How a troubled nation seeks solace in a child prodigy

THE news media have christened him ‘wonder boy’ but four-year-old Adrian Adi Maronilla Junior looks like any other kid his age. His big, round eyes seem to pop out of a cheerful face, his head a mop of black hair nestled on a puffy frame.

By Malou Mangahas

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Published: Thu 4 Aug 2005, 10:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:49 PM

A gifted child far from faraway Mindoro province south of Manila, Adi has gifted many Filipinos with a common cause to rejoice, despite the political crisis that is tearing the nation apart.

His abilities are exceptional in many respects, according to the leading newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer. At age one, Adi sang "do-re-mi" at two, he spoke straight English and could name 60 countries. At three, he started writing and reciting the capitals of nearly 200 countries.

Last April 16, Adi turned four, and could, the Inquirer reported, do all of the following: explain the solar system; name the biggest and smallest continents, the 12 months of the year, the 7 days of the week, and the different parts of speech; and add and subtract three-digit numbers. He reads the Bible to lull himself to sleep.

Adi’s story hit the front page a fortnight ago and promptly, it drew a deluge of attention on the boy. In an instant, the only child of Marynol, 25, a commerce graduate and housekeeper, and Adrian Senior, 23, who teaches biology, music and physical education at a government high school, became a celebrity.

Scores fired off a flurry of text messages, while many others called or wrote the Maronilla couple to offer every imaginable gift or treat or assistance to Adi.

College students, educators, athletes, resort owners, overseas contract workers, church ministers, local officials swamped the Maronillas with messages and compliments, all but one saying Adi gave them inspiration and hope.

An anonymous person donated a musical organ that Adi had said he wanted to learn to play. A soccer star offered to teach the boy lessons in the game, while a vacationing Filipino, piano lessons, in both cases free of charge. An Imam advised Adi to read not just the Bible but also the Quran, while another well-wisher said Adi should be introduced to the Old Testament.

A good number inquired about what milk and vitamins Adi takes. The educators said they would like to extend scholarship grants to the boy, and the teachers, tutorials in physics or math or whatever it is they specialise in.

The councilors of one town suspended their sessions just so they could discuss Adi’s story. Still many more moved mail of thanks. A most curious message asked if he could please buy Adi’s father’s sperm cell. But by far the strangest text messages came from several persons who, by all indications, are citizens totally exasperated with the state of Philippine politics. Two texters, for instance, proclaimed that for all his gifts of mind, Adi would make "a great president".

But Adi is just all of four summers, and it would take 41 more years for him to qualify as a candidate for President of the republic, or so the Constitution requires. Many others solicited Adi’s counsel on what the 82 million Filipinos, mostly many years Adi’s senior, should do to solve the national political crisis.

The Maronillas said they were precisely "very careful not to involve Adi in politics" but some people would not take no for an answer. In his published interview, the child prodigy proffered just one brilliant, if general, message: "People should talk... there should be no quarrelling because it’s bad."

But what would Adi want to see happen if he could just be a child and pursue the Philippines of his dreams?

At a newspaper office, Adi chose to paint his vision for the country —pictures of street children, illegal logging and illegal hunting, and as he worked his brush, "explained how one image was connected to another." Adi titled his work Good and Evil, but in the end decided to cross out ‘the bad images.’

Adi is a gifted child, hence, people shower him with a bounty of gifts. In the midst of crisis, he gives Filipinos reason to unite and celebrate.

All children are intelligent, in any one of eight intelligences, according to Harvard University’s Howard Gardner, author of the phenomenal book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

A gifted child like Adi more likely has great aptitude for several of the eight intelligences while other children, possibly for just one or two.

Adi’s story also calls attention to children less gifted, and those with special needs. Indeed, if the Philippines had all of 100 dollars to spend on children, should it devote the entire amount honing the brilliance of brilliant kids, or allot the money to enhancing the latent potential of special children?

In the face of competing claims on constantly limited budgets, all Filipino children deserve the same measure of attention all the time.

Malou Mangahas is a journalist based in Manila

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