Families of the Philippines
Directed by Arden Films, Inc.; Master Communications, Inc. ; Families of the World. 2011. 30 minutes.
In English and Tagalog.
Study areas: Family, international eduation, anthropology
The Families of the World series, which has garnered a large number of awards, offers an introduction to various countries through visual images, daily activities, and narration by a girl and a boy in the age-range of the target audience – elementary through middle school. Daily activities of the narrators, the economic situation of their families, the social fabric of their communities, the activities of school life and recreation, and the gathering and preparation of food effectively convey the message that the world is really just peopled by ‘kids like us.’
Through this predictable formula, the series can easily lend itself to comparative social studies, especially with the online teacher’s guide containing a compendium of economic and societal data. The images provide a rich understanding of how people live and dress in their ordinary lives. The narrators are a 12-year old boy named Khim, who is in the first year of high school, and a 7-year old girl named Shahani, who is in middle school. Khim lives with his grandparents in a coastal village on the island of Cebu, and Shahani lives with her parents and a younger sister in a market town in Bulacan on the island of Luzon, 50 km north of Manila.
Khim attends a school with ten thousand other students, tends to the family’s small goat herd, gathers wood for the fire in the outdoor kitchen, and is responsible for starting the rice for dinner each day. On his walk home from school each day he stops at an arcade to watch youtube videos. Shahani is also in a large school – five-thousand. She and her younger sister take dance lessons taught by her father, who also works on weekends as a children’s entertainer at a Manila area mall. Both of the children subtly demonstrate the efficiencies of their family’s lifestyles within their own environments. For example, Khim pointedly comments that the bamboo-slat floors of the home allow sand to drop through and air to circulate. Khim also demonstrates that the chickens, goats, and family garden plots contribute to self-sufficiency.
A school system curriculum specialist or an individual teacher might use the teacher’s guide to construct a series of useful lessons appropriate to various student age-groups. For example, the food being prepared for the main meal in each of the two households could be incorporated into lessons on nutrition. Likewise, the various modes of public transportation illustrated could be part of a study on transportation in various societies. The teachers’ guide also includes reproducible maps in PDF format that can illustrate the large numbers of islands that comprise the Philippines and situate the country within the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia.
Still, for those familiar with the Philippines and its social, economic, and political challenges, this program will seem lacking. The general formula for the Families of the World series calls for one of the children to be situated in a rural setting and one in a city. Khim is definitely in a rural area, but Shahani is not in a city but rather a mid-sized town. A sweeping glimpse of Manila is shown before the camera settles into Shahani’s town, but all we see are the modern towers, and later, the upscale mall at which Shahani’s father entertains. While these are also true elements of Philippine life, neither Khim’s village nor Shahani’s town provides any intimation of the grinding poverty which is the lot of so many Filipino children and families. Of course, the question will arise of how much negativity we ought to expose young students to, but even a lower-middle class setting in a densely populated city like Manila (eleven times more dense than Bulacan) could expose the viewer to the contrast of poverty and wealth that characterizes any honest view of the Philippines.
Similarly, the history of the country and the various religions are only lightly touched upon and dismissed. Shahani attributes the presence of multiple languages to the colonial past without clarification, and she quotes her mother as saying that multiple religions and ethnicities are what makes life interesting. Both are true to some extent, yet both are unsatisfactory. Finally, the question of these children’s names: Shahani, while not unheard of (Leticia Ramos-Shahani is a politician in the Philippines and Lilia Shahani is a popular blogger) is hardly a typical name for a Filipina, though her sister has one of the most common – Diwata, a Tagalog name associated with the pre-colonial past. But it’s truly baffling why the videographers chose Khim as a name for the typical boy. While Filipino families are no longer strictly giving their children names of Christian saints, Khim is more commonly a name given to Vietnamese girls.
Overall, Families of Philippines is a worthwhile production, a useful if limited introduction to the country. What it covers it does very well. The colors are brilliant, the narration is well-told, the scenery is authentic, and the feel for everyday life of this very small segment of the population is genuine. It is recommended, with reservations.
A Professor of writing and Asian Studies at Michigan State University, Roger Bresnahan’s first encounter with the Philippines was as a Fulbright grantee in the mid-1970s when he taught American literature and American history at the University of the Philippines. Later he studied the Tagalog language in a summer program at the University of Hawaii. Author of four books and numerous articles on Philippine life and culture, as well as the history of the U.S. colonial regime there, he continues to do research on the literature and history of the country. One of his books, Conversations with Filipino Writers (1990), an oral history of Philippine literature, won the Philippines National Book Award. Recently he served as convenor and program co-chair for ICOPHIL, an international conference on the Philippines that occurs at four-year intervals. He currently serves as Michigan State’s liaison to the Fulbright program and in that role assists students and faculty to obtain funding for overseas study and teaching.
Last Updated: February 24, 2013