Times of crisis can inflict not only physical and economic, but also psychosocial harm. These psychosocial hazards take a toll on both individuals and families, compromising the safety and productivity of those involved.
To respond to the need to provide members of the University and its partner communities with adequate psychosocial health during periods of crisis, the UP Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd recently launched the Committee on Psychosocial Emergency Services, or UP CoPES. The primary aim of the committee is to promote psychosocial well-being by providing volunteering opportunities to members of the UP community and its partners, especially during emergencies.
The approach the program and its constituent university counterparts take is “strengths-based” and “resilience-based” This approach taps into and recognizes the inner strength and ingenuity of individuals and communities. With respect to the University, the project works to equip students, faculty, staff members, and alumni of UP with the knowledge and skills to offer psychosocial support to themselves, their families, their peers, and communities.
A System of Support
UP CoPES is the system-wide umbrella committee for various psychosocial support programs being implemented by Pahinungod in UP’s constituent universities. It has three working areas: kamalayan (awareness promotion); ugnayan (setting up referral mechanisms, partnerships, support); and, kasanayan (training volunteers who can, in turn, also train others).
With the Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd celebrating its first year of reactivation under UP President Danilo Concepcion, as the official volunteer service program of the UP System, Pahinungòd Constituent Universities can now also collaborate through UP CoPES to coordinate and improve the psychosocial aspect of their volunteer and public service efforts. Through this body, UP’s CUs may combine their strengths to provide swift, robust solutions to emergencies, as well as to share best practices in training and public service.
Important precursors to UP CoPES were initiatives combining the expertise of different CUs to provide holistic public service in emergency situations.
In the wake of the 2019 Mindanao Earthquakes, the Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd joined hands with the UP Resilience Institute to form the UP Pahinungòd Mindanao Humanitarian Effort (MHE). UP Mindanao Pahinungòd Director Michael Gatela served as overall coordinator for volunteers; while UPD Department of Psychology Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Ventura headed the Psychosocial Team, Dr. April Mendoza of the UP Manila College of Medicine headed the Medical team, and Dr. Johnrev Guilaran of the UP Visayas College of Arts and Science acted as field focal person.
The team heads joined other volunteers from the above units, as well as UP Cebu, UPV’s Tacloban College, and the UP Philippine General Hospital to conduct psychosocial support to 300 families in 8 barangays. The overall humanitarian effort, as well as UP CoPES as a whole, was organized by UP Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd System Director Dr. Grace Aguiling-Dalisay.
During the acute stage of the Taal Volcano eruption in January 2020, the UP Los Baños Pahinungod team partnered with other units from that CU to conduct rapid assessments of the psychosocial situations of children and families in selected evacuation centers. Projects like the abovementioned inspired the ultimate creation of UP CoPES that makes the Pahinungòd’s psychosocial efforts more sustainable and easily activated in a crisis.
Psychosocial Health Amidst a Pandemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic being the most widespread current threat to psychosocial health, UP CoPES has rolled out several public service efforts that allow volunteers from UP and its partner communities to reach out to those in need.
More recent activities spearheaded by UP CoPES include creating and disseminating information on individuals and centers where people can seek free psychosocial and mental health support, as well as two batches of orientations and Psychological First Aid and Community Resilience Model training for volunteers.
Moreover, UP Diliman CoPES members, Dr. Jowima Ang-Reyes of the College of Social Work and Community Development and Dr. Michelle Ong of the UP College of Social Science’s Psychology Department, champion the delivery of online peer support, which the group hopes can be expanded to serve more locations and communities in the future. The project team was convened by UP Diliman Pahinungòd Director Dr. Joyce Caragay.
Several other CUs have likewise implemented their own tailor-fitted psychosocial health solutions, with Pahinungòd partners like UPV’s Psycho-Social Support, UP Cebu’s Office of Student Affairs, UP Baguio’s Taskforce for Counseling and Psychosocial Support, UP Mindanao’s Mental Health Helpline, UP-PGH’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, and UPLB’s own Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd, all offering their own psychosocial assistance programs for community members and front liners.
The efforts of UP CoPES not only stay true to the Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd’s mandate to provide service to the wider community and promote a spirit of caring volunteerism, but also complement existing mental health efforts by entities like UPD’s University Health Service and UPD PsycServ. Notably, the program’s volunteers can ease the burden on mental health specialists at the present time by providing the first layer of psychosocial support to those in need of assistance. Padagos, Pahinungòd!
We would like to thank Ms. Diana Ruth Arcega, the focal person for UP System Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd, for being the primary resource person for this article.
Learn more about UP CoPES at: https://facebook.com/UPCoPES/.
Learn more about UPD Ugnayan ng Pahinungòd and their free psychosocial peer support service at: https://facebook.com/updpahinungod.