With 20 years of success in Play House Preschool and B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy, Allen Zaldariagga continues to be an inspiring figure with her positive outlook on life, genuine care for those she meets and an effervescent inner joy that catches on.
When spending time with Allen Zaldariagga, her innate cheerfulness is contagious, spilling over in enthusiastic stories, cheerful greetings and the most genuine bouts of heartfelt laughter. Tita Allen to the students of Play House Preschool and B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy, and in effect everyone else, she walks around the campus after class, striking conversations with the lingering students. At one point, she picks up a paper flower that some of the girls were working on and admires it up close. “It’s so beautiful, are you going to make some for me?” she jokes, which the students gamely agreed to do.
It’s the kind of amiable exchanges that make Tita Allen a beloved fixture in the lives of the B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy community, every one of which she treats with familial care. “The culture here is really like a family,” she says. “I started something where I treated everyone like they’re my children. I don’t want it to become too big to a point that I don’t know anyone.”
That may be so, but the school has already grown significantly since its beginnings as Play House at a garage in Paradise Village 20 years ago. “John, our eldest son, asked me ‘mom, what do you really want to do with your life?’ and that made me think. I really love kids, and at the time, we had our one-year-old son Michael so I decided to start a preschool with five children, with Michael as one of the students,” she recalls. Of course, teaching wasn’t something that she just thought of on a whim. She had studied at the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Iloilo, where she graduated as an AB English cum laude and Most Outstanding Student awardee, as well as the editor- in-chief of the school publication The Voice. Back then, the school nuns had already asked her to spend time teaching little children, so the choice seemed like an obvious fit. She carried out the school functions completely on her own, working as a teacher and marketing the school to other residents of the village at the same time. “It really started small, then word got around with my friends, who started putting their kids in. From five, it turned into ten, and then 20.”
As a result of the steady expansion, the school has changed campuses twice, with a location just outside the gates of Maria Luisa and later to their more permanent site along Gov. Cuenco Street in Banilad. For Tita Allen, though, B.R.I.G.H.T. had just grown up together with her pioneering students. “I didn’t see it as an actual school, more of just a preschool,” she admits. “But when the kids were in kinder two, they didn’t want to leave and the parents were asking me to go up to grade school. So I said, ‘okay let’s try grade one.’ We really grew up with the children one year at a time.” The same thing happened at the first sixth grade graduation, with kids reluctant to leave for another school. “Everyone was telling me that high school was tough, but the kids didn’t want to go, and I started with them and saw them grow up, so I carried on.”
Now, B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy has about 700 students from preschool to high school, with many of their graduates going on to prestigious universities in the country and around the world. “Here, our school curriculum is always evolving to address the needs and challenges the students face in the local and global community,” high school English teacher Vert Reyes explains. The dynamic approach to education keeps B.R.I.G.H.T. current, and the competent faculty admits that they too are encouraged to learn with the students and challenge themselves to continuously do better.
Of course, it isn’t always about being in the classrooms. “Aside from the high academic standards, we have a balanced education, which allows the students to experience so many other subjects,” says the school superintendent Dr. Alan Ferguson. This includes a wide range of extracurricular activities where students can find their own interests and develop talents as they grow. “It plays an important part in our school, whether its sports, music or performing arts,” Tita Allen adds, describing Voices of Children, an activity where the students are encouraged to develop public speaking skills. In fact, B.R.I.G.H.T.
has exemplary English standards, encouraging students to read and attend various school events like Book Month and character role-playing.
Keeping up with its curriculum, the school boasts of facilities to cater to educational and extracurricular needs. Besides the bright and airy classrooms decorated with student art and encouraging posters, the buildings sit around a sprawling open field with Little Tikes play areas and a soccer field to encourage interaction while outdoors. Towards the back of the school is a large gym, where the young athletes can play basketball and tennis, or do laps in the swimming pool. The home-economics room mimics a charming country kitchen, although kids take their meals at the fully air-conditioned cafeteria, which boasts of an extensive menu from the in-house chef. But probably the room that best embodies the school spirit is the Discovery Park, a 1,200-square foot playroom, which has a mini-community of houses and stores, a ball-filled playpen and a number of developmentally appropriate toys.
“Well, we really believe that one of the foundations to make a person a better individual is to build self-confidence and self-esteem. We provide various experiences for the kids to find what ticks for them, so it’s building on their strengths so they can develop passion and confidence,” shares school headmaster Neil Montesclaros. “We also believe in training kids to be self-reliant. They learn to be creative in coming up with solutions. Also equally important is our belief that the quality of the school cannot surpass the quality of its teachers. The teachers make the difference, and that is something we espouse in B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy.”
It’s a philosophy Tita Allen understands by heart. “At the end of it all, it’s not the building, but the people,” she says. “Because what would I do if it were just me? I have this culture I want to share and nobody helps me.” Thankfully, there were and her said culture has become one to make the B.R.I.G.H.T. community close-knit and warm, embodying that line in Play House’s catchy radio jingle ad that goes “the school with a heart.”
“I want everyone to be happy,” she enthuses. “Despite what you go through in life, nothing should stop you from that. It’s really a decision you make, to try to go on and be happy.” Everyone who sits down with her immediately understands the contagious power of Tita Allen’s bright smiles. She has a firm but personal approach to leadership that is integral to keeping the institution productive, but she also makes sure to create a warm environment to make everyone feel appreciated—from an elaborate Hollywood-themed sit-down dinner for last year’s faculty and staff Christmas party, to handpicking and personally wrapping special gifts. “I guess if you really care about the people you work with, then you do what you can to make them happy,” she explains, a gesture that is clearly recognized.
“We are all Tita Allen’s children!” says high school head Meann Rafaeles. “The environment in the school is very much like family—from the students, teachers, guards, kuyas, office staff. When she arrives in the office in the morning, she greets each of us with ‘Happy Morning!’ and it’s a wonderful way to begin the day.”
“She really does have a big heart,” adds Neil. “Her genuine personal care and affectionate warmth is always disarming. I really try to emulate her in this way. She has a way of honestly telling you where you stand with her, and yet convey it with sincerity. I have great respect and admiration for this woman, knowing the many things she has gone through in life.”
One such thing is her annulment, a situation that she now talks about with grace and wisdom. “You know, it’s not the end of the world,” she says. “I think it should just make you strive to do better and do what you need to become a better person.” One way of coping had been to join marathons, a feat that she now proudly narrates having finished a recent 21k run in Singapore. “I’m a half-marathon runner,” she says, referring to how marathons are traditionally 42 kilometers, “but I’m still very proud. I started with 5k and made my way up to 10k and 12k and I was so amazed that I could do it.” She’s even done the 25k Cebu 3-bridge marathon, and plans on doing more – proving she still has an upbeat energy despite turning 63 this May.
Countering obstacles with hobbies that effect positivity is an outlook that many of today’s world- weary folk should adapt. “I don’t see things as problems,” Tita Allen shares. “I don’t like the word problem, it feels heavy and it becomes hard for you to solve it. I see it as a situation, as a learning experience.”
When she does feel her spirit waning, she retreats into the Happy Room, a corner of her bedroom where she keeps her books and does arts and crafts, or schedules quick yoga sessions on her house’s scenic garden. “Like when I was feeling a little tired earlier, I had to switch and do my yoga,” she admits. “I need that calmness of spirit back because the world can get noisy, and I need to get back and refocus.”
A central part of her downtime, though, is spending it with her family. “Playing with my grandchildren and being with my children, that’s very important to me.” Besides the Sundays spent at home, the family goes on trips to Boracay, Hong Kong or Los Angeles together, with six grandchildren in tow. “Enjoy it!” she advises on how to travel with kids. “I think you have too many dos and don’ts, you lose the focus. I’m a very organized person, but I know when to switch it up and say let’s have fun.”
Quality family time is something her children look forward to as well, looking up to their mother as an example of strength and passion. “Whether it’s a B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy school activity or a 21k run she’s joining, my mom gives it everything that she’s got,” eldest son John Pages shares. “She has so much energy, enthusiasm and love for all that she does. Her passion is infectious.”
Her only daughter Cheryl Pages-Alba says she developed a deeper appreciation for her mother as she grew up. “My four brothers will attest to this, that my mom never made us feel like we weren’t good enough,” she recalls. “No matter what we did, she would always tell us how proud she was. Even my brother Charlie still gets a note on his door from my mom with sweet words of encouragement from time to time, and my other brother Randy knows that our mom is always cheering him on at his gigs. I don’t think there’s a better word to describe her than nurturing—it’s in her DNA. I guess because of her positive reinforcement, all of us don’t want to settle for mediocrity in our chosen field of interest. It is so much easier to be your best when your mom believes in you.”
The same wholehearted support is now bestowed on her grandchildren, who she dotes on with time and attention. “My mom knows that in order to win the love and trust of a child, you have to really be there for them,” Cheryl shares. “You should see her when she’s around my daughters. You’d think she was the same age as them!”
The close-knit ties Tita Allen created in her own family was a product of her own relationship with hers back in Iloilo, where she grew up. Growing up as an only daughter as well, she continues to be very close with her brothers, who she visits often.
Truly, Tita Allen is an inspiration to everyone around her. “Many of us dream of making a difference in this world, but very few actually have the willingness to translate that into action,” says Carmen, mother to B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy student Feliz. “She continues to help shape the lives of so many children by her sheer passion for creating in them a never-ending sense of awe in the beauty of learning while in a fun- filled and caring environment—all from something she established in her garage 20 years ago. I bet there isn’t one single Play House or B.R.I.G.H.T. Academy student who doesn’t have Tita Allen on their list of people who made a difference in their lives and that, I think, is her greatest achievement.”
When asked personally, though, Tita Allen reveals that the legacy she wants to leave the children is relatively simple. “Believe in yourself, and that you can do things,” she insists. “I don’t know why people have to sulk and complain about a lot of things. You can’t help but love life. That’s why I’m always smiling, because there’s so much to be thankful for.” In her case, when she needs a change in perspective, she gains life lessons from sitting in a class where it all started in the first place. “The preschoolers give me a reality check. They make life so simple.”
- by Shari Quimbo
- sittings editor David Jones Cua
- photography Dan Douglas Ong
- hair and makeup Jessie Glova
EXCLUSIVE: Never Been Released Behind-the-Scenes photos of Zee Lifestyle’s Emerald Issue Cover Shoot
We celebrate the strength and resilience of womanhood in this year’s Mother’s Day by looking back at these never been seen before behind-the-scenes shots of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s Emerald (20th Anniversary) Issue cover shoot featuring the “Leading Women” of Cebu.
To celebrate the 20 beautiful years of Zee Lifestyle as the ultimate source of lifestyle news in Cebu, we handpicked 12 strong and stylish women of Cebu from every age group. These women show us that independently building one’s strength of character and living one’s passion knows no age. From the beginning, Zee has always been empowering women, providing the Cebuanas a platform to express their beauty and confidence, share their passions, engage in economic and political participation which yields to viewing women with equality and respect that we deserve.
photography Jan Gonzales
creative director Melo Esguerra
art director Doro Barandino
sittings editor Shari Quimbo
beauty director Romero Vergara
makeup Arnauld, Janice Barillo and Nicko dela Peña
hair Jessie Egos and Jake Arias
fashion styling Clint Potestas
production assistants Patty Taboada and Katrina Labra
locale Marco Polo Plaza Hotel Cebu
Twelve women, two sets and one afternoon. That is how the Zee Lifestyle team decided to celebrate the title’s 20th anniversary issue—with a challenge that, in some ways, is one of our biggest productions yet.
The idea came along when publisher Eva Gullas and editor-at-large Melo Esguerra were discussing a cover story that would best represent the magazine’s history. From commissioning artistic depictions on Cebu to playing with the anniversary’s emerald theme, no idea had stuck until Melo suggested putting a series of women who had already been on the cover of Zee, again on the cover all together.
Coming up with the list of names, of course, was no small feat. Our covers from the last 20 years have included several strong personalities—from philanthropists and politicians, to actors, and names to soon watch out for, our pages have seen them all. The challenge, then, was to come up with a list of women who had been driving forces in their respective fields when they had first appeared on the cover, and remain as powerful players even today.
With input from editors, both past and present, we rounded up 12 women from different age groups, fields and industries, who are all strong and passionate at whatever it is they do—Amparito Lhuillier, who remains the doyenne of Cebu society as a picture of elegance and class with her continuing efforts in business and social causes; the always-stylish Marguerite Lhuillier, herself an example of sophistication in all her efforts, whether business or otherwise; Margot Osmeña, who as a Cebu City Councilor has spearheaded many urban projects directed for the betterment of living in the city; hospitality mavens June Alegrado and Alice Woolbright, who are deeply involved in the rise of their brands, Bluewater properties and Beverly Hotel, respectively; Christina Garcia Frasco, the current Lilo-an Mayor advocating impressively progressive efforts in the area; former model Fiona King, now a major player in homegrown real estate with projects like Bloq Residences; the fitness enthusiast Danessa Onglatco who has espoused wellness with the opening of Yogahub; restaurateur Carla Yeung-McKowen who is behind the city’s hottest dining outlet, The Pig & Palm; designer Mia Arcenas, whose signature resort wear and accessories are representative of Cebu’s laid back lifestyle; Kym Maitland-Smith, who juggles efforts in swimsuit design through SOLTI Activewear and is building awareness for the vegan lifestyle; and Kryz Uy, whose online presence was a strong one even before fashion blogs were on anyone’s radar.
An impressive bunch, for sure. These women properly embody the characteristics that Zee Lifestyle looks for in one who makes the cover—beauty, yes, but also elegance coupled with individuality, and always a strong drive to succeed in whatever efforts they are directed.
This, it turns out, was the fitting tribute to the years Zee has been Cebu’s premier lifestyle bible, as well as a sign of the things forthcoming. Our 12 cover stars may have been on our pages before, but if their current efforts are any indication, our pages will continue to see more of them in the future. And as continuing purveyors of what Cebu has to offer, Zee Lifestyle will happily be seeing them in the years to come.
(This article had already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s December 2016 Emerald Issue, “Leading Women” on pages 140-155.)
La Liga Henerales: Shaping History Awareness Back Again in Cebu
La Liga Henerales is a community of young talents passionately promotes historical awareness through periodic costumes carefully researched for its authenticity and accuracy and promoted as well in events and schools.
Only few individuals before were into pursuit in this historical awareness project until the age of communication where internet is convenient in the palm of our hands through our gadgets. New information travel fast and data is retrievable, yet also possess a disadvantage with the plethora of different social media platforms carried by various makers as well. In a daily basis, historical backgrounds are unearthed making its trend until now as new discoveries are released, but the idea of these information being shown and shared is as close as not valuing or commemorating to its sources leaving this information just a trend.
There is a certain community of Cebuanos that are taking a quest to rewrite and restructure what was in the past, filling the gaps in facts with further research of variable sources that are made debatable but sticks to it true cause, to unveil the truths of our heritage and our origins, as Cebuanos and as Filipinos as well.
La Liga Henerales is a Cebu-based, non-profit organization composed of a group of talented, committed and respectable individuals from different walks of life, schools and profession whose primary aim is to promote both, Cebuano and filipino culture and heritage that was depicted before in pre-colonial and colonial eras via re-enactment with costumes vested in proper research and investigation to achieve authenticity. They also push their cause on schools and other social gatherings promoting and spreading awareness about our local, and national heroes that we look up to. With these said, they also portray a closer look of the lifestyle of the past to where they perform stories, perform forgotten dances and rituals and portray their individual roles, vital in the fight of our country’s future during those challenging times, and in honor to spread awareness of the lost practices we had in those times.
Louis Kenneth Villaflor, an entrepreneur and an avid history enthusiast and costumer, founded the group on the purpose of re-educating the youth about real local and national history, he saw the opportunity to combine his favourite hobbies which is costuming and story role-playing and the process to instill the historical awareness and value among the youth and in schools, along with a group of fellow enthusiasts who shares his passion about research and history, they took it among themselves to be purposeful in the advocacy in spreading historical awareness in schools or events by wearing periodically correct costumes and sharing the stories and its value to the youth.
Behind the Garments
Meet Rodney “Pee-Wee” Senining, who has been in the fashion industry since the late 90’s, strives in concepts of avant-garde, innovation and cutting edge-fashion forward design. And also a teacher of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design of University of San Carlos, he had grown into research of books like the holy grail in the Library Resource Center and is always fascinated of the periodical times and how to preserve it; Hence, his interest had grown for the affinity of Periodical Costumes and Sustainable Fashion.
Being part of the group La Liga Henerales, he was tasked to instantly be their mentor for the young talents and as the organization is still new and developing with limited funds, resourcefulness and research were done to come up with a good output of photo shoot and was quite proud of it and still promise on the next editions of pieces to be more historically accurate. Even as teacher for Fashion Design in SAFAD, his expertise comes hand in hand with the members as he helps them do research as well. His passion and interest somehow led him with enough knowledge to key the insights of the significant periods and historical backgrounds of it.
Historical Awareness in Cebu
The strength and progress of a country is anchored on how well they know and honor its history. The means of historical awareness in Cebu is almost non-existent among the Cebuanos, although we push forward in tourism and promote beauty through sceneries and other aspects of culture yet never commemorate deeply on historical icons such as our other local heroes, and ancient cultures as well that is almost been forgotten in an urban Cebu. Nevertheless, as long as communities’ like La Liga Henerales are now evolving in a learning state by real discovery by multiple resources, this will always reflect of how we appreciate love, patriotism and honor to our country and would look forward to progress.
After the Razzmatazz and Razzle-dazzle: Post-Sinulog Thoughts
by Chrissy Grey Resaba
Buntings of red and yellow were removed from post to post. Streets were cleared and cleaned. Fireworks displays were faded in the sky. Beats of #prititit and tunes of tourism-booster Cebu tracks were being put to archive once again.
Contingents from different parts of Cebu and Central Visayas had gone back home. Party people had gone sober while some are still recovering. Traffic has gone back to normal. Businesses, as well, has gone back to normal.
However, all the fun and loud chants, smooth grooves, and frenzied choreographies are still replaying from the memory banks of the people who celebrated Sinulog 2020. The queen of all festivals in the Philippines has left again another mark of cultural and festive nostalgia to the people from all parts of the world and Cebuanos alike.
After all the razzmatazz and razzle-dazzle, let’s get to know what are these IG and FB personalities’ #PostSinulogThoughts about celebrating the newly-culminated Sinulog 2020 and how did they differentiate it to last year’s.
Eva Psychee Patalinjug, Binibining Pilipinas Grand International 2018 @evapatalinjug
I celebrated my Sinulog with my boyfriend and some of my close friends, we decided to choose a place where it’s not very crowded where we can see the whole Cebu, talk, and chill the night away. We went to Verified Lounge – Cebu’s newest premier sky lounge – located at the rooftop of the Avenir Building. It was something new for me as the night was calm as I was away from the busy streets of Cebu. It’s definitely one way of enjoying such festivities.
Kim Covert @kimcovert
The Sinulog celebration this year has been one of the most memorable events in my life. Not only was I invited to perform a few of my own songs during the weekend’s festivities but I also turned over my Binibining Cebu Tourism crown to my successor. Last year, I was busy with work and was not able to completely grasp the events. This year’s festival was more organized which is a great success for Cebu. Many have flown in and had spent time with their families in the “Pit Senyor” spirit, others have enjoyed spending time off with friends and colleagues. It was a great way for me to start my New Year and close my Cebu chapter before I leave to the US in a week.
Alem Garcia @thealemgarcia
Well pretty much, I was still busy doing shows and events for Sinulog. But what made it different this year was the religious celebration made me believe even more that Sto. Niño is indeed miraculous and that He is meant to be celebrated. Even though you are successful in your chosen field, furthermore, everything will be meaningless if you do not have the faith.
Philip Pingoy @almostablogger
We all have a Sinulog story to tell. It may be a story of losing faith and finding hope. But what is important is our devotion to the Holy Child Jesus (Señor. Sto. Niño). This year, my Sinulog experience was very different since I am already based in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the internet I was still able to watch the mass and all the festivities in Cebu. I am in UK because I prayed to Sto. Niño. So, let us not forget the reason we celebrate Sinulog and let us continue to share to the rest of the world why Sinulog is the grandest festival in the Philippines. Pit Senyor everyone! I hope you had a good one!
Lyssa Amor @lyssaamor
Sinulog celebrates Filipinos’ acceptance of Christianity. This year, I celebrated Sinulog by hearing the word of God. I went to church which I do every Sinulog but the difference now is that I am not in Cebu. It’s my first time to celebrate Sinulog away from home because I’m currently in Japan. Although I didn’t dance the traditional Sinulog dance this year, I wasn’t able to watch the fireworks in Ayala, and didn’t spend time with my friends in Mango and IT Park. Snr. Sto. Niño will always be in my heart and I am forever grateful that our ancestors accepted Christianity and we continue to embrace it up until today.
Kevin Geniston @kgeniston
Sinulog will always be a highlight for me as a Cebuano. This year has been fulfilling as I was able to brave the crowd in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu three times to attend the novena mass which had also become like bonding time with my family, daughter, friends and loved ones. I ended the celebration of the Sinulog festivities with a bit of the usual partying and/or clubbing.
Carlo Andrew Olano @kalamicebu
My Sinulog this year was a great mix of religious and secular activities. I was able to go to the church and somehow witnessed the Traslacion and the fluvial procession. I also went to many side events like parties, mall events, and fireworks exhibitions. Sinulog 2020 had a fantastic balance of fun, faith, and festivities.
Danna Bacolod @dannabacolod
This is the second time I spent Sinulog with Cebu Pacific. We had series of events prepared during its entire week and participated the grand parade by having a float last Sunday. I always feel excited to join Sinulog Grand Parade and see a lot of people celebrating their own way of Sinulog along the streets of Cebu. Guess it’s safe to say that I had so much fun. Even if this was work-related, I didn’t feel like I’m actually working as it was always joyful doing events like these.
Nimo Hideki @nimo_scheming
You prolly knew this already but, Sinulog 2020 was by far the most phenomenal Sinulog experience: more laidback than the previous years’. The music in every corner of the streets were still there to help you let loose and enjoy the experience. The surge of people had tested you both mentally and physically. But it was an experience you cannot miss like mingling with people from different walks of life and shouting out “Pit Senyor” to everyone. Summing up my Sinulog experience, I was able to get crazy and enjoy all aspects of the fest.
Michael Rey @michaelsomewhere
I had the most relaxed Sinulog experience this year. I did not party and preferred to witness the grand parade instead. I do think that this year’s celebration was more colorful and much safer as establishments strictly abided the rules imposed by the Cebu City Government. I was also amazed at how the festival of fashion here in Cebu has evolved throughout the years.
Now, how about you? What are your #PostSinulogThoughts this Prititit 2020? Viva Pit Senyor!
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