Over two decades ago, UP pioneered the country’s first university-based formal volunteer service program. The program merged from a study conducted by Dr. Maria Luisa Doronila and Dr. Ledivina Cariño that looked into how much value UP students ascribed to social commitment—essentially asking, “Has UP lost its soul?” The response to that study was the creation on February 28, 1994 of the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod/Oblation Corps.
The Pahinungod Program is a legacy of UP President Emil Q. Javier’s administration. The autonomous universities under the UP System had Pahinungod offices under the UP System Pahinungod, which had Dr. Cariño of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance as the first Director, followed by Dr. Grace Aguiling-Dalisay of the Department of Psychology, UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.
In his article published in Social Science Diliman in December 2011 titled “Empowering the Youth Through Voluntarism: University of the Philippines Graduates as Volunteer Teachers,” Dr. Neil Martial Santillan wrote: “The first five years of Pahinungod saw the implementation of a multitude of programs with support from students, staff, and faculty of the different UP campuses—medical missions coupled with training of community-based health professionals and seminars on basic health care; relief and rehabilitation work in calamity-stricken areas; programs empowering farmers as agricultural scientists; summer immersion programs for students to gain insights directly from the community; service learning as an instructional method; peer counseling; ecology camps; training workshops for teachers on updated pedagogical skills; examination for students in the provinces underrepresented in UP (affirmative action program), and deployment of graduates as volunteer teachers in remote areas (Gurong Pahinungod).”
As the UP administration changed, priorities shifted as well, leading to a change in fortunes for the UP System Pahinungod. After UP President Javier’s time, a devolution policy allowed the now UP constituent units to decide whether or not to continue the Pahinungod Program. UP Manila, UPLB, and UP Visayas all chose to retain the program in their own ways. The UP Diliman Pahinungod, however, was dissolved, and the task of providing avenues for volunteerism were transferred to the colleges’ extension service initiatives, coordinated by the UP Diliman Office of Extension Coordination.
Here, the people who served as Directors of the UP Diliman Pahinungod look back on their experiences, the challenges they faced, and the lessons they learned about the spirit of volunteerism and the blossoming of UP’s soul.
How did you get started at the UP Diliman Ugnayan ng Pahinungod, and what was it like?
I started off as director for UP Pahinungod Diliman, succeeding Dr. Ferrer. It was the late Dr. Cariño who sweet-talked me into accepting the post, but somewhere along the way, Ledy went back to her college, the NCPAG, so the System Director post was vacant. So I took it on, and for maybe a year, while we looked for a Diliman Pahinungod Director, I was director for both. Then when Dr. De Villa accepted the post of Diliman director, I was able to leave Diliman and concentrate on the System.
How did you get into volunteer work?
From childhood, because my parents ran a community school, we were always open to these types of activities. As we were growing up, the idea of volunteering was really part of the way we lived. When I was in high school from 1969 to 1973, I was part of the student council. It was the time of martial law so you can imagine what it was like, but I was in an all-girls’ school that had very liberal ideas, so that also fostered the idea of service.
Volunteering with organizations was really part of my life. However, the difference was that Pahinungod was a formal volunteer organization. This is why when I was asked to serve as Pahinungod Director, things fell into place, because as a psychologist, one of my areas is Filipino psychology, which is a liberating psychology. It focuses on kapwa; it’s wanting to serve Filipinos. In Sikolohiyang Filipino, we want Psychology to serve the needs of the majority of Filipinos, and focus on Filipino thought processes, aspirations, the psyche, and relations with others.
How did Pahinungod operate as a formal volunteer organization?
This meant that we had to run things like any other organization. We needed a vision-mission-goals, we needed programs, we needed to clarify what the programs are for, how to ensure that the programs are well-run, how well volunteers are trained.
There is a formal process of screening and testing, because then, as now, the thinking is that it’s important to do good, but good intent alone is insufficient. As corporate social responsibility programs or business volunteering programs would say, you have to do good and you have to do it well. It’s important for people to be clear about what is expected from them, what they want to do, to behave accordingly, and to know what the entire program is for so that you don’t go there with a messianic view—I’m from UP, I’m so great, I want to save you. It’s really about finding out what is needed, and which of those needs can we meet.
That’s also why we had the widespread programs, because we wanted programs that would match the skills of different people. We didn’t want to turn away volunteers, because the ideal is that you always have something that you can offer.
There was never a problem with recruiting volunteers?
Never. Of course, they had different reasons to volunteer; that’s part of the volunteering landscape. What’s important is the volunteering behavior and the desire to serve the community. It’s really wanting to help out and making sure that there’s a match between the community’s need and the ability of the Pahinungod to fill that need.
How does volunteering benefit the volunteers?
I think volunteering lets people look beyond themselves, so instead of thinking about your problems and how complicated life is, you get a chance to engage in positive change. People can see that each one could make a difference, each one can contribute to making the transformation happen, and in the process transform one’s self together with the communities. Instead of the abstract desire of “I want to do good,” concretely, what good can you do?
What challenges did you face as both System and Diliman Director?
These are two different times—the time of President Javier, where he was all for it, and the time after when Pahinungod was not regarded in the same way. It makes a lot of difference. Volunteer organizations would say you need the “buy-in.” You need the top person to support the group. So I think the success of Pahinungod during the term of President Javier was to a very large extent because he supported it. Later on, with the change in administration, the challenge became how to convince people of the value of the Pahinungod.
When I was Diliman Director, the challenge was to come up with more creative programs, because there was a huge demand. We had to think of other programs so we didn’t have to turn people away. You can’t have only five programs when you have a thousand or even two thousand wanting to get in. It really was something that people were interested in.
After your stint at the Pahinungod, you were Founding President of the Volunteer Organizations Information Coordination and Exchange (VOICE) Network in 2001. You are also Chair of the Philippine Coalition for Volunteerism (PhilCV), and you were International Board Director of the Voluntary Service Overseas. Are there any lessons from your Pahinungod days that you carried over to your work with other volunteer organizations?
Oh, definitely. A lot. Basically, I credit Pahinungod for my belief in the importance of organized volunteerism. This is what got me started in formal volunteering, in the belief that we can do more together, be more effective if we plan together and undertake an endeavor collectively.
The other thing is that volunteer management systems are important if you want to succeed. When we asked some volunteers, they said that when they sign up for a formal volunteering opportunity, they look at organizations that would allow them to contribute what they have to the community, and that usually means that the organization is well run. Perhaps one of the reasons the Pahinungod was so successful was that it was a well-oiled organization. It had its priority programs, its values were clear, and it was well-resourced. You need resources to make an organization run; that’s also another thing that’s important.
How have your Pahinungod and volunteerism experiences enriched your profession as a psychologist?
Professionally, I would say it’s been an area where I have worked in for the longest time. It’s been my area of interest, looking at the importance of engaged research work and community engagement, which is something I value. I’ve been asked to do talks about social involvement, the responsibilities of the academe beyond teaching.
As a faculty, I think one of the things I’ve incorporated it is service-learning. Even in the graduate level, I give my grad students in certain classes an option to do service-learning, where they use what they learned in class to serve certain groups. I also put up an Office for Service Learning and Outreach-Pahinungod at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy when I became Dean in 2014. For me, it has been a continuing journey to try to look at different ways by which I can highlight the importance of volunteering.
How different would the volunteering landscape be for the students of the 1990s and the generations of students today?
Well, there’s no data to draw from right now. Maybe it’s time to do that study again.
One of the things that’s said about millennials is that they value engagement. It’s just that maybe the way they do it is different. So I think the challenge would be how to find a way to engage the different age groups in volunteer activity.
Currently, in the volunteer organizations we have, we’re trying to address this by looking at the different forms of volunteering. There are certain volunteer groups now that are really techie groups. They volunteer to do your network, and for these young people, that’s child’s play. There are some groups that offer that kind of service to the other organizations that may be run by older people.
It’s just breaking out of the traditional forms of volunteering. We all have different skills and interests, so I think regardless of age, there are ways and opportunities to get people involved. So don’t be afraid of volunteering, because the reach and form of volunteering is as limitless as the imagination.