A friend of mine once told me,“Kahit gaano kaganda ang iyong hardin, siguradong may damo pa rin” (no matter how beautiful your garden is, for sure there will still be weeds)
Weeds or damo in Filipino, are often belittled as a nuisance – the bane of rice paddies and manicured gardens. In his popular book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum once argued that dandelions, a common weed, are actually flowers.
To call something a weed means that they have to be undesirable in that specific area. If you have weeds in your garden and you want them there, then they are not weeds. Highly adaptable, weeds like grass can be found anywhere. They can be found even in places where some experts claimed they would not grow like the lahar fields of Pampanga. They also have their own beauty, their own role. I didn’t know it then. But now, it dawns upon me that in our field of work, we have to be like damo ourselves.
I came to CD in 1995. The college then was generally viewed as a last resort in UP – minimal grade average requirement, tons of electives that can be accredited, professors you call by first name, no attendance sheets. Math 1? Slackers’ heaven.
It was a time when you had classes with 15 enrolled students: 12 actively attending classes, and three delinquents (including me). CSWCD was then a small building behind the UP Chapel complete with its own cooperative store, a rather simple building much like the lifestyles of the people there at the time. Very quiet, and sometimes boring, isolated from the bustling multi-storey buildings of other colleges in UP. Though, we did have that mango tree, endearingly referred to as UTMT or ‘under-the-mango-tree’ nearby the old building.
I came to CD as a shiftee from a college where I thought would lead me to what I wanted to do in life – be a doctor, like my mother, and help people. I thought I liked it there until we had a discussion about Kapwa, or togetherness, which is the core construct of Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino Psychology). We talked about going from being Ibang Tao (other people) to Hindi Ibang Tao (not other people). This process goes through several levels beginning with pakikitungo (civility) all the way to pakikipagkaisa (being one with others).
In connection with research, our professor then, who is also a good family friend of ours, stressed that in order to be objective, we must not reach the level where we would be too attached to the people we were “researching.” She said that we should not reach the level of pakikipagkaisa. I remember having a rather long debate about this idea, that eventually got me thinking about my chosen field. How can we help people without being one with them?
Admittedly, I was no model student then. In fact, I already found my way to being a non-deg (non-degree student). Coming from a science-based curriculum high school, I was overconfident. I thought I already knew trigonometry, calculus, and the other hard sciences. We studied them for four years in high school. I was brash, bored but full of passion and idealism. It came oblivious to me, that knowing was not enough. After one semester, I found myself no longer welcome there.
I spent a couple of semesters bouncing around classes as a non-deg before I had a talk with my aunt, Professor Maureen Pagaduan, about the college where she teaches – a college I did not even know existed in UP. My friends told me that CSWCD was the last resort. Last chance. In fact, I even signed a paper saying it really was my last chance in UP. Little did I know that it was there where I would find my true calling.
Like the sun where all life starts, I started living my new life when I entered the College. My first CD subject was CD 11 under Ka Lito Manalili. I was thoroughly impressed with his own version of power point presentation (on Manila paper) and the way he delivers his lectures – full of energy and conviction. It didn’t hurt that there were also cute students from the College of Home Economics in the class, either.
Another class I took in the same semester was CD 100. Who could forget CD 100 – Philippine Realities? Professor Aleli Bawagan said in our first class after our first field exposure, “Kung nakita mo na, kaya mo pa bang magbulag-bulagan at magpanggap na hindi mo nakita?” (Once you’ve seen it, can you still act blind and pretend you did not see it?). Once you see the realities in the countryside – in our factories or in our streets – can we really pretend not to have seen it?
CD 100, as well as my other classes in CD sent me and my classmates to several places outside Metro Manila. At first, I was excited with the prospect of going out of town. A sort of vacation. I went to Mindoro to meet the Mangyans; to Tiaong, Quezon and met with a community who somewhat respects and sometimes even support what the New People’s Army were fighting for; Botolan, Zambales with the Aetas where I first heard about corrupt NGOs.
When you talk with the people you meet, you start getting a sense of what these “exposure trips” were exposing us to. I was born and raised in Metro Manila. I believed then, that what happens in Manila is the true Philippines situation. Once you go out of the metropolis, however, you realize that this Manila does not really represent the entire country after all. I started to see that a lot of people really needed help and being an Iskolar ng Bayan (scholar of the people) we were actually obligated to give back to the people who helped pay for our college tuition. And even if they didn’t, we are still obligated, being Filipinos, to serve our country. Like what Bill Gates said in his graduation speech at Harvard University years ago, we have the skills and sometimes resources to help those more unfortunate than us. What good will our brains be if we only use it for our own personal gain.
Then I finally enrolled in the crowning jewel of the BSCD curriculum – CD 180 and 181, Fieldwork.
All the field exposures were nothing compared to my one year stay in Anda, Pangasinan and another six years working for the College’s project there. Partnering with the fisherfolk of the island town in conserving their resources for sustainability – none of the previous weekends of field exposures could really compare to what I experienced then. I was so enthralled with Anda and the project that I decided to stay there a couple of more years. First as a volunteer, then as full-time staff.
The Anda Community-Based Coastal Resources Management (CBCRM) Program was, for me, unique among the other fieldwork assignments of our time. Being a project of the CSWCD, what we did in Anda was a direct application of what we were taught in college about community development. Unlike other areas where the fieldwork students were often seen as mere implementors of ready-made projects (straight from the mouths of the fieldwork students assigned there at the time) with little participation other than legwork. I thought that some of the other fieldwork sites were not really in line with the principles taught in college to begin with. In Anda, everyone had a say in the program direction and plans. There, we could get a chance to participate in the whole program life – from problem and needs identification, to development of project proposals to implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the project – practically applying all the CD subjects in my one year stay as a student. The Anda project may not have been perfect, but it was perfect for me.
In hindsight, I realized that it was not only the commitment to work with the people and to serve the people that gave me the conviction to continue what I do. What really helped me stay the course were the people I have worked with, especially to my host families who have accepted me into their families as I have accepted them as mine. I cannot stress enough how important my host families were in shaping who I am today. I feel sorry for the other fieldwork students who lived in offices or other spaces where they lived with no host families. They missed a lot.
The program ended after a decade, and as I left Anda, I got with me a hope that the people we have worked with will continue what we have started long after the program phased-out.
Like soil, Anda provided a fertile environment for me to grow.
Now, I work as a Project Manager for WWF. What started out as community organizing of fisherfolk in Anda, Pangasinan, eventually led to me learning the ins and outs of Marine Biology, Coastal Resources Management and other environment-related concepts which were not taught to us in College. Funny thing with the environment was that none of the development theories discussed in CD 110 (development theories) under Professor Oscar Ferrer really did consider the environment to a great extent as a major factor in development. What helps me now in my current work are the lessons learned from CD 131 (planning) under Professor Sammie Formilleza as planning is a large part of being a manager, and CD 126 (training) with Professor Mel Luna for his never-ending stories and very animated and effective way of facilitating workshops. Plus, CD 133 (resource management, under Professor Elmer Ferrer) which is a major part to what I do now, and the CD 180 and CD 181 (fieldwork) that taught me how to work with all sorts of people. Of all the tools of analysis discussed then, the one that still sticks to me is class analysis. Even though I don’t fully subscribe to the ideology, what remains today is my bias for the poor.
In Manila, one of the most expensive grasses used in gardens and golf courses is the Bermuda grass. As a child, I have often considered the Bermuda grass as a high-maintenance ornamental plant. It needed lots of sun and water to grow. I only see it on golf courses and in mansions of friends and relatives. But when I got to Anda, I found the Bermuda grass there thriving – in all places – by the beach! The Bermuda grass there grows so thick that I didn’t know they could be possible. Now I know that Bermuda grass really can grow even with high salinity water. What I thought was a pampered plant is also considered a weed, highly adaptive and resilient. After fieldwork, I have often compared my batchmates and myself to the Bermuda grass – born and raised in cities. Pampered, but then I realize that it was in Anda where we would truly grow.
The water in Anda helped the Bermuda grass to grow even better than in Manila. The Anda family nourished me throughout my stay there.
Posted on Professor Elmer Ferrer’s door on his room at the old CSWCD building was, “Bloom where you are planted.” Often cited as an old Afghan proverb, this short message would eventually play a big role in my life. Growing up in a city, I never thought that I would eventually leave the comforts of the urban life for the joys of rural living. Then again, CD prepared me well for that.
Like the weed, Bermuda grass, with the sun the soil and the water, it was there where I truly bloomed. #