At the dinner table, I have been fortunate to sit with Fr. Ben Nebres SJ, former President of the Ateneo de Manila University. He is currently working for those people who are “more open to a paradigm shift” in choosing communities for service learning. He said that it is important to identify changes in the community, not just about choosing a poverty-stricken area in a rural or urban setting. Experiencing what it means to be poor is good, but it is wanting. He said that a student’s experience of poverty should be coupled with the experience of change in that specific community where he or she spends time with.
Experiencing what it means to be poor is good, but it is wanting.
Fr. Ben illustrates his point with his experience in Gawad Kalinga. The immersees have seen a shift in the use of technology. Now, the nanays are using cellphones for the transfer of goods for their sari-sari stores.
The whole university has been sending students to different communities for exposure and immersion, but were there changes in that community as an impact of student immersions? Were there studies that assessed those impacts?
I have shared that in the high school, we have data from our community impact assessment studies. We are happy that there are areas with greater impact, and there are areas that still need to be responded to.
I have shared to Fr. Ben how we are re-designing our Community Education programs which involve immersions, service-learning, and community program development in the K-12 curriculum.
For example, we have added a new program for Grade 8 called Danas, as an environmental immersion, and a service-learning program for Grade 12 where the movement is towards change leadership. The whole program is here.
I have been thinking about how to align basic education experiences with the Ateneo Loyola Schools, so that homegrown students do not repeat their experiences in high school (Junior and Senior HS). This has been a common feedback of our high school alumni.
I would like to propose that university programs give students opportunities to concretely help a community in their development. These opportunities are according to the course they are taking. We believe that the college courses are not just career for their own personal aggrandisement, but their service niche in the world. It is about how they are to be persons-for-others where God specifically has called them to serve.
By experiencing the change in a community, the students are inspired to effect change because they have seen it with their very own eyes.
So Fr. Ben said this:
One crucial element in designing a program for service is to make sure that the student experiences transformation in a community. Unless they experience a history of right development, no matter how slow, the belief that they can change the world will not take root. Fr. Ben Nebres SJ