Interview with Florence Flores-Pasos (BSSW,1990; MSW, 2007)

Interview with Florence Flores-Pasos (BSSW,1990; MSW, 2007) , Program Operations Manager, ERDA Foundation
(Conducted and transcribed by Gerald Paragas)

Bakit Social Work ang kinuha nyo noon?
Siguro dahil rin tatlo sa family members, at ilan sa mga kakilala ko ay social workers, at mahilig din ako makisalamuha at makipagtrabaho sa mga tao.

Any unforgettable experience sa Social Work?
Isa rito iyong pagtuturo ni Prof.Thelma Lee Mendoza. Siya iyong teacher namin sa Introduction to Social Work in 1988. Passionate at magaling siya, at experienced. Siya iyong author ng book na ginagamit namin. May similarity kami sa personality – iyong tipong looking good at poised siya all the time maski nasa field . She has a positive aura. With her lessons, I was really convinced to continue Social Work.

Any moments sa fieldwork?
Na-assign ako sa institution-based fieldwork doon sa Veteran’s Hospital kung saan nagkaroon kami ng group work together with the war veteran patients. Sa ospital, inaalagaan na lang sila dahil matatanda na sila at may sakit unlike noong nakalipas na panahon, mayroon silang silbi sa serbisyo. Ang ginawa namin, nag-organize kami ng groups at nilabas namin iyong kanilang work and life experiences, sharing their moments of childhood para manumbalik ang kanilang zest.

Ano po nag-sustain sa inyo to continue studying Social Work?
Iyong experience sa field ng medical social work , at iyong experience na ang social worker ay treated as somebody na significant member ng team sa hospital. Naka-hospital gown pa ako noon, kaya nagkaroon ako ng confidence, nagkaroon ng affirmation as a big part of the team. This was so unlike doon sa ibang image ng social worker na tagabigay lang ng relief goods or dole outs.

Nag-graduate kayo noong?

I finished BSSW in 1990 at noong 2007 ay MSW. And I am looking forward to enrolling in the Doctor in Social Development Program, soon. Sa MSW nagkaroon din ako ng ibang agency placement. Halimbawa, I worked with the Rotary Soup Kitchen ng District 3780 kung saan nagkaroon ako ng chance na makatulong sa mga bata at sa National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons kung saan na appreciate ko ang worth ng mga persons with disability at nakita ko kung paano sila nabibigyan ng pagkakataon na mabuhay nang normal.

Eto pa ang di ko makakalimutan, di ba going 22 years na ko sa ERDA Foundation which is my first job: One semester before graduation in 1990, dinala ako ni Prof. Joyce Caragay as a student kasi magpa-practicum na ko doon sa Community Organizing. Nagkataong ka batch nya ang Executive Director ng ERDA that time, si Mrs.Lorna Gabad (chair now of Board of Examiners, Social Work), at si Prof. Caragay ang aking adviser. Recently, Prof Caragay came back to ERDA and akalain mo yong student naman nya ang magpa-practicum/field sa ERDA na taga-Australia at ako naman ang agency supervisor. Imagine, kasi I never left ERDA since 22 years ago, like after practicum and passing the board exam and applying sa ERDA. In that agency.

How time flies, kasi yong batchmate ko na kasabay gumradweyt din ay nagwork sa isang government agency as analyst for P8000, at ako at that time around P2600 naman as community social worker. Sabi ko, never kong sinabi na iiwan ko ang ERDA for that P8000. Paano ba naman kasi, ang ERDA ay may working president na Jesuit priest at naturalized Filipino, aged 60, known to be a living counterpart ni Mother Teresa. Noong dumaan siya minsan sa harap ko when I was taking may exam sa ERDA, nagkaroon ng impact ang dating nya sa akin. Then I wanted na to work under him, not necessarily in his office. At na-assign ako sa community sa Bagong Silang at isang opportunity yon. After one year of being a community social worker, may dumating na funder from Japan, nagkaroon ng orientation at nagsalita ako doon at andoon si Father Tritz. Nakita nya ako and after that I learned that he wanted to work with me. He, indeed offered me to work with him.

Tinanong nya ako in an exam: Ano ang nakikita mo na strategy ng ERDA para mag-expand siya pero konti ang funds? Then isinulat ko ang sagot ko na it would be best for ERDA to have a scheme na makikipag partner lang sya sa iba’t ibang organizations sa ibang lugar for the implementation of its programs. Expanding ERDA’s services pero makikipag-tieup sila sa mga organizations kung di nito kayang mag put-up ng field offices. I never tried to find out how it started pero up to this time ERDA has this tie-up scheme partnering with some 150 organizations nationwide to implement its educational assistance program.

Mula noon hanggang ngayon, I have always received affirmations, at kahit maliit lang natatanggap ko na salary, nakikita ko ang fulfillment from that. May family ambiance at supportive ang mga co-workers. Hinahayaan ka nila na gawin ang trabahong alam mong nagagawa mo nang maayos. May freedom to decide and share ideas. And there is this sense of being honest in your opinions and feelings kaya very open ang mga discussions. In the process, mas lalo akong nagiging creative and fulfilled as a social worker. Pero may mga pagsubok din, kasi may mga problems din, like yong pagpapalit ng staff, some management styles na nakakaapekto at physical exhaustion, nada-down ka rin minsan sa work. Pero di yon hadlang, enjoy pa rin ako sa work.

What exactly is your position?
Program Operations Manager of ERDA in charge of the ABK 3 LEAP (Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy and Protection) Project. Marami na akong nahawakang projects since 1990. I was a community social worker in Bagong Silang dati at nasa implementation section ako, pero na-cutshort yong pagka-social worker ko at nalagay sa admin. Technical assistant ako dati ni Fr Pierre Tritz for eight years sa ERDA President’s Office. I was in charge of correspondence with funders, reporting. Pero kahit noong technical assistant pa ko, binigyan ako ng chance na i manage ang scholarships ng mga elementary and high school students na special cases — meaning may mga personal correspondence sa funders nila. Then after that, na-assign ako sa Mindanao for three years to handle tieup partners, or coordinators sa mga less-than-40 partners sa Mindanao and provided inputs kung paano mapaganda ang implementation, partnership, at monitoring sa projects.

After 10 years, nagkaroon ako ng chance to apply sa isang big project funded by US Department of Labor na child labor project ABK o pag-Aaral ng Bata para sa Kinabukasan. Phase 3 na ngayon ito; Phase 1 in 2003 reaching out sa mga batang nasa worst forms of child labor and Phase 2 na ako pa rin ako project manager. Tig-4 years kada project phase. Ngayon, na-promote na ako from being program officer in ERDA to Program Operations Manager handling the child labor project. With this project where I am currently supervising 14 staff, napa practice ko ang administration skills particularly administration of social services, which is my major when I took up my master’s. Kung ano ang pinag-aralan ko, yon ang nagagawa o nai aapply ko ngayon, kaya mas lalo akong fulfilled. Through my various work with ERDA and with other networks, I have had a chance to attend conferences in Thailand, United States and Cambodia which also enhanced my social development capacities. At this point I would like to acknowledge my long time supervisor Ms. Dolora H. Cardeno, Executive Director ng ERDA. Sa kanya talaga ako maraming natutunan mula sa knowledge, sa skills at lalong lalo na sa attitude.

And what makes you proud to have as a brainchild.
The successful management of a big child labor project is in itself an achievement for me. Marami kaming innovations sa project, alam naman ntin naa ang main program ng ERDA ay education and promotion of children’s rights. Andami na naming na-organize na barangay children’s associations kasi we also develop children leaders and advocates. Yong sa National Anti-Poverty Commission, dalawa na magkasunod na child commissioners ay bunga ng aming pag-oorganize para maka-participate sila sa local governance kasi di rin maganda na basta kumuha lang ng bata at ilagay sa isang structure; nawawala ang essence ng participation ng mga bata as part of their rights kung di sila na involve sa organizing process.

Let us just look at the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK); most of the reps there ay hindi galing sa mass-based organization ng mga bata or youth. Dapat kasi organized para makaparticipate meaningfully. Pag sinabi nating organized they are trained and made aware of their issues and concerns, their rights, organized and mobilized. E di naman lahat nakakapag-organize ng barangay children’s associations (BCAs). Dapat may mga bata na representative sa mga councils, kasi concern nila ang kanilang issues and rights. Kaya tinutulungan din namin ang Brangay Children’s Associations and SKs to work together sa ground level.

Dahil education ang primary strategy namin, mayroon din kaming catch-up program through mobile schools where storytelling is the primary strategy. Naisip namin why not integrate our advocacy against child labor sa mga creative story telling sessions for children and youth? Through the catch-up program may educational exposures din sa iba’t ibang lugar. Through the ABK project and opportunities for education, the children get to see, hear, taste, experience, and love learning. We do scheduling with schools and learning centers and train story-tellers as BEST or barangay bulilit educators and storytellers, so venue rin ito for community partnership with local government officials: mayors and barangay captains na nagbibigay ng counterpart at community volunteers. At ngayon, may youth employment component na rin ang ABK 3 project, para ma enhance ang economic capacities ng household members. Children 15 and above can actually start working but only in non-hazardous types of work. Pwede mong sabihin na isa ako sa mga tumulong para buuin ang konsepto nitong mobile school at pati yong operations nito. Pati rin yong pagdevelop ng ABSCBN sa kanilang TLC or Teaching, Loving and Caring na mobile school, isa kami sa nagshare ng aming experience sa kanila. I was also able to contribute sa isang human rights project, funded by New Zealand, na may BCAs involved, like involving children sa pag-advocate ng human rights in general.

Given all those efforts, what’s with the children’s cause?
Siguro yong childhood ko was very happy, kasi even as a child, lagi akong naa-affirm. Ako daw yung unang may stroller sa lugar namin at maraming nag-aalaga sa akin. At kumakanta daw ako noong two years old ako, ng ‘Once there was a Love’. I was given so many exposures and freedoms to explore, play, draw, make mistakes, make friends, eat, study and read books. Idagdag mo pa diyan na yung grandmother ko was a teacher at naging playground ko ang kanyang classroom noon and most of my aunts ay mga hardworking and good teachers. As a result , nag-excel talaga ako sa school at extra-curricular activities. Kaya gusto ko ring iparanas sa mga bata ang ganitong experience at ipalabas sa sa kanila ang kanilang talent at creativity, to give them a fair chance in life. I want every child to enjoy fully his/her rights. This is my lifetime advocacy.

Sino po yong mga influences nyo sa College?
Siyempre si Prof. Thelma Lee Mendoza, kasi siya yong naging teacher ko sa Introduction. At si Prof. Joyce Caragay, magaling siya sa community organizing at pakiramdam ko forte ko rin yon. Both are passionate in teaching and this had a good influence on me. Pati si Dr. Romeo Quieta, former dean, na nagturo sa amin tungkol sa organization, supervision, program development, project management, policy. Then si Dr. Veneracion, ang aming professor sa Research nglang beses, magaling siya. Noong comprehensive exam ko sa master’s, nagcomment siya na maganda ang pagkabuild-up ng sagot ko sa research. Nakakatuwa kasi lima kami na nag-comprehensive exam at ako lang yata ang nakapasa nang walang conditions at nagawa kong tapusin ang master’s ko kahit fulltime ako sa work. Sabi nga nila noon, based sa result ng comprehensive exam result ko, I can be a good professor daw.

Kaya ngayon siguro, nagtuturo na ako ako sa Asian Seminary Christian Ministries. Incidentally, ang nagput-up ng program doon ay kabatch ni Thelma Lee-Mendoza, at ang itinuturo ko ngayon ay yong itinuro nya, Introduction to Social Work. Siya si D. Zonia Tappainer, director ng MSW Program doon. Siya yong first social worker na may PhD dito sa Philippines. Si ma’am Zonia, ang lagi nyang tanong everytime na magkita kami,

‘So how are you enjoying your teaching?”
And I really love this question. Two years na ko don. At nagtuturo na rin ako ng NSTP sa LaSalle, for first year students in Community Work. Now that I am an officer of the UP CSWCD Alumni Association I also have a chance to work with our current Dean, Dean Rosalinda Ofreneo and I am amazed at how she can be very empowering and supportive, down to earth, very knowledgeable, a great advocate of women’s rights and at the same time a person with a good command responsibility. She takes note of every little accomplishment or contribution of each of us in the alumni association. Si Dean Inday ay isang inspirasyon para sa akin.

Ano po ang tatak UP sa inyo?
I think I may never see myself working outside the Philippines. I can go to other places, but not to stay there permanently. Pwede kong ienhance ang aking nalalaman, pero I will always come back and serve here. I don’t get the point na iiwan mo ang mga anak mo, ang pamilya mo. Paano sila lalaki, e ang purpose mo sa humanity, na makapagnurture ng mga bata at tao na magiging contributory sa society, at para di maging continuous ang cycle ang poverty which is of course not only economic in nature. Di ba meron ng alternative lyrics ang UP Naming Mahal, na ‘Malayong Lupain Hindi Kailangang Marating, Dito Maglilingkod sa Bayan Natin.’ So many have left the country, nakalulungkot. Pero ang aking choice, dito ako sa Pilipinas. I think tatak UP ito sa mga panahon ngayon.

Ano naman ang tatak-CSWCD sa inyo?
Very democratic, participative at mapagpalaya ang bawat proseso. Simula pa sa practice sa community, itinuro na sa atin na dapat magsimula sa isyu ang lahat ng aksyon. Before deciding on something, kaillangan mayroon kang mga data. Start where the people are. Believe in the capacities of people to change and act on their problems and issues. Ako, I ask many questions first before saying my piece because I always want to be objective. Sa lahat ng decision, kailangan may karapatan pa rin ang tao na masabi nila ang side nila. Participatory processes, yan ang tatak CSWCD. At siyempre, excellence. Give your best in everything that you do.

Despite so many frustrations, like corruption of the young, dysfunctional families because of the absence of parents na OFW, etc, paano nyo nasusustain ang passion?
Ang gusto ko ring I emphasize ay, it is about time to think about partnerships in the truest sense. Government and the private sector, private-public partnership is the call of the times. Tama na yung masyado tayong umaangal sa pamamaraan ng ibang sector na magtrabaho; let us look at our own ways and see how we can help. Hanap tayo ng common ground to work together because we will never have the same approaches, the same strategies. Complementation and convergence — ito ang emerging themes ngayon to make the lives of people better.

Around 52,000 children ang makikinabang dito sa ABK 3 para makapag-aral sila. Kasi consortium ito, with ChildFund and World Vision and three other agencies including UPSARDF. At para maging effective, nakikipartner kami sa other NGOs or networking with them para macomplement namin ang ginagawa ng government. Di naman competitive ang mga NGOs. I think they, together with government are working hand in hand.

Bakit pala sa CSWCD ako magpapa-enrol?
Of course, sa CSWCD ka para maging relevant ka sa society. Ano ba ang kailangan ng society ngayon? With all the issues ngayon, pangunahing makakatugon nyan ay mga social workers, community development workers, pati mga advocates of women. Sino pa? Yong doctor, iti-treat ka nya, pero does he go out of his way to look for resources and support for you to be able to pay your medicines and hospital bills? Isa lang yan sa pwedeng gawin ng isang manggagawang panlipunan. Ang Social worker mali-link ka nya sa resources. Sa mga disasters, sino dapat ang nasa frontline, mga social workers. Kaya nga I tell prospective college students to consider going to schools na may course ding social worker at community/women development. When a social worker is true to his or her work, she/he can save the world. They can be in different fields and play different roles.

Kamusta po ang pasweldo sa pagiging social worker?
Masuwerte na ang bagong social worker if there is P20,000 as a hiring salary. Just do your best para ma-promote ka. Be one of the best, para makuha mo gusto mong suweldo. Pag naging consultant ka, you can name your price. At gusto ko rin i-emphasize, be a hopeful, innovative, beautiful and creative social worker! Radiate positivity!

Note: Ms. Yen is married to Engr. Arsenio “Jopy” Pasos Jr. and has two children: son Kyle, 17 and daughter Kairen, 14.

College of Social Work and Community Development