Community engagement (CE) will be among the top priorities of the University this academic year as mentioned recently by DLSU President Br. Raymundo Suplido FSC during the University General Assembly. As part of the Lasallian Mission, CE has been integrated into the University’s curriculum ever since. Through the years DLSU has involved itself in various CE projects.
Some examples of DLSU’s CE projects include the DLSU Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Localization Project and the Talim Bay Community-Based Coastal Resource Management (CBCRM) Project in Lian, Batangas. Recently, the CBCRM project received a Highly Commended Distinction during the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability Green Gown Awards last September 14.
Strategic direction for CEs
DLSU Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) Program Manager Joseph Rosal says that the University requires all its sectors to hold CE projects. According to him, this is part of DLSU’s strategic direction for CEs.
“What we do in COSCA is we try to expand our partners, so that when you’re organizing outreach activities, you go to us. [Furthermore], the nature of COSCA when it comes to community engagement [is that] there’s curriculum-based, co-curriculum-based, and [the ones] mandated by the University,” he explains.
However, he shares how difficult it is for students and professors to participate in CE projects due to their busy schedules. For instance, some students no longer find time for CE because they are also busy with activities in their student organizations. Meanwhile, some professors are also finishing their doctoral degrees, writing research papers, handling several classes, and fulfilling administrative roles.
According to Rosal, the remedy to this was that COSCA was tasked to organize long-term CE projects, in which students and professors can volunteer. Rather than going out and finding a partner independently, he says that the Lasallian community can go straight to COSCA for any ongoing CE projects, and handle the necessary arrangements from there.
DLSU’s localization of the SDGs
The SDGs, which comprise 17 points, were formed by the United Nations in order to build up on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs are broader in scope and tackle three dimensions of sustainable development, namely, economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.
“The SDG localization project was conceptualized as a sustainable community engagement activity for DLSU. That means that we offer a template and activities, and encourage faculty members and student organizations to volunteer for the project,” Rosal shares.
According to him, the reason why DLSU took on a localization project of the SDGs was because the Philippines was not able to previously meet the indicators of the MDGs. DLSU saw that the decision-making should not be left to the national government and that it had to transcend downwards to other institutions. Furthermore, he argues that the Philippine national government was not able to implement the program well.
“The actual implementation of the program, which supposedly trickles down to the municipalities and barangays—there was a gap,” he adds. “[The program] should translate to the mayors and barangay captains because they’re the ones implementing actual projects and activities, not the national government.”
Talim Bay CBCRM
Rosal shares that the Talim Bay CBCRM started as a research project conducted by Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, a professor from the Biology Department. The research investigated the coastal ecosystem in Talim Bay, and provided recommendations that the local government of Lian, Batangas can act on. The recommendations, however, were not implemented.
“So he turned to COSCA. That’s when our partnership with the project began. [COSCA] came on board, [looked into the] research, and then [searched for the necessary people to talk to],” Rosal narrates. After several years, the local government of Lian eventually agreed with the project.
Part of the CBCRM project is capacity building, through which COSCA equips the locals of Lian with the necessary skills for coastal resource management. “Eventually, they do it on their own. If you go to Lian, the locals themselves will guide and teach you. That’s where we see the essence of empowerment, wherein the locals themselves can do the job that supposedly the assisting institutions were doing,” Rosal adds.
Hearing from the student volunteers
Aside from the major projects that COSCA handles, the office also has a student arm called the Lasallian Outreach and Volunteer Effort (LOVE), or simply COSCA LOVE. For Janella Reine (IV, IBS), volunteering for COSCA LOVE has been an eye-opener, with her learning being extended beyond the classroom through the program.
In terms of what other CE projects can be done, Reine says that she would recommend immersion programs that would last for more than a day, because “it will really help in understanding the situations of the target community.” Others could be cleanup drives because environmental protection is one of the main advocacies of COSCA.
Another would be free education to children who cannot afford one. “It doesn’t have to be a private school-level or university-level type of education. We can start small like providing free tutoring sessions about basic knowledge, because it is really heartbreaking to know that there are some people who can’t even read nor write,” she adds.
According to Sarah Buhain (III, BS-BIO), COSCA LOVE is composed of students who usually have only five hours of free time per week. She emphasizes that volunteering takes up much of their time and energy. “There will be people who forgot to thank volunteers for their effort, and there will be those who will fail to notice. It happens. Keep moving forward,” she emphasizes.
COSCA LOVE Convenor Rafael Zaballero (III, BS-LGL) narrates that among the most memorable experiences he had in volunteering was an immersion program with the fisher folk of Lian, Batangas. Another was when they were brought to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), wherein they listened to the stories of farmers who built a campsite outside the DAR clamoring for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms law. He shares, “I hope that we can inspire more people to volunteer so that more students can experience this.”
Through the years, DLSU’s proactive stance on CE has benefitted several communities within and outside Metro Manila. As of press time, COSCA has a total of 76 partner organizations and networks from different sectors.