Graduating from high school in 1972, I thought I knew what I wanted to be! Pursuing my ambitions to be in the field of law, I enrolled as a political science major at the University of the Philippines. The political and social changes of the ‘70s, an era of radical change, influenced my career decision after my first year in college. The then-Institute of Social Work and Community Development (ISWCD) impressed me with its dedication to improve people’s quality of life and advocacy for social and political change. That small ISWCD building housed professors and students who showed their passion and mission to build a better world! I knew then I wanted to be part of the ISWCD, and Community Development had become the pillar and foundation for my college education and my profession!
Like all new graduates of Community Development in 1976, we all ventured into different areas of community development spreading our wings to be CD practitioners. For me, that professional journey has been challenging as I searched to translate my community development education into real life experiences.
Having been offered an opportunity in the academic field, I became a part-time Instructor for CD courses at UP College in Tacloban for the summer and intermittently after graduation. However, as a new graduate, I realized that I did not have the real- life experiences which are important to bring to the classrooms to be effective. My community development education must continue beyond the University of the Philippines to the real world!
In October 1976, it was a privilege for me to be selected as part of the Philippine Delegation to become Ambassadors of Goodwill for the Ship for Southeast Asia Youth Program (SSEAYP). For two months, the Ship Nippon Maru carried all delegations from the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand around the Asian region for cultural exchange and understanding of regional socio-political and economic issues. My interest centered on rural and community development in this Asian region as I participated in dialogues with institutions and social organizations promoting economic and development projects, community self-sufficiency programs and regional planning. This international experience brought development issues beyond the borders of our countries. More importantly, I made new international friends who are currently making some differences in their respective countries.
Coming back from SSEAYP ’76 and after visiting many different urban centers, my interest in urban planning prompted me to accept a job with the former Human Settlements Regulatory Commission/Ministry of Human Settlements. With community development as background, it gave me the tools and knowledge as Regional Coordinator to work with communities in the development of general land-use plans/zoning ordinances for Regions I and X for the next three years. Having been assigned in various communities in Luzon and Mindanao, I learned more about the development needs of our country.
In 1979, an opportunity for higher education opened when I was selected by the Rotary International Education Foundation to be an Ambassador of Goodwill to the United States of America. Having been a planner in the Philippines, I enrolled in the Masters Degree Program for Urban Planning at Michigan State University while performing civic duties with Rotary International. Being an Ambassador of Goodwill, I had the opportunity to share the development issues of the Philippines and learn the same from many communities in Michigan and other parts of the United States. I got a good exposure to rural America!
It was in Michigan where I met Tom Duranceau, my husband of 31 years now, who was also pursuing his Masters in Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. We were married in 1981, and decided to establish our family with our son, Alec, and our professional careers in the US. Despite my desire to go back home to the Philippines, my family came first!
After graduate school, job opportunities took us to the American Indian Reservations in Arizona as planners. As the Economic Development Planner for the Quechan and Cocopah Indian Tribes, I was initiated to a whole new world of American Indians, their culture and socio-political issues. It is interesting to note the similarities of the American Indian community development issues to those of the Third World Countries. The elements of poverty and development are universal. I felt “at home” working with the American Indians especially when I was adopted by them as “COCO-PINA” – an abbreviated name for Cocopah Indian and Filipina!
Like for most communities in the Philippines, economic development was very important for American Indian Reservations. Most of the significant development processes and projects I worked on were related to job creation and promotion of self-sufficiency through education and training. On a personal note, the highlight of my experience working with the Cocopah Indian Tribe was being part of a professional and legal team tasked to draft and introduce a legislation in Congress (Washington, DC) to return the original Indian Reservation land boundaries to the Cocopahs. The successful passage of the congressional legislation expanded the Indian Reservation boundaries and provided incentives for economic development for the Cocopah Tribe.
Planning and community development education provided me a good professional background for my subsequent careers in local governments in Arizona. In Mohave County, Arizona, I started as a planner in the front line, developing community general plans, and now as Deputy County Manager/Administrator and Community Services Director. Despite my new appointment as one of the top executives for Mohave County, I opted to retain my community development programs. My 25 year- career in Mohave County is a reflection of my commitment as a CD practitioner.
Mohave County established its first social service agency in the early ‘90s -Housing and Community Development Department — and I was appointed as its first Director. With federal funds from the US Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Block Grant Program was established to build community infrastructures to improve the quality of life of the residents such as water and wastewater systems, senior and community centers, road improvements, social programs and public services to alleviate poverty. I learned from my CD education the importance of citizen participation and community organization which have been the cornerstones for our successful CD projects. Imagine a Filipina lady conducting a citizen participation meeting in rural America!
The need for affordable housing led to the creation of the Mohave County Housing Authority (MCHA) which was also housed in my Department. The Housing Rental Assistance program, Homeownership and Self-Sufficiency Program, and Housing Rehabilitation Projects, provided housing assistance to low- and moderate-income families. With pride, MCHA has garnered the “Most Valuable Partner Award” from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the last four years for providing successful programs and projects as building blocks for the our communities.
As the department reinvented itself as a Community Services Department, I became an advocate for the One-Stop Centers for social services and workforce programs. Employment and training programs were added to the newly created One-Stop Career Centers which completed the menu of social services for families. However, the recent budgetary constraints for these programs became catalysts for the formation of partnerships with the private sector and community-based organizations to leveraged resources for employment and training.
As we provide better housing conditions for the elderly/handicapped, homeless, veterans and low income families, as we assist families and older workers laid-off from employment in their transition to new job opportunities and training, and as we provide education/vocational training and work experience to the youth—we create better and self-sufficient communities!
The CD programs and projects we create and administer touch the lives of many people in our community. Likewise, the professional satisfaction of CD practitioners comes from seeing the improvement of the quality of life of those they serve, thereby creating a better world for today and tomorrow!
As Mohave County, Arizona, honored me in 2009 as one of the Women Making History for my profession, I traced back my roots—a graduate from the University of the Philippines in the field of Community Development! This important education provided the “seed” for my profession and career and the person I am today!
I am thankful to the ISWCD which is now the College of Social Work and Community Development, to all my CD teachers and professors who mentored me as a student and instilled in me the same passion and mission to create a better world even beyond the borders of the Philippines. I hope I lived up to their expectations as a CD practitioner in the last 36 years!
By Susie Parel-Duranceau