Thomasian community development in new normal: maximizing people and technology

The one good thing that happened during the pandemic was the outpouring of assistance to and compassion for vulnerable communities and the less privileged members of the society. This act of altruism and selflessness has become more noticeable and amplified by and through media. The innate goodness of man shared gave birth to more narratives of people uplifting the lives of other people in different communities in various forms. In the meantime, the Filipinos had to continue with their lives, amidst COVID. And so did the education of the youth that had been reshaped by the pandemic and redesigned to become online, virtual, blended or modular, as the case may be.        

With this set-up, and with the minimum protocols set by government to protect the people from further contamination, not to mention disallowing assemblies, one could not help but ask how would community development activities proceed in this kind of new normal? 

Thomasian Community Development efforts aim to foster warm and genuinely responsive partnerships, so in times where the general directive is to literally keep our distance and student activities are confined to computer-based activities, academic or otherwise, and access to digital connectivity is still a privilege, SIMBAHAYAN’s mission of empowering partner communities and at-risk sectors will now have to take on a different form. 

As the new UST SIMBAHAYAN Director, Asst. Prof. Froilan Alipao, affirms, “At present, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue our mission, commitment, and concrete expressions of love and solidarity with our partners through blended strategies. Meaning, we will maximize the presence of people and technology.  We will support our partners to have resources to advance our connectivity with other partners for enriched collaborations and partnerships.  The vital requirement for this is to sustain the development process of our paradigm and ways of doing things amid our pandemic challenges toward a better normal.”

The University shifted to the “Enhanced Virtual Mode” of learning this August and is not holding classes in campus, but rather online. With faculty members and students both teaching and learning from home, Alipao remains confident that “there are many opportunities that will open to all stakeholders of the University, not only for the students and faculty members but to administrators and academic support offices as well. This is mutual for all stakeholders and can be blended and coordinated.”

Alipao, who has served twice as Assistant Director of UST’s community development arm, has been with the office since 2002. He clarified that “We are continuing our community development and advocacy engagements from the part of UST SIMBAHAYAN, community development coordinators and team members representing the academic units, and student organizations through remote/digital technology.”  

“Partner communities also continue their different development programs depending on their local context (urban poor communities, rural communities, and indigenous communities), resources, and creativity.  We open the processes of conceptualizing, developing, implementing, and evaluating community development and advocacy projects by including the remote and digital approaches,“ he explained. 

SIMBAHAYAN projects prior to the pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, the SIMBAHAYAN Office, in collaboration with the academic units, developed social transformation programs and projects to deliver further coordinated community engagement and advocacy projects such as Pistang Tomas, Dunong Tomas, AlerTomas, and Siglang Tomas.  The National Service Training Program (NSTP) has also been an avenue for both academic and service learning. Another was the formation and organization of Samahang Kamanlalakbay, a community-based umbrella organization of all partner communities of UST in terms of community development. With these engagements, the University was recognized by different institutions and accrediting bodies, one of which was Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which awarded a five-star recognition to UST for Social Responsibility in 2017.

“We are not working solely to attain [accolades], but this will go with the actual process of developing programs and working with our partners.  As a Catholic and Pontifical University of the Philippines, we are guided by Gospel-truths, foundations, tradition, identity, vision, and mission.  As a Higher Educational Institution (HEI), we are mandated to develop and implement community extension.  We will continue to be conscious of the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goals and Laudato Si challenges in all our programs and engagements.  The processes and standards will be sustained in the next phases of UST SIMBAHAYAN,” shared Alipao. UST’s community service office is under the office of the Vice Rector for Religious Affairs, Rev. Fr. Pablo T. Tiong, O.P.

“Still, there are a lot of practices [in Thomasian community development] that we are most proud of,” Alipao continued, saying that “I think the key to our community development and advocacy programs is our partnership with communities and institutions.  They are partners and not beneficiaries. The learning and development are mutual and dynamic in partnership.”  

Since the beginning of the academic year, SIMBAHAYAN has organized a number of webinars on various topics, such as household sustainability, backyard farming, botika sa paso (medicinal potted plants) in partnership with the Inang Lupa Movement and the Agricultural Training Institute; zero waste living and the papal encyclical Laudato Si with the Dominican Family for Justice, Peace, and Care for Creation – Philippines (DFJPPC), and the Fellowship for the Care of Creation Association Inc. (FCCAI)

Recently, rice subsidy and relief distribution were also initiated by the office through Tulong Tomasino, where 500 sacks of rice were distributed to 22 partner communities.

Plans: strengthen and institutionalize service-learning

After being appointed director, Alipao shared his goals for SIMBAHAYAN: “The very first consideration is how we will respond during this pandemic and to the complex realities of our partner communities and society at large.  Another is to develop and strengthen the Family and Household Development program and projects.  This will be integrated into the on-going programs and with partner communities.”

“We are targeting to strengthen and institutionalize service-learning in the university as additional potential space and opportunities for enriched and developed community engagements in phases,” Alipao mentioned.

Asst. Prof. Froilan “Ka-Puroy” A. Alipao is a development worker, educator and a researcher with communities and community leaders. He initiated his development work in 1991 with the Social Action Center of Zambales (SACZ) of the Diocese of Iba in the midst of the impact of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption where he was able to enrich his engagement in different socio-pastoral work designations/functions (disaster response worker; community organizer; justice, peace, and Alay Kapwa) with the sectors of farmers, urban poor, fisher folks, women, youth, students, indigenous peoples and Church peoples.  

In 2002, Ka-Puroy joined the University of Santo Tomas, specifically the office then known as the UST-Office for Community Development (OCD) prior to the quadricentennial celebration of UST. It was at that point when it was merged with UST SIMBAHAYAN 400 and became the UST SIMBAHAYAN Community Development Office.

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