To love it you must know it: the educational role of the Nat’l Museum of Natural History

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TO FALL in love with something, one must first know it.

This is how historian Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, a member of the National Museum Board of Trustees, explained the importance of the newly opened National Museum of Natural History, the third museum of Manila’s National Museum Complex, at a press briefing at its opening over the weekend.

“The first engagement in protecting biodiversity is [that you] fall in love with the land. Kung hindi mo minahal ang isang bagay, hindi mo aalagaan (If you do not love something, you will not take care of it),” he said. “For you to fall in love, you have to know [about it].”

The goal of inculcating an interest in — and perhaps love of — is made possible through new museum’s role as an educational institution which showcases elements of the country’s biodiversity through interactive exhibits for students and guests, as well as holding training sessions for teachers.

“It’s important for us to have a natural history museum because without it, many people would not even know [about] what we have. It’s not even about what makes the Philippines special, but even just what we have. They (guests) will learn that it is special, that it is ours, and, hopefully, they will fall in love with it, and with our country,” National Museum director Jeremy R. Barns told BusinessWorld during the museum’s opening on May 18, which was International Museum Day.

“Not everyone can go into the forest or dive underwater to see the beauty of nature firsthand, so we have to come up with something that will serve as a substitute for that and encourage people to learn and [to] know about the world around us, and, of course, about ourselves within that world,” he said.

Awareness of the country’s biodiversity would lead to more responsible behavior regarding our environment, more sustainable development, and, as a result, greater quality of life for all Filipinos, he noted.

The National Museum will be working closely with public schools and provide teachers with pre-excursion visits and training, “We [will] do teacher tours and training. By targeting teachers, we’re targeting so many people — all the students they will teach. Our teachers lack confidence. We need to give them a boost because they’re so important in our society,” Mr. Barns said.

An elevator inside the “Tree of Life” at the building’s atrium ascends directly to the museum’s fifth floor where the narrative of the galleries begin. Guests can immerse themselves in information and displays related to mountains and volcanoes (fifth floor), forests and bodies of water (fourth and third floor), and finish with the living things and elements on land (second floor).

One must note that not all the exhibits are on view at the moment.

Galleries at the first three floors are now accessible. Gallery 9 showcases mangroves, beaches, and intertidal zones, including a display of preserved leaves and other specimen in a set of drawers. Gallery 10 on the marine realm features animal dioramas, preserved corals, and an indoor submarine showing videos on marine life.

Gallery 11 focuses on climate change. Among its features are an activity space for children and a film viewing area where guests learn about the Philippines’ UNESCO world heritage sites and the 300 endangered species found in the country.

Gallery 12 is designated for temporary exhibits — currently on view is The Pioneering Naturalists in the Philippines. The exhibits will be changed every three months.

The skeleton of Lolong — the largest saltwater crocodile in captivity — hangs from the ceiling of the Ayala Hall; while at the ground floor are displays of petrified wood and rocks which guests are allowed to touch.

In the months to come, visitors can expect to see more exhibits as the museum comes closer to completion.

The skeleton of a sperm whale will be suspended from the ceiling at the main entrance hall; Lolong’s taxidermied body will be displayed at Gallery 1 at the 5th floor, which focuses on an introduction to Philippine biodiversity; and the rest of the galleries — on geology, minerals and energy, life through time, the types of forests, and freshwater wetlands — at the 4th and 5th floors are targeted to open in June.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at T.M. Kalaw St., Rizal Park, Manila. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman