When Museo Pambata first opened its doors to the public in 1994, there were some critics who questioned the name. "Why call it a museum?' Museums, they said, have collections of artwork, artifacts and valuable items. All these were placed in glass cases or displayed with utmost security measures. Not to be touched, just for looking.
Museo Pambata, the first children's museum in the Philippines develops multi-sensory exhibits because this is how children (ages 2-12) learn best. Thus it's called a 'hands on' museum.
For example, the Career Options or "'Paglaki Ko"' theme room currently focuses on the writer, illustrator and storyteller of children's books. There are costumes from storybook characters to try on, a touch screen on illustrating a story, lots of picture storybooks to read "under a tree"' and the paper and pencils to write your story. Not to forget how the Filipino authors, illustrators and storytellers do their craft, a look at their work and their thoughts are on the wall.
The other rooms include Old Manila, Under the Sea, Environment, Bodyworks (Health), I love my Planet Earth (Climate Change) and a favorite area, the Market Place. The only collection room has glass cases with donated dolls, children's toys and puppets. We also have a collection of Philippine musical instruments, a library and three halls for regular performances of the Bayanihan folk dance company, Shadow Puppet Play and other programs that bring in kids from various communities.
Compared to children's museums abroad, Museo Pambata is often singled out as a socially relevant museum. Many, if not all, of its in-house programs include children from marginalized sectors. Children are exposed to child's rights, environmental issues, peace advocacy and literacy. It is not a school, rather a learning space thru its exhibits, resource persons and creative facilitators.
At the recent Hands on! International Association of Children's Museums conference in Amsterdam (October 2015), Gail Dexter Lord, keynote speaker and author ofCities, Museums and Soft Power (Washington DC: AAM Press, 2015) talked about the importance museums play in the economic, social and general welfare of any society. She mentions 32 ways to "activate your soft power". And governments should take notice.
Museo Pambata was cited by Lord as a lifelong learning center because it "encourages children, families and school groups to use all of their senses to explore themes, concepts and ideas in their own pace and in a fun and collaborative way, an alternative to formal learning."
Fortunately Museo Pambata is housed in the historic former Elks Club building, built in 1911 by US architect Parsons. The site and building is owned by the City of Manila. So far, we have had the support of the previous mayors and have existed for 21 years.
It is disconcerting that the current local government has not seen the merits of our children's museum.
We want to continue our work as an alternative learning center but we need the support of the Manila City government officials.
Niña Lim-Yuson is President/CEO of Museo Pambata Foundation, Inc.