Mary Los Baños '52: On Following the Good Shepherd to Pioneer Early Childhood Education Programs from O'ahu to Burma.

Mary Los Baños '52: On Following the Good Shepherd to Pioneer Early Childhood Education Programs from O'ahu to Burma.
Amy Barnard

Educator
Hawaii & SouthEast Asia

What
I founded a school in Pearl City, O'ahu and trained local teachers across SE Asia in an early childhood education program I developed.

How it Started
I worked as a teacher alongside my Filipino-Hawaiian husband who was the district superintendent of public schools in Leeward District, O'ahu. He hired two Montessori teachers to work in a needy area of his district, and they shared their knowledge with me. When my children were young, I founded a nursery school where my children could be close to me. Through the years I developed a unique curriculum based on God’s Creation using the Montessori approach. Leaders of a home development company, wanting to help young families, offered to provide finances and build a preschool if I would run it. I felt it was God’s school for the children of Hawaii and Asia and that I was to be the caretaker.  

How it Spread Overseas
In our first year of marriage the we lived in Thailand, where my husband was a Fulbright grantee. This connection to Asia continued, and I was invited by both foreign and local educators to train teachers in early childhood education, using my curriculum. 

The Clothing
I have been close to a Kachin family for nearly 30 years; they have made me their Mum Ja (mom). They wanted their Mum Ja dressed in their traditional dress for this picture at 2019 visit.

 

Q. Tell us a little about your unusual wedding and first year of marriage.

My husband’s name is Domingo, he was born and raised in Hawaii. We met at San Francisco State University where I was working on my degree in education. While I was finishing my education and teaching students in a special needs class, Domingo went to Thailand as a Fulbright grantee. In February of 1960 I flew to Japan where we married at the US Embassy in Tokyo, after which we went to Doshisha University in Kyoto to have a small ceremony with a former YMCA leader Domingo was close to. Then it was off to start our life together in Thailand. We stayed there for two years, having many close friends and fond memories. 
 

Q. What led to your first Early Childhood Education training in Southeast Asia?

While in Thailand, we lived in a big family compound with a Thai family. We remained close to them over the years and went back for weddings or funerals. That relationship led to an opportunity to share my curriculum with some teachers in Thailand. The first overseas training of this curriculum happened in Bangkok in 1986, in partnership with the YMCA. That training was for twelve Bangkok YMCA teachers and staff plus two YWAM teachers.  

 

Q. You have worked in some more sensitive areas where Westerners aren’t often invited or given visas to work. How did that come to be?

Throughout all of my working in Asia, the key has been the YMCA. From early on, various individuals in the YMCA took interest in my program and opened doors for me to work in unexpected places. A leader in the Asian Alliance YMCA saw the work in Bangkok and invited me to join him in a neighboring country, to offer training programs which started my process in training teachers in countries beyond Thailand.  

Also, a leader of one of the Asian YWAM groups took great interest in our program. He actually visited the Children’s house (the school I founded near our home in Pearl City) to see more. YWAM had launched preschools in refugee camps for Cambodian children escaping the killing fields. But they needed additional training. After seeing the work in Bangkok and visiting The Children’s House, this leader invited me to provide training to the preschool teachers at the refugee camps. 

 

Q. So who are these teachers? Are they from the West or local?

They are local teachers. I, as a staff of The Children’s House and a YWAM leader were the only westerners usually involved in these projects. And that YWAM leader has lived in Asia.  Most of the YMCA leaders are Asians themselves. So, local leaders, local teachers.  

 

Q. What happens after the initial training?

The teachers bring what they have learned back to their village schools, then we have local teams that go out to do follow up. One of the teachers rode on the back of a motorbike for two days and then she walked for three days in order to give follow up help. These lessons continue the process of incorporating Biblical truths with the curriculum as well as offering continued training in basic health care.  

One of the teachers rode on the back of a motorbike for two days and then she walked for three days in order to give follow up help. 

 

Q. You mentioned healthcare. Can you speak a little more about that?

A Southeast Asian YMCA leader asked me to join him, along with a local doctor, on a trip to visit village preschools early on. I learned about the schools and the challenges they faced, especially with regard to basic healthcare. Over the years, in addition to our preschool programming, we offered basic healthcare programs, and brought in water filters, teaching the local teachers how to use them. In some areas, we’ve also partnered with groups to build needed toilet facilities. 

In certain regions, children were often sick due to water that could be purified by boiling. We had the teachers collect water from a variety of water stations and then used a micro projector to show the amoebas swimming in the dirty water. This helped convince families to boil water in order to protect against illnesses. The teachers also incorporated teaching on hand washing to prevent disease, among other things.

A caucasian woman in ethnic Kachin Burmese dress with silver accessories smiles at a camera.

I have been close to a Kachin family for nearly 30 years; they have made me their Mum Ja (mom). They wanted their Mum Ja dressed in their traditional dress for this picture at 2019 visit.

 

Q. Can you explain a little bit about what your preschool program is like and why it is unique?

I have learned so much from the Montessori approach to education and my visits to other schools, where I saw incredible work being done. But I still felt that something was missing. With the Good Shephard program (that is what we called it), we started with creation as the foundational element. We see God as the creator, so everything starts with God. In the beginning, God. This is the place to start when you want to address racial issues.  Each person is created in God’s image. This is also where you start when you ask, "Why there is beauty and order in nature?"  It was created out of love.  

A phrase from the work of Albert Schweitzer has echoed though my life. Sometimes softly, and sometimes as a loud, angry cry. “Reverence for Life.” This also became a thread throughout this work.  

These ideas of God as creator and Jesus as the center of all creation and history, as well as reverence for life, became foundational to our teaching.  

These ideas of God as creator and Jesus as the center of all creation and history, as well as reverence for life, became foundational to our teaching.

We worked with local schools to build Montessori-type equipment out of the raw material around them, the primary material being bamboo. We took what God in his goodness had provided so abundantly and had the teachers create their own equipment.  

We taught them that when God created them in the environment of their mother’s womb, he gave them gifts so they could walk out the calling he had on them. And, likewise, the very environment they teach in provides gifts he has given to walk out this calling. In Asia, that gift is the bamboo. So that is what we used; it makes up the walls of many of the schools, the mats the children sit on, and the many toys and teaching tools used for their learning. (See Mrs. Los Banos bamboo parable, which also takes a key role in her own spiritual life and in her teaching).

We also incorporated twelve foundational truths about who God is and his relationship with us throughout the curriculum, using practical examples like the one above to help students understand. At times, we work in places where we couldn’t speak Jesus’ name, but still the echoes of these truths were incorporated. 

 

Q. You mentioned that the refugee camps confirmed your belief in the importance of this curriculum. Please tell us about that.

We had an opportunity to set up a model classroom in one of the camps where the refugee children from Cambodia’s killing fields were living. In that situation, some of the teaching equipment we used came to us from a community in Sri Lanka. The carefully prepared environment of bamboo walls, dirt floors covered with mats and the shelves of colorful Montessori and the practical life materials spoke of His love, where His name could not be spoken. Love and peace permeated the bamboo walls and rafters. The children and the teachers found a peaceful hiding place from the chaos of the camp.

This is where I learned that a creation foundation combined with a Montessori style approach can touch all children even in the chaos of a refugee camp where there is pain, sickness, and the misery of war.

I saw the happy faces and how quietly and orderly they moved over the dirt floor selecting their work without direction from a teacher. I watched how attentively they listened to stories. The joy of these children from the Killing Fields of Cambodia affirmed that this was God's work, and we were to go as he leads us. 

The joy of these children from the Killing Fields of Cambodia affirmed that this was God's work, and we were to go as he leads us. 


Q. Are there still training programs going on at this time? 

Yes, in fact as we have this interview a training is going on with forty-one village teachers in Burma (Myanmar), who have gathered from twenty-seven schools. This is an area of civil war, and about a week prior to the training, a bomb was dropped in the village in the area, killing about 100 people. I got a text yesterday from one of the teachers who said, “Mom, everyone is afraid, but we are holding close to the Good Shepherd. We are taking it one day at a time.” And the work is still going on. The teachers want to continue caring for the children in spite of everything.  


 

Following is a parable that Mary Los Banos wrote many years ago that also connects to her training programs as well as her own process of spiritual growth and formation. 

In the high mountains of Chiang Mai the villagers will look for the strongest bamboo stalk to use as a pipe to bring the clean mountain water to the village below. The nodules will be cut and cleaned out, allowing the water to flow freely.

When the Lord cleans our heart, our bamboo pipe, it is not done in a day like a villager, rather it takes a lifetime. When the clean water begins to flow, it is slow and jerky. As our pipe becomes cleaner the water moves in a steady, confident stream.

It's not easy being a bamboo pipe, following Jesus closely, for the path he chooses leads to the cross. The cross is not a mere ornament around the neck but rather consists of daily sacrifices made for others out of love. 

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