Twins also share passion for teachingBy Cris Evert B. Lato
CEBU CITY—Identical twins Marilou and Marilyn Sy have another thing in common—a passion for teaching.
Starting off as private tutors to elementary pupils, the sisters now own Small Wonders Academic Center (SWAC), which has two campuses in Barangay Apas in Cebu City and Barangay Curva in Liloan town in northern Cebu.
And they didn’t even have a business plan when they started the school.
“We did not think about what will happen in the long run because we were concerned about the day-by-day operations—to ensure that the children go home with minds full of new knowledge or a new skill,” Marilyn said.
She said the school grew on a “staggered basis.” For instance, a new computer is added whenever the school finds it necessary to purchase one or more chairs because one or two new pupils showed up.
The Sys are not even education graduates. Marilyn graduated with a degree in pharmacy, while Marilou finished information technology.
So why are they into teaching?
Marilou and Marilyn, 42, are strong-willed individuals who have a soft spot for children. Their mother died seven months after they were born in 1970, while their father later remarried and had two sons by his second wife.
Although their father worked hard as a salesman, it was still difficult for the family to send both sisters to school. Willing to help their father, they applied as private tutors to elementary pupils and were paid P1,500 per month.
With their earnings, Marilou said she and her sister were able to pay tuition and buy their own school supplies. They also found comfort in each other.
“We had our differences but in her, I found a partner. We cried together. We struggled together. We shared our problems. We could not tell our father about these and we could not open up to our brothers because they were too young to understand,” Marilyn said.
After graduating from college, the Sy sisters applied as Chinese teachers in two different schools. Since they were used to dealing with children and their temperament, formal teaching became second to nature to them.
After seven years of teaching, the sisters decided to quit in 1997 to help their father in his food business. At the same time, they thought of building their own tutorial center in Barangay Lahug, where the family lived.
“Our father asked us if we could manage because we started with zero capital and later borrowed money from our aunt. They would ask us, ‘Is this business or is this charity?’ because we charged so low to our tutees, which was P1,000 per month per student,” Marilou said.
Unfazed, the sisters pushed through with their passion to teach. “There was no point when we got discouraged because we found fulfillment and joy in what we do,” Marilyn said.
In 2005, they were granted a permit by the Department of Education to open and operate Small Wonders Development Center. The name was changed to SWAC in 2007 when they renewed their license.
The sisters took diploma courses in professional education and master’s degrees in education, which are requirements in operating the school.
Marilyn studied Special Education and then got her doctorate in education. Marilou also finished her master’s degree.
“This was another struggling period for us because our school was not that big and we had to pay for school fees again for our own studies.” Marilou said. “But we persisted and just found ourselves able to finish them.”
Today, SWAC has 40 pupils in Apas and 45 in Liloan, enrolled in preparatory school up to Grade 6.
The Sys aim to develop well-rounded children who are aware of what is happening in their surroundings. This is why the school let their pupils participate in field trips and activities with other schools.
On Sept. 29, 25 SWAC children joined 30 pupils of Cabancalan I Elementary School for the monthly Story Hours, which featured the Inquirer Read-along. Story Hours, an initiative of the Inquirer Visayas, Banilad Town Center and Basadours, is a convergence of three activities—book drive, storytelling and story writing.
The program brings together children from private and public schools every last Saturday of the month for an afternoon of fun and learning.
Haide Acuña, Cebu-based broadcast journalist and sports columnist, read the story of Filemon Mamon, which emphasizes the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise for a healthy body.
“I feel happy because it is good to share what we have with other children,” said Gabriel Ann De Guzman, 7, a Grade 2 pupil of SWAC.
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