What I Learned from the Insti

| Written by CSWCD

seth papasin

My training and education from UPISWCD carried me on an epic journey from the expansive grounds of UP Diliman, to the bowels of squatter areas in Tatalon, QC and Tondo, Manila, to the deep jungles in Laguna, Rizal to a storied life in the corporate world of North America where I am now.

At a very early age, my parents inculcated in me the love for knowledge and of service to others. Being a doctor seemed to capture these values and so I aimed to be one. However, as I was approaching the fork in my life where a decision that would set the course of the rest of my life needed to be made, I realized that my family did not have the financial means to allow me this dream. Social Work was the next best thing where I could put those values in place.

And I never regretted it.

I entered UP’s Arts and Sciences program in 1970. Coming from a small barrio in Melgar, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, UP Diliman was like Harvard to me. I was in the Foreign Service program initially but decided to switch to Social Work and Community Development after the first semester.

The theoretical knowledge taught by esteemed professors at the UPISWCD (Insti was our moniker for it) to me became the basis of and set the tone for where the course of my life would take me.

I remember how our professors would challenge us to test and discuss theories. One particular event I fondly remember is how a team of us, armed with a tape recorder, went searching for the perfect stream to record the perfect sound of gushing water in order to make it the soundtrack for a class presentation. Teamwork was very much at play as we organized ourselves for this project. Although I cannot remember what the topic was, I remember that our team received a grade of 1.0 for this assignment.

In 1972, my classmate, Wennie Domingo, and I chanced upon an advertisement in the newspaper looking for youth interested in a cultural exchange program in Canada. It was called the Canada World Youth Exchange Program (CWYE) that was jointly sponsored by CIDA and the Philippine government. Its goal was to allow youth from both countries to experience first-hand the culture of each country. Hence, we spent five months in Canada and the other five in the Philippines.
After a series of tests, including group dynamics, we both made it.

I put my studies on hold and participated in the CWYE program. It was fun, an eye opener and taught me a lot about the intercultural sensitivities among Canadians and fellow Filipinos. I experienced the various facets of life in Canada and the Philippines and made a lot of friends.

When it was finished, I resumed my studies at UPSWCD.

Leaving the confines of the classroom to do the required field work didn’t really prepare me much for the realities of poverty, which was glaringly presented to me as a contrast to the comforts and luxuries that I had just experienced from the exchange program in Canada. My field work was in the squatter areas in Tatalon, Quezon City and Tondo, Manila where with a group of other classmates, we lived (more like scratched a living), ate (there was hardly enough), breathed (stale air) and learned (a lot) complementing the theories that were taught in the classroom and prepared me for what I could expect when I graduate.

I learned that:
– Poor people have dignity, integrity, hopes, dreams, ingenuity.
– Doling out help can only alleviate short-term pain. War against poverty is still there.
– The truism of the principle: When a person’s basic needs (food, shelter, job) are met, higher needs are achievable.
– The sitting government was oppressive, exploitative and unjust.
– There is strength in numbers and organizing the marginalized sector of the society can yield results.

Hence, my involvement in student activism evolved. I was in front of demonstrators protesting on the streets. I cried with the people of Tatalon when their houses were bulldozed. I strategized with fellow activists on how to mobilize communities to fight and to topple down the Marcos regime.

Then martial law was declared. Fellow activists were being picked up, tortured, imprisoned. I had to go underground and was sheltered by numerous friends who took me to the mountains in Laguna. I was in the company of people who only have first names preceded by Ka, as in Kasama (comrade). My indoctrination in the Maoist-Leninist philosophy deepened. I had to leave my family and friends and the little comforts that I got used to.

But after a year, my Kasamas started to disappear and I found myself on my own. I had no choice but to go back to my family. With his connections in the military, my father was able to clear my name without me having to be interrogated and tortured. Also, due to my father’s persistence, and since I only had a little bit of the last semester left to do, I tried to resume my studies. He would obtain what assignments were required, pass them on to me, I would write the paper and then he would submit them to the professors.

My father was also instrumental in getting my friends in Canada to help me out of the country. In February 1978, I was back in Canada. I was a “fish out of water” for the first year, and I learned what it means to “climb the wall” at this time, literally.

Focusing on how to survive in a foreign country became my raison-d’etre – I watched TV to hone my English skills, took French courses (for this I give myself an F), worked in two or three jobs at any given time so there were no idle moments and to be able to send money to my family.

My first job search was for a Social Work position but not even a Filipino agency that served the Filipino community gave me the chance — I had no Canadian experience.

So, I distanced myself from any job related to Social Work. I took courses in office administration, accounting, HR. I also worked as a Health Care Aide and managed a confectionery store. I used all these knowledge as I worked through a series of positions in insurance companies, property management companies, etc. Now I am happily ensconced as an Office Manager in a structural engineering company (www.rjc.ca) where I have been employed since 1991.

How did my education at UPISWCD help me?

While I may not be working directly as a Social Worker, I can proudly say that the way I live, the manner by which I relate to people, and the principles that govern my interaction with people are grounded in what I learned from the College.
As president of the Filipino group in our church, I draw on the mobilizing skills I learned.

As an active member of our parish, St. Anthony’s parish, being in its Finance Council, Pastoral Parish Council, Social Feast Committee, I draw on my knowledge of group dynamics and community development.

As the current president of a professional group, The Society for Design Administration (www.sdacanada.com), I draw on a lot of theories on organizing and group dynamics tempered in my psyche.

And as an office manager of 120 staff, a lot of social work and community development theories are at play. Everyday.
I have to acknowledge that the ease by which I work with different groups and organizations that I am involved in are all traceable to the tenets of Social Work and Community Development that I learned from UP. Understanding of the human psyche and group dynamics are powerful tools that the university invested in me, forming the foundation of my thoughts and actions that enable me to contribute as a member of the society.

I cannot thank my professors enough who allowed me to graduate (finally!) in 1978, Cum Laude! I was absent during the graduation ceremonies, as I was already in Canada, but in my place during the commencement ceremony were the happiest mother, father, sisters and brothers in that gathering who heard my name called and received my diploma from UPISWCD.

From Seth Papasin
Graduating Class of 1978