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 was the first director of the Diliman Pahinungod. We set it up together—Ma’am Ledy Carino as System Director, and all the different directors—based on UP President Javier’s “UP in Service to the Nation.”
Each campus put its own spin on the programs. In UPLB, their clientele was mostly farmers, so the programs are directed toward farmers and agriculture. In Manila, they were more into medical missions. In the Visayas, both students and faculty focused on their extension programs. In Diliman, there were plenty of options; it all depended on the discipline. For instance, Home Economics would focus on food and nutrition, so we would bring the HE volunteers to communities so they can provide daycare tutorials or feeding sessions. We directed volunteers from the College of Arts and Letters toward conducting tutorials for students in the grassroots. The others, we brought to shelter houses, orphanages and nursing homes for senior citizens as the DSWD directed.
Since I come from the College of Social Work and Community Development, I brought the volunteers to the grassroots communities, like the Aetas. The Aeta communities needed rebuilding after the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. You had to reforest the areas covered by lahar, so we had environmental programs where we collected seedlings from Mt. Makiling, and brought them to the Aetas’ areas to plant. Today, the Aetas communities have become green again. We had resettlement programs in Zambales. I even brought President Javier to the Aeta communities, and we could see his passion for this work in the way he would get teary-eyed during the sharing sessions with the Aetas.
We conducted the Affirmative Action Program, holding UPCAT reviews for high school students in the 20 poorest provinces, so their population would be more represented in the University. We had UPCAT reviews from Baler to Kidapawan. There were so many programs for volunteer work.
In terms of drawing people in to volunteer, two things were important. Most of them wanted a meaningful, creative expression of what it is to be an iskolar ng bayan, but until the Pahinungod there was no institution that tapped that overflowing energy to volunteer, to serve, to reach out. We even had prison volunteer work, which Ma’am Grace Dalisay continued.
People were saying that UP had “lost its soul.”
This was in 1994. The time for the heading-to-the-mountains activism was over, and commentators were claiming that UP had lost its soul. So President Javier decided that there had to be a visible expression of UP’s support for government and the other stakeholders in nation-building, and the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod was created. We got in touch with other volunteer agencies such as the Philippine National Volunteers Service Coordinating Agency and the Jesuit Volunteer Program, and we looked into how we could institutionalize it.
We easily received funding. As President Javier used to say, it’s easy to ask for money from Congress when you say the money is for extension services. When you say it’s for research, they hardly give any, but when it comes to extension services for the communities, the congressmen are very willing to give.
There was never a lack of volunteers?
Never. From the moment we announced it, faculty and student volunteers would come. They would line up for training and orientation until our office resembled a marketplace. Then we would hold monthly sharing sessions to conduct psycho-social processing for the volunteers. There is an overflowing desire to serve, in any way or expression, as long as someone is there to affirm it, to acknowledge it, and to make them feel that they belong in a volunteer group.
What were the challenges you faced during your time as Diliman Pahinungod Director?
There were organizational challenges, such as tension among the autonomous units, and the politics behind the institutions where one official would focus on public service, the other on science and technology. In our processing and gathering activities, I would get caught in between. But in hindsight, these were all positive in the long run, because on one hand, the Science Complex was conceptualized, and on the other hand, the idea of “service to the people” also took root. So now, UP is both a graduate and research university, and a public service university. The contradictions strengthened our thrusts, creating balance.
In terms of programs for the volunteers, the challenge was where to take the volunteers after their volunteer work. What was the next step in their career path if they are doing volunteer work? Because you have to nurture your volunteers; you have to help them level up. That is what I learned from a seminar-conference on the management of volunteer organizations that I attended in Israel. They need continuity.
And another thing, you want your volunteerism to be rooted in culture. This is another insight from the research we conducted: the Pahinungod is culturally-based. For Filipinos, almost every task is volunteer work. They help their kapwa because that is the essence of bayanihan, of communalism. So you need to nurture and institutionalize that. If the spirit of volunteerism or the bayanihan attitude is present in every region, how do you harness that cultural potential of the people?
As a professor at the CSWCD, what principles in community development did you apply to your directorship of the Diliman Pahinungod?
From my discipline, I took organizing work, collective effort, participatory development and starting where the people are, and applied it to Pahinungod. You have to start with what the people in the community need. You can’t just go to a community devastated by a typhoon and hand them relief goods in the form of discarded clothes and expired cans of sardines. That’s demeaning. My discipline teaches the need for us to respond to the needs of the people. It must be needs-based.
We teach this to our volunteers as one aspect of how we treat our communities. We don’t call them disaster victims. We call them survivors.
Another discipline I brought into play is organizing work—community-based of course, which is my field. I tapped all our partner communities for volunteer work, where we could deploy volunteers and match their time and potential to the volunteer work needed, to maximize the psychic reward.
What have you learned from your experiences in Pahinungod that has enriched your teaching?
We have our volunteers document their experiences in reflection papers, so that they can serve as teaching materials for the classroom. So it’s a win-win deal. You served the community, and you also support our academic endeavors through your experience.
Is there a chance that the UP Diliman Pahinungod would be revived?
The approach must be top-down. If the BOR says it must be so, everyone will follow. It’s easier if it’s top-down.
The original study on “Has UP lost its soul?” was conducted over two decades ago. What about the UP students of today, who belong to the millennial generation?
That’s one thing we need to do research on. We need to brainstorm on how to tap the energies of the millennials, because their energies are different. With the social media revolution, they lack social skills and competence when it comes to face-to-face interactions. They communicate mostly online. We need to do research on how we can tap their energies with available information technology to really bring out their potentials. We need to do an assessment or evaluation on their potential for volunteerism, on what they can share with the vulnerable, to those in need, to the underserved.