by Raul Agner
In relocation sites in Laguna and Bulacan where former railway squatters were transferred and provided with housing and in Sitio Pagkakaisa—a squatter’s area in Muntinlupa upgraded to a dwellers-owned village—Adamson University is a name that rings a bell among residents.
For some two years now, volunteer workers from the ranks of the administrators, faculty, employees, and students have been regularly going to these areas to serve the residents in various ways. They are part of the University’s institutionalized outreach program organized formally as the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR). As a result, closeness and cooperation between the volunteers and the relocated communities have developed through the years and is likely to extend until the latter are ready to stand on their own.
It all began when the Integrated Community Extension Services (ICES), the outreach arm of the university, followed a different tack in 2007, with its updated version of ICES 9.27, foremost of which was the establishment of the VCSR. From the select barangays that ICES used to support, the beneficiary communities were increased to include the sprawling relocation sites outside of Metro Manila for slum dwellers who were displaced as a result of the North Rail and South Rail development projects. Today, the Adamson-based VCSR continues to partner with government agencies and institutions, people’s organizations and business as it implements various programs all for the benefit of these poor communities with the ultimate goal of making them fully self-sustaining. Seminars that focus on moral and community values formation and leadership, weekly savings mobilization program, quality medical/dental services, and children feeding program are among the many projects that the VCSR has been carrying out until today.
The VCSR is unique in a sense. According to Dr. Belinda Conde, Math professor and volunteer-facilitator, “it is the innovation that answers the vision of the Adamson University for effective governance in community development…It is the first time that a University in the Philippines initiates an active multi-sectoral involvement of stakeholders utilizing their competencies. It is the first Government-Academe-Community-Business partnership to implement community-based interventions that can create systemic change through involved volunteerism and the first academic institution to use the Community-Based Monitoring System to monitor and measure progress as adopted from the UN Millennium Development Goals.” The volunteer faculty/employees/administrators get no honorarium, not even points for promotion. From the original 16, there are now 50 from the different colleges and offices.
An international component has been added to the VCSR and this comes in the form of DePaul University’s participation and involvement in the communities. A sister school of Adamson, DPU in Chicago has an annual Manila Study Abroad Program that is now on its second year. Dr. Marco Tavanti, Program Director and Instructor, brings his students every December to immerse themselves in the poor communities for the purpose of developing research skills that can be applied to the fields of global urban poverty reduction.
While there is no doubt that many people are involved in the projects and initiatives of the ICES-VCSR, the success of its engagements can be traced to the moving spirit behind all these – Fr. Atilano “Nonong” Fajardo, C.M. Long in the forefront of helping the urban poor, Fr. Nonong, who also earned the moniker “Fr. Riles” for his work with Metro Manila’s railway squatters, has been serving as director of the ICES of Adamson University for about two years now. In addition to this, he is also the Executive Director of the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility, Chair of the South Manila Inter-Institutional Consortium Committee on University Extension Services, Coordinator of the Housing Ministry of the Archdiocese of Manila, and Official Representative of the Archdiocese of Manila for the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Shelter. As executive director of the VCSR, he was able to organize the First Congress of Homeowners Federation of Northville and Southville relocation sites held in Adamson University in September 18-19, 2008. It is not an exaggeration to say that through his various tasks he is able to reach or serve more than a million poor people.
Fr. Nonong’s work involves critical engagement towards Government, Church, NGOs, and POs so that issues concerning poverty could be addressed in the proper forum. As a result, dialogue with all agencies concerned is achieved, networking and cooperation established, social services put in place, red tape is lessened and funds are channelled to their rightful recipients–the poor.
As a Vincentian priest, his work is inspired by his congregation’s founder, St. Vincent de Paul, Patron of Charity who made an impact in 17th century France through his charitable works and organizations. To continue bridging the gap between rich and poor, the State and Church, mediating academe with the people and their government in order to resolve issues and problems are contemporary goals rooted in his role model’s times.
“Indeed, these initiatives allow me to see deeply the relevance of the Call to Service and the Radical Response to Conversion of self and structures in order to make present Jesus, the Evangelizer of the poor. The deeper reality of the spirit as promised by Jesus to his people specially the poor is also made present through the instrumentality of these assignments, is a Shared-Authority from the Charism to serve the poor,” says Fr. Nonong.
Recently, the ICES, in coordination with the Archdiocese of Manila, the Office of the President, Office of Student Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Office hosted Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Hinarang a pilgrimage of farmer organizations from Sumilao, Banasi, Calatagan, and Quezon Province lobbying for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reform or CARPER. A program was held at the Adamson University Theater last March 9, 2009 where speakers took turns sharing their views and aspirations for land reform and ownership.
This activity signalled another engagement with the poor, but this time with those coming from the rural sector. The University shared its resources in support of their just cause.
A Long Way
Academic Social Responsibility has come a long way for Adamson. It is bound to accomplish more in years to come. This pursuit is not far-fetched from its vision of providing quality education especially for the socially disadvantaged. After all, if education is a means by which people can free themselves from poverty, then helping communities escape it by equipping them with tools that will make them self-reliant, independent and productive is just a different tack for the same goal.