of-school youth with skills focused on preserving heritage structures. Some of the oldest sites they have restored in Manila are Malate Church, Sta. Ana Church, and the Paco Park and Cemetery.

The school celebrated its 12th anniversary last March. To date, Escuela Taller has had over 500 graduates.

Due to the lockdowns last year, Escuela Taller’s restoration projects in the Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles, Pampanga and the Jesuit House in Cebu were temporarily put on hold. The Angeles project — which began in Sept. 2019 and focuses on repairing damage to the church’s west bell tower — resumed in June 2020, with 30 of Escuela Taller’s “heritage protectors.”

Since they had to suspend trainee applications last year, the ongoing conservation projects are being handled by Escuela Taller alumni.

“Right now we don’t have trainees. At the moment, what we are doing, however, is working with graduates of [Escuela] with ongoing projects,” Carmen Bettina “Tina” Bulaong, executive director of Escuela Taller, told BusinessWorld via Zoom in April.

“We were still able to resume work. It was quite challenging because during the lockdown, our graduates were stranded there. Although luckily, the community was able to take care of them. There was provision for food and other necessities, and they were also housed,” Ms. Bulaong said.

The program in the Jesuit House in Cebu, however, remains on hold.

Ms. Bulaong recalls the impact the school has had on its alumni.

“I know that some of our graduates have managed to put up their own construction company, [they have become] supervisors in the installation of plumbing works in high rise buildings, and I learned of graduates who actually decide to go back to school and finish college,” she said.

“I remember feeling so elated at the sight of those people who visit sometimes,” she added. “It makes me proud that they really gain this knowledge and take their skill seriously.”

Escuela Taller has spent the time during lockdown to reprogram its curriculum and projects.

“We were set already in reprogramming our training activities and projects, such that we respond to the changing needs of our principal partners, that being the out of school youth,” Ms. Bulaong said.

The school has implemented a blended learning method and satellite training where, Ms. Bulaong explained, there is intervention “in particular sites without having to come to the campus doing face to face training.”

Escuela Taller will be offering micro-credential courses in wood technology in partnership with the Universidad de Manila’s Center for Micro-credential and Industry Training and the city government of Manila.

Ms. Bulaong believes that the Philippines has come a long way in heritage conservation awareness. “[I think] it has been mentioned repeatedly that the practice of heritage conservation in the Philippines is still in its developing stages, but I also recognize that heritage conservation practice abroad is also still in its developing stages. We can never stop developing, and we can never stop evolving.”

“Skills transfer still continues. We have to be more headstrong in this mission,” she said.

For more information, visit Donations for the conservation project of the Holy Rosary Parish, Pampanga are being accepted. For details on donations, visit    Michelle Anne P. Soliman