The global pandemic, which initially spotlighted the elderly as most vulnerable, has spawned a breed of Filipino seniors who bucked the trend of dire global stats.
In their 80s, 70s and a sprinkling in their 60s, these lifelong achievers agilely shifted toward avenues of discovery in the digital world when the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) upended their weekly painting classes at the Sunshine Place, a senior center on Jupiter Street, Makati.
Both great-grandmothers, two-time Palanca awardee Lin Acacio Flores, 84, and multidegree-holder Leni Reynoso Araullo, 80, bragged about their digital prowess. Said Flores, “I set up my Zoom.” Added Leni, “We are like our children or grandchildren, schmoozing in Zoom.”
With other classmates, they interact like teenagers in the digital classroom, vying for the teacher’s attention. Teacher is multiawarded Fidel Sarmiento, 60, president of the Art Association of the Philippines, who has been guiding them in the Makati center.
Lin, the dean of seniors in Sunshine, said, “When my husband passed on, painting became my therapy. The online classes fill my days with calm and a sense of personal fulfillment.”
Credit goes to Sunshine administrator Gilda Reyes and operations manager Che de Vega, who brainstormed with Sarmiento on how to digitally connect to the seniors. Past initial glitches, Che and her tech angels, Lynchie Borila and Gerlyn Cavinta, host the Zoom from Sunshine in Makati, connecting the professor’s Sta. Rosa, Laguna province, residence to the sheltered-in-place seniors. Teaching assistant Robert Fernandez, hyperrealist visual artist, Zooms from Fairview, Quezon City, as does Tere Buiser on Fridays from Manila.
Sarmiento said, translated from Filipino, “The results are rewarding, keeping seniors busy, forgetting lockdown, bonding online, and the best part, all are progressing, painting their masterpieces.”
Begun in the end of March, the creative workout is conducted four times a week, four hours per session, with a minimum of six students. Sarmiento opens with a live demo for students to follow. Finished works are then submitted for digital correction.
The quorum is a who’s who of A-listers turning the quarantine into an opportunity for learning.
Within eight decades, Leni graduated from accountancy, and worked in her father’s businesses; earned an MBA in the Jesuits’ Marquette University in Milwaukee; and finished food technology and nursing. She is the first Filipino certified international cake decorator by the Wilton School of Confectionery in Chicago. With sister Edna, she opened in 1963 the Reynoso Baking and Cooking School, which was entrusted to younger sister Sylvia when Leni went back to the United States. For 17 years, Leni taught subjects ranging from culinary arts to nursing to international coding of diseases in six colleges and two universities.
In between, a marriage produced two kids, four grandkids, and three great-grandsons. Retiring at 75, she decided “to explore the world of visual arts in painting,” starting in Los Angeles and landing in Sunshine Place two years ago.
Hunkered down in Manila, Leni did 25 canvases within the first three COVID-19 months and sold one during the June online auction of Santuario de San Antonio, Makati.
In the same auction, Conchitina Bernardo sold three paintings. A grandmother of four, Bernardo has a CV today’s influencers can’t beat. Still sporting the age-defying looks of her modeling days, she is Ms Etiquette, pioneered a finishing school, and is a diplomat’s wife, an editor, a writer and a civic leader.
Five years ago, she discovered Sunshine. Her heart, beating with the aid of a pacemaker, got hooked on painting and now, she said, “I find that I am learning so much online. It has made me less dependent on maestro. I have to solve the mistakes myself. More important, it gives me a constructive way to keep my COVID-19 time productive. I have not stepped out since March 14. Upside is, I have a lot of practice with painting. It keeps my sanity.”
Another active participant is great-grandmother Cecile de Joya, 82, member of the original batch of the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company. A founder of Fundacion Centro Flamenco, she danced into painting some four years ago. Daughter Cecile, in her 50s, frequents online classes, too.
A Chinese brush artist, graduate of law, active with the Zonta Club and the Order of Malta, Carolina Llanillo has held 11 solo art exhibits here and in New York, Stockholm and Italy. Through Sunshine’s Sarmiento, she expanded her portfolio to include oil portraiture. “I choose which class once a week to get a good practice.”
Architect Mariquit Reventar’s calendar overflowed with Rotary activities, real estate endeavors in Laguna, and her growing clan, before she pursued painting in Sunshine. “Painting allows me to relax and keep my mind off the business I have been running as a widow for 30 years.”
Diligently joining the digital sessions are barely seniors Loida Tan, Vicky Pollisco and Cherry Novera. Loida said, “I never realized the effectivity of online painting classes, actually more fulfilling, more focused.”
Online classmates are seniors Mee Lee Casey, Len Torres Fernandez, Lita Gelano and Vicky Lopez, whose combined painting successes aren’t enough for these pages. Laureana de la Cruz blinks intermittently. The lone wolf, Nick Uychaco, Zooms from California.
Isn’t it grand? The unforeseen gift of the pandemic was unleashing cooped-up creativity in these exemplary seniors who continue to exude joie de vivre.