Friday, January 20, 2012

Manila: international service learning bridges students, community

In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, thousands of residents living in unsafe conditions were relocated by the government to the outskirts of the city. After the move, residents experienced lack of employment and education, among other challenges. For the third year, a group of DePaul graduate students and faculty members entered this situation through an innovative service-learning program led by Professor Marco Tavanti in the School of Public Service (SPS). Through the Manila program, DePaul collaborates with Adamson University, a Catholic, Vincentian and urban university in Manila. “What students get in this program is training in participatory poverty assessment,” says Tavanti. “But it’s not just about learning—it’s about public service.

We follow the needs of people in the community, not our own needs.”

Through a process of appreciative inquiry, students focus more on the capacity rather than the needs of this community. And, Tavanti says, service learners from DePaul become “agents for the promotion of capacity- building.” “Our culture has a certain history of colonization,” adds Liezl Alcantra, a student in the class who also worked to create survey evaluation tools through the Manila program. Alcantara’s parents are originally from the Phillipines and, as a Ph.D. student in community psychology, she tapped into SPS’s international offerings to enrich her academic understanding of the challenges of international community engagement. “We were cognizant of our role. But while we were working with potentially vulnerable people, we also learned they have many assets.”

Antonio Merino, who is pursuing a master’s in international public service at DePaul, was struck by how the program offered him the chance to develop hands-on skills. “We were able to talk to the community, conduct focus groups and help develop an assessment tool for Adamson University to use as it evaluated the program,” he says. While Merino points out the benefits of learning and applying research tools through the program, he also emphasizes positive memories of interacting with residents of the community. “One of the highlights,” he says, “was simply going to the house of a community member. When we went to the home of a particular family, they did their best to make us feel at home. They cooked for us, and we talked to family members and neighbors. You have discussions with people and you feel you have a better understanding of how communities operate.”

Renee Partida, who participated in the program and graduated from SPS in June 2010, says the experience gave her an up-close view of issues people faced. “We saw garbage at the relocation site and learned from residents that it was being picked up every four months. Piles and piles of it–stored near a clean water supply,” says Partida, who works as a nurse in the trauma unit at Cook County Hospital. “The politicians denied it, but then said they should contain it better.”

Tavanti speaks about how the experience allows participants to connect with a community. “This work is really an example of international service learning,” he says. “But we work not only as visitor. We are also part of a collaboration.”

[Article published in the Steans Center 2011 annual report] 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sustainability: Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in the Philippines

Upon returning to Chicago after visiting Manila I found myself smiling thinking about the wonderful experiences I had just shared. In such a short period of time, I had the opportunity to indulge in so many delicacies; a complete gastronomical experience in ten days! Yet, if I wanted something to drink how accessible would water be? Over the next five years, will access to clean water sources in the Philippines improve?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) we are in a state of a “silent emergency” as billions of people have limited access to clean water and basic sanitation. Specifically, the WHO predicts by the year 2015 global sanitation will not be on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Additionally, we are told that many of the affected populations live in the rural areas of Asia and Africa. Of course it goes without saying; those most affected are the indigent as seen throughout our travels in both urban and rural Manila.

On our first day in Manila we took a walk to Robinson Mall where it was obvious that there were two categories of individuals that call the Philippines home: “the haves and the have-nots”. In 2004 UNICEF and the WHO estimated that the disparity noted between the two categories was one of the leading causes for mortality and morbidity affecting children most frequently. UNICEF reported that globally, children died at a rate of nearly 4000 a day. Many of the deaths suffered by the children are directly related to issues surrounding access to clean water. What can we do to assure a healthy future for today’s children? Sustainability for our children can only occur if we educate everyone on the need to maintain water sources globally.

“Water and sanitation are among the most important determinants of public health” (WHO).

As a registered nurse, my primary focus includes providing an environment that will allow an individual to reach their best possible state of health by focusing on the “entire” person. Certainly, the holistic approach is not new to the teaching of Adamson University. Father Nonong Fajardo described the Vincentian approach as one that embraces Maslow’s hierarchy (Abraham Maslow, 1987). According to the theory, there are five “needs” that comprise the hierarchy. The image of an inverted pyramid depicts the first step which includes the most primitive requirement of food and shelter, followed by the needs of safety, love, esteem and lastly the need for self-actualization. The ability to be seen as a “healthy personality” does not occur until all five steps are contemplated. An individual does not feel the need of the second step until all the demands of the first step have been satisfied. As stated by Father Nonong, “you must feed the body before you feed the soul”.

There is also a moral cost associated with the lack of access to clean water and sanitation that can be seen in the faces of the poor; it is the look of not simply disappointment but of humiliation. Fortunately, Adamson University has intervened and has stopped the negative progression in the population previously living along side the railroad. The restoration of pride and the beginning stages of self-actualization are now present in the adults living within the relocation sites.

Ultimately, access to clean water is essential to protect the population from exposure to infections carried by contaminated water sources. Poorly contained trash, combined with water becomes a breeding ground for disease carrying agents such a dengue fever. As a registered nurse and an epidemiologist, I must stress the need for better control of clean water especially where there are open containers of garbage. Clearly, more education is required focusing on proper garbage disposal for people living in both the urban and in the rural settings. Certainly, the results are the same no matter where garbage is disposed improperly; the potential for disease increases.

In closing, access to clean water in the future is dependant on our behavioral habits exercised today. We must follow the lead of the residents of Payatas. Through their efforts of recycling, the world is truly a healthier place.

By Renee Partida

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Role of Partnerships in Capacity-Building and Empowerment in Southville, Cabuyao

Sustainable development, insofar as urban poverty reduction, moves beyond capacity building to generate new opportunities; it builds partnerships as well. The Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility built partnerships with the Southville community blocks which enabled them to become invested in the community’s long-term success. This mutually beneficial relationship is evident in the rate of continued involvement between the Adamson facilitators and the first batch group; the facilitators are learning about themselves from the Southville community members and take pride in their continued success.

Partnerships between individuals of different communities and organizations do more than establish mentorship-like relationships, they empower individuals beyond what they would expect of themselves, “[…] empowerment is generally identified with the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes”, (Development Research Toolkit, Tavanti). The VCSR was able to empower the community members of Southville in intended and unintended ways. Using values formation to develop their communication skills and self-confidence, the community members were inspired to seek out other paths towards self-fulfillment and education. For some community members like Beth Novilla (the young woman featured in the picture), self-fulfillment was literacy and education, but also returning her skills to the community by becoming a teacher in the day care center.

The VCSR was founded on the principles of the Millennium Development Goals, global targets created by the United Nations to eradicate poverty by the year 2025 ( In many ways, the VCSR did not physically provide the Southville community blocks with the resources to achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, or improve maternal health (to name 3 out of the 8 goals). Through the values formation process, the facilitators helped the community members see value within themselves as individuals. The notion of the individual as social capital is an important component of being a valuable contributor to the economy of the community, but also in terms of seeing the individual as an indispensable resource to society. The promotion of the MDG goals through the integrated sustainability process, the VCSR was able to instill a sense of direction among the people of the Southville community blocks.

In the Development Research Toolkits, Dr. Tavanti distinguishes five pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, economic, institutional, and cultural. With regard to the work of the VCSR in the community blocks, the notion of social sustainability holds the most truth. “Social sustainability requires that the cohesion of society and its ability to work towards common goals be maintained […]”. Thinking back to the original struggle of the VCSR to gain the trust of the community and build partnerships, the most important component was building consensus among the community members that the values formation and community development process was worth their time and effort. The VCSR asked the question that no other NGO asked them in the past – what do you want, and where do you want to go? It found common goals among the community and developed relationships with individuals to ensure that the needs of the community were met individually, and as a cohesive unit.

For the VCSR, sustainable development means nurturing partnerships and relationships with the individual community members in the Southville community blocks. Taking a personalized approach, they invested themselves in the community’s success, and as a result take pride in their achievements. The community was empowered to set a different course for itself in line with the MDG goals and is, in many ways, taking small steps toward emerging as a self-sustaining and economically developed community.

by Ashley Perzyna

Monday, February 1, 2010

Systemic Change: a process of liberation

Despite spirited efforts to reduce poverty in the Manila Metropolitan Area, a high degree of poverty still persists. Poverty is evident: high unemployment, widespread hunger, unplanned and shapeless dwellings, fear, injustice, illiteracy, and abundance of garbage and human waste. Through the eye of an outside visitor and observer, this scenario was depressing and discouraging. Through the “outside visitor’s” perception life appeared to be fading away from people’s reality. Through the “comparing” mind of the observer, the reality of the poor seemed like sterile ground, where life’s root is not able or permitted to grow and thrive.

When an overwhelming sense of hopelessness surfaced for me, I began the process of emergence provided by the volunteers of Adamson University and VCSR Program. My perception began to change as soon as the process of immersion began. I began to see reality through the bottom-up perspective. I began to understand that reality was permeated with humanity and the presence of life in every corner I turned. As I started to interact with people, the reality seemed to become more spacious and full of possibilities, in particular with the people in the communities. I began to notice that the poor coped with their own poverty by engaging in a variety of economic and social activities. They were engaged in different social programs: a savings program, market vending, tailoring and food processing, food vending, hair dressing as well as metal, brick, and wood works and transportation.

As my understanding of people’s life in the context of their reality expanded, a sense of gratitude and responsibility arose in me. As result, I was motivated to challenge my own biases and prejudices. In the mind of most, the poor have been for too long regarded as unproductive, lazy or described with other negative stereotypes. In the communities we visited, people were still struggling against the systemic causes of poverty that restrict them and in a way, condemn them to those conditions. The efforts made by the VCSR volunteers to support individuals, groups and organizations in the process of systemic change by liberating their power based on certain vales and principals made perfect sense. It seemed that the communities were tired of quick fix projects, often disconnected from the whole and which tend to maintain communities in an oppressive state. VCSR aspirations for social justice, self-determination, participation, sustainable communities, working and leaning, and reflective practice are the core values of community development systemic change. Changes based on those values lead to liberation of people and also lead to their political and social empowerment.

I understood that VCSR is encouraging a paradigm shift in the way people think about community development, and also in how people can engage in sustainable changes by investing efforts in promoting social, economic, and political emancipation. VCSR has not given a recipe to the poor about how to resolve their problems. Instead, they encourage their engagement and commitment through a process of identifying problems, assets, and alternatives. It is process that begins with the shift of mentality, at the individual, community, and institutional levels. I appreciate the new vision that VCSR promotes: a vision which helps people engage in solving short term problems as well as engage in long term solutions for structural and systemic oppression. I see VCSR strengthening community capacity to demand, but also working with local government officials and NGOS to ensure their capacity to respond to those demands. To ensure sustainable community development the community must go beyond economic development and must be encompassed by social, political, human, cultural and ethical aspects. This is the process initiated by VCSR, which is a slow but steady process of liberation and sustainable transformation.

by Luiz Barbosa

One Step Further and Stand Up

In Manila in 2009, the striking contrast between beautifully decorated Makati with high-rise modern buildings and run-down informal settlements along the river with shacks struck me as a visual evidence of wealth distribution inequality in the Philippines. Two mega big modern shopping malls we visited were crowded with people, mostly the Filipinos. These malls certainly provide jobs to Manila residents but I wonder who are the ones profiting from these developments and who are the ones spending money on expensive clothes and food at the malls. Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports that in 2003 the share of income accruing to the richest 10% of the population was still more than twenty times the share of income of the poorest 10%, and the level of inequality has not changed for more than 20 years. When we look at the world, the Philippines is not the only nation with inequitable wealth distribution; 20% of world’s population owned 74% of the wealth, and 10% of the U.S. population owned 80% of the wealth. The reality of the world, we have to admit, is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer being accelerated by the thick population growth among the poor. These numerical facts made me feel powerless in our fight against poverty.

However, when I met with the community VCSR members at Southville 1, Cabuyao who welcomed 11 DePaul University graduate students with cheerful singing, dancing and beaming smiles, I was encouraged that we could bring changes together if we set our minds on it. These community members were former slum dwellers in Manila who were relocated to suburban Cabuyao by the government’s Northrail-Southrail Linkage Project. They joined the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) movement which was started in 2007 by the Institute for Community Extension Services of Adamson University in Manila under the leadership of Fr. Nonong. Adamson University under the slogan, from academic social responsibility to academic social entrepreneurship, made full use of its academic, social and human resources and equipped the Southville 1 VCSR members with knowledge, tools, skills and networks. Adamson was not a material provider but a catalyst and facilitator. The community VCSR members commented that Adamson’s volunteer facilitators reminded them and brought out what they have possessed in them: faith, value and self confidence. I heard many members say that Adamson has been their hope for the future to stand on their own. When we asked the Block 20 VCSR members whether they would be able to run their programs on their own without any assistance from Adamson University, they answered confidently that they could manage them because they had fully understood from the beginning that they were the primary actor of the program. Their concern expanded from individual to community. To our question of ‘what their goals are’, their answers were:
1. Life time service to the community;
2. Pray to God for health to them as well as to the neighbors; and
3. Children receive higher education and support the family financially.
Some of the members told us that they have started facilitator trainings to serve for neighboring communities. They are the social capital as ADB defines: social capital comprises the social resources on which people are able to draw, through networks and connectedness and relationships of trust and reciprocity. Social capital is the foundation for informal safety nets among the poor.

Yet, there are still many issues to be solved at Southville 1. Lack of quality education, health services, garbage collection service, access to clean water, sewage system and job opportunities are among them. Evidently, these issues require political will to provide necessary framework. The ADB 2009 report advocates that mainstream development and macroeconomic policies are ultimately the main determinants on whether poverty alleviation efforts will succeed or fail.

Then what can we, the civil society, do about it? I think the key is to let the government see the poor population as invaluable assets that the nation has. The nation’s 27.6 million poor people can be active agents of development. Then, where do we start? We can start from further strengthening the capacity of the Southville 1 community members to fight for their rights, communicate their decisions, and negotiate with related entities. Next step is expanding the VCSR movement to other communities, to other regions and ultimately to nationwide. Through sharing of the VCSR movement experiences with other institutions including universities, governments, and business, the program would foster an effective linkage among the poor and other stakeholders. Deepa Narayan notes that “Empowerment can promote social cohesion and trust, qualities that help reduce corruption, reinforce government and project performance, and provide a conducive environment for reform, with consequential benefits for development effectiveness and economic growth” When the materially and psychologically empowered poor unite, the Philippines will become a nation with abundant and competitive human resources. I believe the VCSR movement can bring changes to the poor and to the nation.

by Toyoko Sakamaki

Education and Urban Poverty

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education influences ones behaviors, attitudes and most importantly ones future. In my blog post, I chose to discuss access to education for children in the metro Manila as well as the relocated communities. Do the children have less access to schools now they have been relocated; similar to how the adults in the communities have less access to work since being relocated? Education standards and requirements are universal throughout the Philippines; both urban and rural children need to meet the same standards, whether they are given the resources to do so is up for question. There is clearly a causal relationship between education and urban poverty primarily due to lack of understanding and awareness of their environment as well as their means of improving their way of life.

While at the communities we were able to visit the pre-schools that have been opened within the blocks to help children get a head start on their education. I believe this was an excellent way to show the movement towards sustainability within the community. It speaks to the foundation that is being set for these children; that education is a critical priority in their lives. I was able to observe the beginning of a pre-school session; they began with a prayer, national anthem and then went in identifying letters in the alphabet. The children were all excited, all willing and eager to answer the instructors’ questions; even if they were unsure they still made an attempt. The instructors were supportive and encouraged the children to try again if they did not get it on the first time.

It was also my observation, while walking through the community as well as traveling through metro Manila, there were groups of children and teenagers on the streets, sitting outside of houses, or hanging out in community venues. I kept thinking, “Why are these kids not in school?” It was during the week as well as during typical school hours. In one day, it would not be difficult to spot hundreds of kids wandering the streets while traveling through Manila. This begged the question; do these kids have basic access to education? One would assume living in metro Manila; children would have access through public transportation or simply walking to school. However, if we were to look at access to education in the rural community, how to these children get to and from school?

Some would argue that the problem with access to education in the Philippines is due to the continuing social divide in the country. The Undersecretary of education publically points out that education in the Philippines has been on a continuous decline for the last 25 years, largely because of the social divide. An article written by Ronald Meinardus of the Friedman Naumann Foundation for Liberty points out that there are two possibly solutions; increase the resources for education or institute a systematic population policy.

Both solutions make sense and should be considered. I believe that lack of resources has already been approached but there is considerable difficulty trying to fix that at this point due to the economy in the Philippines as well as around the world. Over population is something needs to be addressed by educating and creating awareness of its effects. Being a predominately Catholic country, population control would have to be explained and justified very clearly to the people of the Philippines.
Although the solution is not clear, it is institutions like Adamson University and the community leaders of Northville and Southville that are making a change. Each day they continue to educate the adults as well as the children on the importance of education and knowledge, the closer they get to alleviating urban poverty.

by Melinda Whitemarsh

Stand With The Poor

do not pity the poor.

You do them no favors, your help is limited. Even with the most altruistic motives, when you move on, you leave them behind.

do not pity the poor.

You extend help out of guilt, appeasing an internal need. You extend help as far as you think you can, without asking the poor what they need.

do no pity the poor.

Stand with the poor!

Partner with them and listen to their voices. Hear their needs and dreams. Look at the skills you have that can help them. Teach them, and learn from them.

Stand with the poor!

Empower the poor and watch them grow. See new leaders and innovators wherever you turn. Realize how you change. Realize how society changes.

Stand with the poor!

The foundation of human dignity binds people together. – Father Nonong

As I walked through Southville 1, I thought how vibrant this place is. How joyful and energetic the community members are. There is a unique energy flowing here. I needed to know why the members felt this way, why the community was buzzing.
My answer started before I even stepped foot in Southville 1. From day one, Father Nonong and the Adamson staff volunteers emphasize how human dignity is the foundation for VCSR and for lasting change. Their perspective is partnership, not pity when it comes to reaching out to the poor. By being with and listening to the community members and hearing their needs, Father Nonong and Adamson are able to assess what Southville residents need.

The residents in turn want to partner. They do not ask for food and handouts, but skills and leadership training. Community members have learned that the answer to their needs is not more money, but to see what assets Southville 1 already has. They need Adamson staff volunteers to help them realize their resources and know how to use them.

The mutual dedication to holistic change is the backbone to this program. It is not the Adamson staff reaching down to help pull up the poor, but rather it is them walking alongside the members of the community. The members of the community in turn invite the Adamson staff volunteers into their lives, and being vulnerable; allow the staff to teach new skills and disciplines. Through the VCSR program, mothers become managers of a family. They save and set goals. They gain confidence to become part of a community. Soon networks form and economic opportunities arise with small business run out of the home in their neighborhood. As the community grows, they share life with the Adamson staff volunteers, and impact them deeply. The staff’s dedication shows how much this community means to them.
Real life learning and experience here is so much stronger than in just a classroom. The Adamson staff are then armed with experiences to take back to their weekly classrooms where eager students await them. Here too the staff can advocate for the poor, sharing their passion with new students so that they too see how human dignity binds us all. Then they too can stand with the poor.

by Jamelyn Lederhouse