Interview: Maria Eloisa in Manila

My meeting with Maria Eloisa — she preferred to be called “Elo” — some months back in Manila had sparked so many creative thoughts about her city, Manila, and mine, Kuala Lumpur. Starting with a community gathering to highlight Wild Boar Week, we brainstormed niche ideas to bridge the knowledge gap between our home cities, through the print platform as well as digitally. Elo is a multidisciplinary teacher, a passionate and creative space creator in the heart of metro Manila as well as a full-time loving leader, a wife and a mother. In a single building, she started Quriocity, a bookstore and communal space for families to nurture their art sense as well to showcase their works; JIRO, a coffee studio that celebrates quality local beans and tsokolate, and; My Mutiara, a lifestyle store in which one can discover cultures, stories and the everyday beauty of  life in the Philippines. Her message was clear, bold and indisputable — she wants to revolutionise the way we all should appreciate our own heritage and understand its purpose and value. Our schedules were tight, so I had to fully utilise every minute we spent in her car on our way to Ninoy Aquino airport, where I’d catch my flight home after my second visit to Manila, to have this conversation with her. 

Hi Elo! We can’t wait to share your story with our readers. But first, tell us about yourself.

Hello, Musotrees! It’s nice to be chatting with you. My friends call me Elo. However, my current line of work has given me a name that is still widely used to this day even when I am outside the classroom or not doing anything strictly connected to education — that would be “Teacher Elo.”

I used to be a preschool teacher. I loved those days and I still miss them. When I was just starting out, my eyes and the rest of my senses were trained to pay attention to details, to study connections, to observe and notice even the things that were not so easily observable, to sense. I had to. Otherwise, I would have a very rowdy class at the very least. Not that I am obsessed with order, but being organised and prepared always pave the way for greater work. 

In a kindergarten class, that would translate to FUN, lots of space for my students to be curious and wonderfully engaged, [for me to build] rapport with them, and I wholeheartedly believe [they are] feeling so alive for the day, just having a sense of gratitude and satisfaction, deep joy. I have always believed that even if young children cannot articulate that yet, they can feel it. And, to me, that’s really the work of education. That’s the work of teachers and the rest of so-called mentors. 

As I stayed in education years after that, I would say that I have evolved. My perspectives on many things have evolved. The way I wanted to do work has evolved. The work itself has evolved. And I am happy. When I was in my 20s (I’m 43 now), I used to think that life is a matter of finding what you like to do and embracing it the way you’d hold on to a big pole, no matter what. But if the young ones ask me now, I would say the opposite. Yes, life is a matter of finding what you love to do, but also allowing your times, your chapters and seasons, your circumstances, your observations, your travels, your encounters with more and more people with more varied cultures to allow you to evolve, to flow, and constantly allow yourself to grow and be redefined. Sure, everybody loves permanence. We find security and a sense of stability in staying put, but life is in moving along. And by life, I mean zest and excitement and the feeling of truly being alive. 

Some years ago, I felt a longing to create something beyond the classroom. And I still attribute that to my career as a teacher before. For one, I was allowed to create, to stage many possibilities and actually have the privilege of directly seeing how it was affecting the people I created those ideas for. My being a teacher empowered me in seeing how well-thought-out ideas can be executed with care and fun, and actually do people good. I discovered that a creative and courageous mind is a very powerful tool. I discovered, too, that the most creative ideas do not come from books. Sure, we can always consult them, but the best ones are often those that are products of always going back to the people you want to create for. What do they need? How will they react if I do this? So, I learned contextualisation and actually bringing ideas as close as possible to the situation at hand. And even then, I hated recycling. I hated copy-pasting. I am still talking about the process of ideation. I didn’t’t want it for convenience’s sake. I wanted it to be always with sparks and sizzles. My mantra? If something does not excite me, why in the world should I expect it to excite others? So joy and excitement in our ideas and products are always a must. It has always become my personal yardstick for the things I create. The brain works but for something to overflow, I guess, the entire being must be involved. And that means, you can’t wait to share it with others, with the world.

This interview appears in Sensory Issue. To continue reading, buy here.