My teaching a class at Assumption College, the most exclusive girls’ school in Manila and possibly in all of the Philippines, had be justified in my mind…in other words I had to say to myself that these girls would soon become leaders of their country. The reasons we entered the Peace Corps and went to the Philippines had more to do with helping the less fortunate than the upper-class, but I ended up working in the theater with movie stars and in school with students who were relatively well off. No amount of explaining, however philosophical, could change the fact that my Peace Corps experience was not typical. My experience, taken even the context of my being a part of the creation of a national theater, the first in the Philippines in the vernacular, will always have to be explained: drama is not what the Peace Corps is about.
I was good at adapting, and my idea of taking upper-class kids into the tenements of a slum was an example of that. In fact, I said, it was a chance for these students to experience how the lower-class lived, while they improvised skits, drawn from what they learned from the tenants on each floor. What the tenants saw in a personal way…from the dramatizations…were themselves, or in those dingy halls that were always public and cold…a connection between the two worlds came alive.
Before I did this, my upper-class students had had virtually no contact with slum dwellers. And you could tell from their reactions that they at first were very uneasy about going into the tenements. I have wondered what my impact was. The reason was that I saw some immediate change. I saw reluctance turn to willingness. I did, and from that, confidence. I also saw the smiles and excitement on the faces of the tenants. I trust it had a lasting impact. But I have no idea if it did, whether any of my former students later used those experiences. At the time I thought the idea had merit; I thought it had substance and could shape lives, and that, in my estimation, made the Peace Corps and my project a fit.