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Olongapo Heritage Fair: Revealing Nellie E. Brown

Olongapo Heritage Fair: Revealing Nellie E. Brown

Ellie De Castro concluded the Finding Nellie Project at Nellie E. Brown Elementary School (NEBES) by revealing the true identity of her father’s elementary school namesake, Nellie E. Brown. Her audience consisted of NEBES’ current students and faculty, former and retired teachers and principals, alumni, Olongapo Historical Society members, local government representatives and Department of Education representatives.

The reveal comes after 646 days of research alongside 5 National Geographic Explorers and De Castro’s own family and friends. The day was called the Olongapo Heritage Fair, where a program filled with messages from the community and an interactive exhibit for both students and alumni were organized by the Finding Nellie Team with support from Olongapo City Vice Mayor Jong Cortez and West Bajac-Bajac Barangay Captain Billy Capistrano. 

“Sa hinaba-haba ng adventure, ay nahanap na din si Nellie”

Nellie E. Brown turned out to be a kindergarten teacher from Bangor, Maine. She did not establish NEBES nor was she a former teacher there – as many NEBES alumni and Olongapo citizens first thought her to be. Instead, one of her students, Roger Brown Nickerson, grew up to be a Captain on the US Navy and was eventually stationed in Subic Bay as a Commander from 1952 to 1953. He established NEBES in 1953 and named it after his favorite teacher, Nellie E. Brown. She passed away on February 26, 1954, a year after the school was built.

De Castro was able to find the answer after corresponding with the US National Archives and Records Administration, which led her to go on Ancestry.com and look up everything she has since found out about Nellie E. Brown from different stakeholders and sources. It seemed like a simple resolution after almost 2 years of research, but in her speech revealing Brown, De Castro shared that “the story of Finding Nellie isn’t just about Nellie E. Brown and Commander Nickerson. In Finding Nellie, we also got to find the people who have built and made this community in Olongapo what it is.”

To celebrate Finding Nellie with the local community, the day’s festivities awarded groups of students who took part in their own mini research projects after drawing inspiration from De Castro’s project with her fellow researchers and explorers. Winning research projects included topics on local food culture and solid waste management.


De Castro dedicates Finding Nellie to her father, NEBES alumnus Dr. Leo De Castro of the University of the Philippines. Although Nellie has been found, her team will continue to release material about their adventure and encourage students from different schools to keep being curious about their own heritage and identities. A public version of the exhibit and a screening of a documentary on Finding Nellie  will be held later in the year at a community center in Olongapo and in Manila.

Finding Nellie: The Project

What Ellie thought would be a quick Google search turned out to be an adventure that has lasted more than two years. Finding Nellie is a project that has made a team of archaeologists, educators, and storytellers scour through offline and online archives in the Philippines and abroad; inquire with libraries, cemeteries, historians, and even active and retired U.S. military personnel; get in touch with local and national  politicians; and message anyone who might remotely be related to a Nellie Brown on social media, via telephone, and even by knocking on their doors. On Instagram, the team shares every step of this journey through its colorful and interactive Field Notes. 

With the help of the National Geographic Society, Finding Nellie has allowed Ellie and her teammates to connect and reconnect with friends and family; foster an appreciation for community roots; and bring world history lessons a little closer to home – especially to the current students of Nellie E. Brown.

For more details, visit the project’s online spaces:

Instagram: @finding.nellie
TikTok: @finding.nellie
Website: https://www.elliedecastro.com/finding-nellie

Team Members’ Biographies

Ellie De Castro

Ellie is a Filipina archaeologist whose work focuses on finding avenues to connect heritage and youth. She led the Handi Project from 2015-2020, where she organized field trips to bring students from the Ifugao indigenous group to their world-renowned heritage sites, which they previously didn’t have access to. For the Dewil Valley Museum in El Nido, Palawan, she produced educational materials, artwork, and activities for the youth of the valley to engage them with the archaeological sites in their neighborhood. These projects focused on creating opportunities to connect with heritage resources in communities. Ellie seeks to enable participants of her projects to appreciate their homes in a new light and see the wonders of the world in their immediate surroundings.

She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Basic Medical Sciences degree from the University of the Philippines-Manila and a Master of Science degree in Archaeology from the University of the Philippines-Diliman

Peg Keiner

Peg is an educator in the USA with 17 years of experience, including 4 years as an elementary technology coach and 8 years leading an inquiry-based International Baccalaureate school as the Director of Innovation. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Earth Education Expert, a 2018 National Geographic Certified Educator, and United Nations Association-Chicago Global Goal Ambassador.  As a 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, she created immersive 360 content to transport students to Antarctica through inquiry science lessons. As a 2019 Nat Geo Education Fellow, she led the development of a week-long student workshop for GeoChallenge Participants and created the #31daysofcitizenscience video series to amplify the use of citizen science tools.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Instructional Technology and Design from Northern Illinois University.

Rachel Hansen

Rachel is an educator in the USA with 13 years of teaching experience, including 4 years of co-teaching experience with an English teacher, and 2 years spent working on an interdisciplinary team in a project-based program. She has much experience using participatory design and inquiry-based learning in her classroom. In 2021, Rachel was awarded the AP Human Geography Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

Rachel has endorsements in American History, World History, US Government, and Geography, with a B.A. from The University of Iowa in History. She is finishing her M.A. in Geography at the University of Northern Iowa, where her research focuses on tracking student learning progressions as they engage in map-making to tell stories of their communities.

Pau Villanueva

Pau Villanueva (he/they) is a Filipino photographer whose works are an exploration of the human condition – the discovery of self, of others, and the empathy through which we cross them. He is a National Geographic Explorer documenting land conflict and gender experiences in non-moro indigenous communities in Mindanao, and cultural heritage through historical geo-inquiry at Olongapo City. He is a mentee at the 2021 Women Photograph Mentorship Class and 2019 Angkor Photo Festival Workshop.

Pau teaches photography and advocates for empowerment and inclusivity through visual storytelling. He is a workshop mentor for indigenous communities in South Central Mindanao, the 2023 Angkor Photo Festival for Cambodian storytellers, and at the National Geographic Photo Camp guiding transnational Pasifika youth throughout the image-making process. Pau is an alumni of the Visual Journalism program at the Asian Center for Journalism in Ateneo de Manila University, and holds a BFA degree in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

Alexandra Lenore Ashworth

Alexandra aka Dzana is a Filipinx-American, Jewish, Mad, queer artist whose work spans video, poetry, and writing about kinship, belonging, and identity. They make art with Black and brown activists at home and in diaspora, radical Jewish, queer, and disabled communities, and abolitionist adopted, fostered, and trafficked people. Dzana was a 2022 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, and she has produced for PBS, Art21, the MET, MOMA, and Brooklyn Museum, inter alia. They studied Spanish, magical realism, and screenwriting at Sarah Lawrence College.

Dzana is Associate Producer on documentaries FIRE THROUGH DRY GRASS (USA, 2023) and WHAT THE PIER GAVE US (forthcoming). Their upcoming short film, ON THE DAY I WAS BORN, is an experimental reflection on homecoming and adoption. They are working alongside cinematographer Christian Babista to bring the Finding Nellie adventure to the big screen to inspire students and explorers of all ages!


About The Author

Jallison Baldueza is our resident content assistant author and junior graphic artist in charge of content and article posting. For press release, articles and contributions please e-mail us at [email protected].

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