An Interview with Verena Wriedt
The journalist and television presenter Verena Wriedt, now living in Berlin, is one of the first alumni of our school, from the early days when the school was still based in Makati, before moving to the Eurocampus.
She still speaks Tagalog, which is an essential part of the German School’s regular programme. In addition, of course, she learnt German and English, which soon became her second mother tongue, and French, which means she mastered the whole language program that still distinguishes DESM today.
Verena Wriedt, born in 1975, spent a total of ten years in the Philippines (1981-1991). After attending DSM and the Düsseldorf International School where she took the IB, she studied Media Studies & Public Relations at the College of St. Mark & St. John at Exeter University in England and then “Broadcast Journalism” at Emerson College in Boston, USA.
In addition to her work as a radio and television journalist specialising in sports programs on NTV, she also shows high social commitment: She is an ambassador for two German child protection organisations on the Philippines, Kinderschutzengel eV, and SOS Kinderdörfer. Apart from that, she is a patron of the LILOU charity movement for the DKMS, an international organisation which supports the struggle against blood cancer and is especially dedicated to help women suffering from cancer.
Ms Wriedt kindly agreed to an interview with the school to talk about how the German school has left an imprint on her life and character, making her conscious of her responsibility to the world as a socially-aware and educated human being.
How did you happen to visit the German School Manila and how long were you there?
My father had a job with Cocobank, a Philippine company. He was recruited from Germany to manage the firm in the Philippines in 1981. It made sense to put my brother and I in the German School.
You went to a school back in Germany. What were the differences with the German School Manila?
I was in DSM from the first to the ninth grade. Classes were very small and we were in close contact with our classmates and the teachers. We felt very much at home at school, like in a family. There was an atmosphere of mutual trust, and whenever you needed help, there was somebody there to talk to. After grade 9, I switched to ISM because, different from GSM at that time, it already offered the IB, which was an internationally recognised diploma programme preparing me perfectly for university studies all over the world. But I loved the eight years in the German School. I still remember a lot of my teachers. Mrs. Bräutigam, Mrs. Göbele and Mr. Bradshaw were my favourite teachers. They were great persons and teachers.
Did the years at GSM form your personality in an important way? Do you think you would be a different person now if you had not had the 9-year experience at GSM?
The years in German School certainly made me the person I am today. The kids were all very down to earth, as were the teachers. That helped. For a kid, living that life is not that easy. We all, as foreigners or expats, had a great life, living in a protected village. It seemed to be a secure and happy life, but it was not real: Just across the walls of our village there were the slums and poverty. This was tough to understand for us as children. I remember we had a project, we went to Smokey Mountain in Tondo and gave the kids rice (with money we saved up and donated), our old toys and clothes.
I learned to share what I had and to appreciate the life we had at a very early age. I think that was crucial for my development. I also learned Tagalog at school, which really helped me a lot to settle in.
Which experiences are the most beautiful and most impressive from this time?
I loved living in the Philippines. I loved the people and I still love them. I like to remember the weekends when we went to Lake Caliraya to go wind surfing. We did a lot of excursions with our class which are still unforgettable to me.
What conflicts and challenges do you remember?
I think the gap between poverty and the rich people is the hardest to understand for a kid. My parents always made us donate our toys or clothes, so we always had a great understanding for the situation. Buts it’s tough for kids to see that kind of poverty. We have always tried to help, up to this day. And I always wanted to come back to the Philippines and give something back. Luckily I managed to do that 5 years ago with the help of SOS Kinderdörfer and REDO water systems.
If you had the choice, would you rather send your children to a school like GSM?
I have one son. And I'd certainly send him to this school to learn English fluently at an early age, but also keep German to keep fluent in his own language.
This way, it is a perfect mix. Apart from that, I think it's crucial to have fun while learning at school. I think I had a lot of fun, because the teachers were highly skilled and motivated. They were devoted to their work; that is essential. Children are aware of the fact that teachers are taking them serious.
What does the Philippines mean for you today?
It will always be my second home in my heart. And I hope to return one day with my family.
You are very committed to social projects in the Philippines, can you describe them in more detail?
I am supporting a SOS children’s village near Manila. We donated a water system by REDO 5 years ago. It is a fantastic system which enables the whole village to have clean drinking water. And that, as we all know, is one of the the most important things in life: clean water. I have always dreamed of coming back to Manila to give something back to show my gratitude for the wonderful 10 years I had there, where I was always feeling at home.
Verena Wriedt gives an interview to a local television channel about her social project.
As a journalist, how do you explain the fact that the Philippines is still largely unknown to Europeans and that there are negative concepts of this country and the people living here?
It is so sad that Europeans don’t really think of the Philippines when it comes to planning a holiday. They would rather go to Thailand. I don’t understand that because the Philippines has amazing islands and is an amazing country to travel around. The people here are so friendly and loveable, even compared to other Asian countries. I think a lot of Germans have the kidnapping of the Wallert family in the back of their heads. And that is really silly as this happened ages ago... Before travelling to a country it’s always wise to inform yourself where it is safe to go and where not!
What could be done to make the Philippines better known and to revise the negative image?
I think advertising on every channel is crucial. I try to help as much as I can.
Managing the clean water project in the Philippines
I am always very enthusiastic about the Philippines because it comes from my heart. And I hope those bad images will change soon in the heads of people, because the Philippines don’t deserve this. It's a gorgeous country with the most wonderful people! Germans should be more open-minded and less prejudiced.