Defying Odds

I visited Abot Tala two weeks ago before everything was shut down and the entire Metro was placed on enhanced quarantine. It seems like ages ago when I first met Joei and Owie, the co-founders of this humble, but brilliant learning center for teens. I’ve only heard about Abot Tala through a friend’s Instagram account and when I chanced upon Joei twice at GetCraft meet-ups last month. Needless to say, my interest was greatly piqued, not only because they needed someone to share Abot Tala’s inspirational story, but because of the messaging and values they stand for.

When different is a good thing

Abot Tala Learning Center

When I first entered the center, it seemed like a ginormous classroom, but it had its own character, I must say. It’s as if each of the student’s personalities could be found on every corner: there was a bookshelf filled with a wide array of books, an arts and crafts corner where Owie’s adorable daughter helped out making handy stuff I never thought an 8-year-old could pull off, a music room with a piano, and there were enclosed classrooms as well but the discussions were far off from too serious.

I chatted with Owie about Abot Tala’s history and what it was like for the students. Luckily for me, I managed to stay long enough to witness what they had called “Game Night’, only it was during the day. You see, instead of traditional quizzes that students (like me) once dreaded, Game Night was a fun and interactive way of testing the teens without the boredom of reading through an entire questionnaire.

Ericho, one of Abot Tala’s mentors, quiz the teens in a fun way via “Game Night”

The questions weren’t just about geography or history. There were also fun things like pop culture (Game of Thrones references!) and music—things that teens (even adults) would learn a great deal from and can definitely apply in everyday life. That’s practical learning at its finest.

Home away from home

Learning how to bake…just another day in the center

Abot Tala is like the students’ home away from home, slash daycare for young adults. Most of its students surprisingly don’t even live in the Taguig area and don’t mind commuting all the way from Fairview. What I loved about the vibe is that it felt like school, but not, if that makes sense. It was, indeed, a place of learning—but one where people loved to learn and it wasn’t an obligation.

Abot Tala allows students to create their own courses depending on their interests. And teens, as expected, have a hunger for learning about lots of things: arts, music, public speaking, and every other practical thing you can think of. Owie told me that they treat each other like family; and while there is a sense of equality among peers, the mentors make sure that there are non-negotiable values and rules that are set in place to instill a certain amount of discipline that every other teen needs. Respect was a major value that resonated—each student’s individuality is celebrated and respected, and they all had a voice on the mentors they’d like to keep in the center.

No adjustment necessary

While COVID-19 has hit us on a global scale, the foundation that Abot Tala created with its students was so strong, the students haven’t had the need to complain.

Virtual classes held via Zoom

Online learning began through virtual calls via Zoom, and everyone has as much fun as they would have in person as a community. Classes were now turned into Slack channels, where each one is encouraged to share their learnings, depending on the program they took. If anything, this virus shows us that Abot Tala students and mentors have one thing in common: resilience. In these trying times, when others would typically sink and drown in isolation, this center made a way to keep education alive and give the students what they look for every day: the opportunity to learn.

Learning Math, quarantine style

In light of the recently enhanced quarantine and strict social distancing measures, Abot Tala can still be reached via their website or through their Facebook Page. To learn more about them visit www.abottala.com for more info.

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