STEFTI Beginnings

What does it need to start a successful enterprise? Expertise and experience… years of planning… tedious research… feasibility and market studies… and of course enough capital, the bigger the better. Conventional wisdom demands that these, at least, must be there.

STEFTI, then, is an anomaly. There was so very little of these when the school started.

Expertise and experience? STEFTI started when 4 young retirees from a private school was struck with the wild idea of setting up a tutorial center. These were Ms. Babylyn Duran (now Añover), Ms. Tetett Mandreza, Ms. Poi Nalda, and Ms. Didits Palami. You could say that their experience in a private school should count for something. However, working as a teacher and in the school office and then going about setting up and running a school can be compared to playing in a barangay tournament and then going to the PBA. On a scale of 1 to 10 with the latter as highest, the rating would probably be a “4”, and that’s being generous.

Years of planning? In aggregate time, more like days. There were really no serious planning sessions, only informal chats from time to time. Chutzpa, nerve, gall – call this whatever you like. You could also call it poor planning. Rating: “2”

Tedious research? Feasibility and market studies? Zilch. Zero. Nada. Rating: “0”

Capital? A nightmare. They planned to use whatever remained of the small retirement pay each one had received, considerably diminished after initial individual splurging. Mentioning the combined amount would be an embarrassment so let’s just go to the rating: “1”

STEFTI should never have gotten off the ground, or should have crashed shortly after take-off. But some other factors that had not been considered came into play.

First – the ladies believed in their idea. They refused to think about their lack of experience. In merciful, blissful unawareness they just plunged ahead… never thinking of failure… believing they could do it.

Second – others came to believe in them and in their idea. Mrs. Sonia C. Palami who had just left her old school came in with her vast experience in the field of education and in running a school. Mr. Dan Palami also came in and added capital to the tutorial center. Some members of a prayer group – the Cornerstone Faith Community – came in, too, and with the ladies set up the foundation. Jacques and Brigitte van Ypersele pledged their support, by collecting donations from generous benefactors in Belgium.

The tutorial center, called “The Learning Place” was finally set up in a rented building along Zamora street in downtown Tacloban. Classes for toddlers started on July 3, 2001. Requests to open classes for older children kept pouring in so that by July 16 learning groups for Nursery, Kinder, and Prep were organized. By this time, Perl Abesamis(+), Bolet Nalda, Leny Paulo, Didith Pretencio, Leah Villaflor, and Narnette Batayola (now Redrendo) had joined the staff. Dodo and Aping Borromeo were taken in as utility workers.

An added bonus were the “ukay-ukay” stores that abounded in the area. The staff soon became experts in picking out inexpensive, second-hand classy clothes. Aside from looking “healthy” they now were also fashionably dressed.

Things could have gone on placidly this way, but God had bigger plans ahead. Many parents were clamoring for an elementary school. So, too, were former co-teachers. The Learning Place staff had by this time joined a prayer group – the “Cornerstone Faith Community” (CFC). The Learning Place people and some leaders of the prayer group agreed to come together to discuss the possibility of setting up an elementary school. The meeting was scheduled for June 24, or “THE 24TH DAY OF THE SIXTH MONTH”. Take note of the date.

Everyone realized that an elementary school would be an infinitely bigger enterprise. This would need much more in terms of planning, logistics, permits and other requirements, not to mention money. The night before the meeting therefore, on the evening of June 23 some CFC leaders prayed and asked the Lord for guidance. They sought His word, and the answer He gave: Haggai 1:13-15.

“I am with you, says the Lord. Then the Lord stirred up… the spirit of all the remnant of the people so that they came and set to work on the house of the Lord of hosts… “ON THE 24TH DAY OF THE SIXTH MONTH” (June 24)

Through God’s word, several things were therefore made clear to the group that met on June 24.

“I AM WITH YOU”: God was with the group in the plan for the elementary school. On reflection, they realized this was not just their plan; it was His plan for them, and He must have been leading them all along. It was the Lord who planted the germ of the idea for a tutorial center in the hearts of the four pioneering ladies.

“They came and set to work on the HOUSE OF THE LORD… “ This would be God’s school. Christian formation should be an important part of STEFTI’s mission. Children and even staff would be formed along Gospel values. This explains why school personnel are made to undergo spiritual formation through membership in the Cornerstone Faith Community.

“On the 24th DAY OF THE SIXTH MONTH” (June 24): the Lord had even chosen the particular day on which the group would meet to talk about the elementary school.

Having been given the “Go” signal, the group spent the next few months in frantic search for a school site. After considering several properties they finally chose the present site in Brgy. Abucay.

The land and initial buildings would run up to several millions – an amount humanly impossible for the foundation. But then they had a backer – the greatest anyone could have. “I AM WITH YOU”, He had told them, and God was indeed true to His word. Over the months money for the land and buildings came in a steady flow just enough for their needs. God was touching the hearts of countless generous benefactors in Belgium through the tireless efforts of Jacques and Brigitte van Ypersele.

And that is how STEFTI began.