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Filipino school fosters understanding among Christians, Muslims

Eufenia Mumm
Eufemia Munn supports a school in the Philippines.

Eufemia Tobias Munn, retired principal of Blair Elementary School at Fairchild, generated funds to build classrooms and develop programs at a small private school in the Philippines by teaching four years in Qingdao, China, and two years in Chile.  Now she is using proceeds from two books related to her experiences.

Shalom Science Institute, a nonprofit Christian school, was founded 20 years ago in her hometown of Balabagan in the Lanao del Sur area of Muslim dominated island of Mindanao, 600 miles south of Manila. Balabagan is 40 percent Christian and 60 percent Filipino Muslims. 

Her grandparents moved to the Muslim area in the 1930s, responding to a request for Christians to show Muslims how to farm. 

“The school, which offers quality education from kindergarten to high school, serves as a bridge between Christians and Muslims across cultural and religious barriers.  The program promotes understanding, peace and harmony,” Eufemia said in a recent interview.

“Christians and Muslims play and study together.  We can’t tell which is which.  School begins with prayer.  Muslims hold their hands up and out, and Christians put their palms together,” she said.

When a group of Christian clergy called on the mayor to engage in a Christian-Muslim dialogue, he said “Dialogue is good, but it is all words.  What we want Christians to do for us is show us a better way to improve our lives, like what Shalom School is doing in offering quality education to our children.  That is why many Muslim students are enrolled.”

“We do not teach religion but teach core values as part of education.  Classes have fewer than 30 students, compared to 50 to 70 in public schools,” Eufemia said.

The Philippines requires the addition of 11th and 12th grades to the existing 10 years of school.  Shalom is working to comply to this mandate by June 2016.  It means raising funds for more classrooms, computer labs, computers and personnel.

Her next dream is to help build a health clinic.

Eufemia, a member of Whitworth Community Presbyterian Church since 1969, is directing all proceeds of her memoir, Bridging the Gap between Christians and Muslims, to raise funds for these projects.  The book tells her story as a child at the start of World War II, through to her commitment to build bridges between these faiths.

With World War II veteran Lester Ames, she co-authored his memoir, Happiness Is Life.  They collaborated on this project based on Eufemia as a child survivor of the war and Lester as a U.S. liberator of the Philippines.

Eufemia was four in 1941 when the Japanese occupation began.  She survived leeches in the jungle, where her family moved to hide and stay away from Japanese and Muslim raiders.

Eventually they moved to a sultanate where the sultan protected them from Muslim raiders.  They later moved on to a coconut plantation of a Spanish family who had fled the Japanese. 

There, her grandparents cared for the sick and delivered babies during the occupation. There, they witnessed bombing of the Japanese garrison across the bay when American liberation forces came.

After the war, they returned to their homestead.  Because the nearest school was nearly seven miles away, in 1948 her family donated about five acres to build a public school for up to the fifth grade.  It continues today.

Eufemia studied business and accounting at Silliman University, founded in 1901 by Presbyterian missionaries at Dumaquete City, Negros Oriental, Philippines. After graduating in 1960, she was assistant dean of women until 1966, when she married Merton Munn, who was vice president of academic affairs.

He was called back to New York, and Eufemia joined him as his secretary on an Appraisal of the Protestant Effort in Christian Higher Education in 11 countries.  It was a project of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.  She helped write reports on 84 colleges and universities.

From 1941 to 1953, Merton had served as dean at Whitworth College and from 1954 to 1957 was a dean at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis., before the Presbyterian Church USA’s Board of Foreign Missions sent him to Silliman University, where he met Eufemia.   

Merton returned to Whitworth in 1969 to head the education department until he retired in 1974.  Eufemia earned a teaching certificate, a master’s degree in education and principal’s certificate at Whitworth.  She started teaching at Lakeland Village, a residential community for 1,000 developmentally disabled children and adults in Medical Lake.

In 1974, Merton retired from Whitworth and was appointed president of Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska.  After three years, he retired, and they returned to Spokane.

When Medical Lake School District hired Eufemia, they moved to Silver Lake.  She taught special education, and later was special education coordinator at Lakeland Village until February 1987, when she became principal of Blair Elementary School on Fairchild Air Force Base.

In 1993, she retired early.  Merton died two years later.  As a 57-year-old widow, she decided to go back to the Philippines, seeking what Christ wanted her to do. 

She decided to help build and develop the Shalom Science Institute, founded a few years earlier in a two-room, thatched-roof, cement floor former Sunday school building. There were not enough funds for classrooms or the teacher’s salary from parents’ donations. 

She started the school library with books donated by Medical Lake School District and other local sources.  It’s the only school library in a community with more than 5,000 school-age children. 

Eufemia, who is now a volunteer president at Shalom Science Institute, is planning a Peace Concert in December in Balabagan.

Because of her travels, Eufemia can be contacted through her literary agent, Cora Horder of Spokane.  Eufemia is available to speak about her mission.

For information, call 468-5136 or email chorder51@yahoo.com.





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