Dedicated solely to the Filipino child, this 21-year-old institution shows that learning and fun go hand in hand.

The Museo Pambata holds a special place in my  heart. My first job was as a teacher in a pre-school called Early Learning Center and it was its owner and director, Nina Lim-Yuson, who hired me fresh out of  college armed with a degree in Economics and not Education. After a trip to the US with her four children that included a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum,  Nina declared that she wanted to set up the same kind of museum in the Philippines.

It seemed like the most natural thing to do as Nina’s school was in many ways set up in the same way as the Boston Children’s Museum where children learned  while playing. Artist-educator Super Morales and I bought into Nina’s idea and enthusiasm and in 1987 helped her with her first proposal.

The first person Nina presented it to was Teresa Escoda-Roxas who was then president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. She offered the abandoned Film Center as a possible site for the museum. As she looked at the vast empty space before her, Nina realized that she had no idea where to start and where to get  the funds to start a museum. However, she did not abandon her dream and in 1992, things started to fall into place: her mother Fanny Aldaba-Lim’s full support  and partnership, her recognition in 1992 by TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Young Women in the Nation’s Service) for her contribution to childhood education, her  mother’s recognition as one of the Outstanding Citizens of Manila in 1993, and the meeting with then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim who granted Fanny and Nina the  free use of the historic Elks Club for a children’s museum for 10 years. Nina finally began to see her dream for a children’s museum in the Philippines come true.  By then, Super and I had gone on to do other things.

In 1993, the major renovation of the Elks Club by Architects Danilo Silvestre and Joselito Tecson began. The Elks Club was built between 1910 and 1911 and had  borne witness to many events during the American colonial period. It survived the war but not he many transformations it went through. When Nina and Fanny first set their eyes on it, it was a decrepit old building ready to fall apart. However, in less than a year, the Elks Club was beautifully renovated to become the first children’s museum in the Philippines. On December 21, 1994, the Museo Pambata opened its doors to Filipino children.

For most Filipinos, a museum is the last place they would visit unless it happened to be required by the school. The word “museum” brings up images of shelves  of musty artifacts, the smell of mold that permeates the halls; it seems the most uninteresting place to spend a Saturday afternoon even as everything in it is  interesting. The idea of it as being simply a storage place of things past has changed over time, and this is thanks to institutions like the Museo Pambata, an   interactive museum dedicated solely to the Filipino child, where children learn while having fun.

The halls of the Museo ring loudly with the laughter and the chatter of children in large school groups as they move noisily and excitedly through all the exhibits.  Exhibits are meant not just to be looked at but also to be experienced with all the five senses. They are interactive and themed with each of the different  permanent exhibits — Old Manila, I Love My Planet Earth, Children in the Global Village, My Body Works, Career Options and Market Place — planned for  relevance, practicality, and history. The Museo constantly bustles with activities that would be of interest to the Filipino child through its many different programs, among them the Haraya Storytelling Hour, Ang Bayanihan sa Museo, Anino sa Museo, Musikahan sa Museo and many more.

Beyond shaping the physical museum space, the Museo Pambata also offers programs that allow for alternative learning, volunteerism, and book publishing. True to its commitment of providing an alternative education for Filipino children, the Museo has a Children’s Advocacy Program that “aims to help children understand and appreciate their roles in their families, schools, communities and in society” with the help of other children. Child advocates who have trained with the Museo become mentors and role models for their peers. The Museo also provides venues in which adult volunteers can participate in its mission, through the Museo  Pambata Volunteers and the Mobile Library Program.

As such, the Museo has become a beacon to other countries in the region who have discovered the endless possibilities that a children’s museum can offer. Museo Pambata president and CEO Nina L. Yuson, executive director Maricel Montero, MP Programs Director Noreen Parafina, and other Museo staff are often invited to speak at local and international conferences, and the Museo itself has played host to many conferences and workshops on the many issues that affect children. It has been the inspiration for other children’s museums such as Museo Sang Bata sa Negros in Sagay, Negros Occidental.

This year, the Museo Pambata is 21 years old, no mean feat for the museum that could.