“Home Grown and Growing”

| Written by CSWCD

mary lou alcidI missed the First Quarter Storm at UP Diliman . I entered UP as an AB Broadcast Communications major in June 1972. Martial law was declared on the Saturday I was to make a report in my Social Orientation class at the College of Home Economics. Classes were suspended. I wasn’t sure Marcos would reopen UP  so I began to explore other life options such as baking and selling macaroons . And  I did bake and sell macaroons to a neighbourhood school while waiting for resumption of classes at UP. I also made up my mind that when UP reopened , I would shift to another course. I did not want to be a mouthpiece of the martial law regime. Martial law  was declared  on the Saturday I was to make a report in my Social Orientation class at the College of Home Economics.

I shifted to B.S. Social Work. Why social work (SW) ? Because I had been socialised into Catholic notions of  love for your “fellowmen”, charity, and social responsibility.  Like my four sisters, I studied from pre-school to high school in schools run by the Religious of the Virgin Mary, then the only all-Filipina religious congregation in the country. Our parents, Col. Simeon C. Alcid, a military dental surgeon from Vigan, and Evangelina Lallab, a public secondary school teacher of Home Economics from San Enrique,Iloilo, were good  Catholics and taught us respect for others, compassion and integrity.  My childhood ambition was to be a missionary in Africa. Social work was the next  best thing to being a missionary.

Our Insti (Institute of Social Work and Community Development)  was a pre-fabricated  one-storey building.  Engineering students -who were courting or in a relationship with Social Work majors- compared it to a chicken coop, especially since majority of the students were female, colloquially referred to as “chicks.” In the second semester of my sophomore year,  I started going there for my first social work subject (SW 140 or Introduction to Social Work) under Prof. Ma. Corazon J. Veneracion who was in her first year of teaching. The class consisted of at least 20 students coming from different batches and had shifted from other courses. Many were members of  the UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA)  with headquarters just behind the Insti. Some were national democrat activists. Altogether, we were a boisterous, irreverent and critical lot.

Up to now, we like to brag among ourselves that ours was the best and most beauteous batch. Not without basis, mind you. Ulirat was the Insti student organization which was founded and headed  by my classmates. It won  1st Prize in the 1974 Pasiklab singing competition at the UP Theatre , and in a women’s basketball tournament.  Moreover, our batch (without me, though, because  I had already graduated) was also responsible for the proposal to revise the BSSW curriculum with emphasis on rural development which was eventually approved.  This was part of Prof. Flora Celi Lansang’s SW 143 (Social Action) class.   In the 1976 social work licensure exam, we took at least seven slots  in the Top Ten, including the first two places. But I’m going ahead of my  story.

Our batch had at least three subjects under  activist Prof.  Lansang . Flora was not the most organised teacher.  But her love for the downtrodden shone through. She taught with passion and commitment. She introduced us to the structural bases of impoverishment, to critical thinking, and the pursuit of  social justice and transformative social work. She was ahead of her time, always brimming with ideas on how we could make a difference in people’s lives.  Social action became real as she engaged us in concrete advocacies such as the defense of ancestral domain of the  Alangan Mangyans, and the revision of the BS Social Work curriculum.   Social work ceased to be a charitable profession for me. It became a means to engage the oppressed in organising, consciousness raising, and collective action  towards building another society totally different  from, and opposed to  Marcos’ Bagong Lipunan.  Flora was a major and lasting influence  on me and my batch.  She was a beloved  teacher, mentor, colleague,  and friend.

In the 70s,  population control was already one of the social issues discussed  at the Insti. And the stance of the activists (which I supported) was that overpopulation was not an issue, and that population control was part of the US imperialist agenda in Asia.

Another hotly debated issue then was:“Do we change people’s values first or do we change social  structures first?” I was for “structures first”.

At UP Diliman, I met activists who claimed to be communists, including one who became significant in my life .  Initially, I was scared. But, they turned out to be good people — exemplary and courageous, in fact.  They were ready to sacrifice their lives for the movement for social transformation.  I began to reconsider the church teaching that communism was godlessness and that all communists would go to hell.  I decided God wasn’t so narrow minded.  I read the red books of  Mao Tse Tung  (now Mao Zedong) and Marx and Engels’   dialectical –historical materialism in an effort to understand my significant other, and found their tenets compatible with social work.

I completed my studies in three and a half years. My mother thought I wanted to get married. I told her I merely wanted to be financially independent.  But income was not a major consideration in my choice of work. If it were, I would have betrayed  my Insti education. I was young, single and raring to take on the world.

My first job was with the famous freedom fighter of a newsman, Jose Burgos , Jr. He headed the Community Relations and Information Office (CRIO) of the then newly set up National Housing Authority. I was with a  batchmate and good friend, Agnes Lopez Manasan. Some old former employees of the defunct People’s  Homesite and Housing Corporation asked us who our “backer” was. They were incredulous when we told them that  we were hired  based on merit, not connection.

We were in the frontlines, deployed to  urban poor communities to encourage them to be relocated. The process we undertook enabled the people to make informed choices. We facilitated visits to relocation sites. And in case the community wanted to resist relocation, we connected the leaders to militant peoples’ organisations — unofficially, of course.  We also received delegations of urban poor communities whose organisers  were our Insti batchmates.  After barely six months, I resigned. I  thought I was inadvertently allowing myself  to  be used by the government to project a pro-poor image for the agency.

Thus, the homecoming to the Insti. The late ‘70s was the time the Insti began to operationalise participatory development and its rural development thrust through direct partnership with  rural poor communities. I feel fortunate that I was part of two such major initiatives: as a Training Assistant of  Prof Veneracion in her  project “ Training Program  for Paraprofessionals, Farmer-Leaders and Study Groups” which was implemented in  Brgy. Lalangan, Plaridel, Bulacan; and as  a young faculty of the Department of Social Work recruited mainly to be Co-Director of the “Rural Social Work Field Placements Project,” and one of three faculty supervisors of the students deployed to our partner communities in Lian, Batangas.  My area of assignment was Brgy. San Diego, a coastal and farming community.

I enjoyed and learned so much from the interaction with rural communities that I made rural development  my field of specialization. I was also attracted to the idea of setting up an NGO at a time when you could count the number of NGOs with the fingers of your  hand.  So, with nine other SW alumni of the Insti , most of whom had been my students, we founded the Organization for Training, Research and Development Inc. (OTRADEV) in 1979.  This was to be our vehicle for developing programs that promoted participatory development. Prof Lansang  shared with us financial resources to continue a health program with the Iraya Mangyans of Puerto Galera. This health program eventually expanded to become the OTRADEV-Iraya Integrated Rural Development Program (OIIRDP).  The partnership with the Iraya continued until the ‘90s when elements of the New People’s Army forced us to leave. OTRADEV also got involved in organising, advocacy and socio-economic work among small fisherfolk in Laguna de Bay. Moreover, it  became a  platform for promoting voluntarism among students  and young professionals, and a training ground for BS Social Work field work  students from UP and other schools. For some of its  members,  OTRADEV made them realise the limitations of  development work. Hence, they chose to join the underground movement for change.

I took up  my master’s degree (M.S. Rural Development Planning) at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand in 1980-82.  My thesis was about rural women’s lives. I studied feminist frameworks, and made sense of my life and choices  as a woman.   I  resigned from UP in 1983 so  I could devote fulltime to OTRADEV.  I was bored with life dictated by the academic calendar.

A personal crossroad occurred in 1985, which led to my acceptance of an offer to go and work in a newly set up non-governmental regional office in Hong Kong . I was an “expatriate” on a missionary stipend. The work was trailblazing, meaningful and  challenging.  It  was the start  of my long-term involvement with the sector of  overseas Filipino workers,  particularly women  domestic workers.

I missed the EDSA uprising in 1986 as I had just left for Hong Kong.  I was with the small group of Filipinos picketing the Philippine Consulate when we received news that the US government had airlifted Marcos and family to Hawaii, signalling the fall of the dictatorship. We had our own small celebration with Filipina domestic workers.

While the sector and locale were  different, the core competencies I brought into the work in Hong Kong were the same. But I did learn new ones such as case work with a progressive and rights-based framing; policy advocacy in an international context; and organising press conferences, coordinated mass actions and campaigns in  foreign countries.  I also became good at writing  position papers, and letters to the editor as part of our advocacy.

I lived in a shelter for  domestic workers with employment problems. Daily, I  listened to their stories and the hard choices they had to make, mainly to ensure the survival of their families in the Philippines. The courage,risk-taking, and capacity for self –sacrifice of  Filipina domestic workers  impressed me, and made me realise the exploitative character of “family.”   We organised, educated and conducted regional campaigns for OFW rights and welfare.  I  travelled  extensively for research, advocacy and networking.  I learned to  link national with regional and global action. Integrative social work was something I did although the label did not come until years later when I went back to teach at the Insti, which had become a college.

Until 2004, I straddled two worlds- development work and teaching at UP.  Direct engagement in development work ( specifically in the fields of socio-economic work and  international labor migration) as trainer, NGO executive, and advocate gave me the grounding and space necessary to practise transformative and gender responsive, social work. It gave me  lived experiences and models to imbue my teaching with soul and substance. It enabled me to challenge students to dare to  think and act beyond the immediate and practical. And to broaden or create spaces for engagement with communities, governments, and other stakeholders.

In 2004, because of medical reasons, I opted to focus on teaching, thereby  reducing  my involvement in  the challenging but stressful work of  running a social development agency, and advocating for migrants’ rights. I  gave more time to  myself ,  my two daughters, and friends. As my health improved, I gradually  took on projects that I enjoyed doing and advanced human rights, regardless of pay.

My first love , rural development, and second love, international migration, no longer run  along parallel lines. They now intersect as I have come full circle in the migration cycle. I am a student of local economy development in rural areas  and reintegration models. And  my participation in the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, an NGO based at the CSWCD, helps sharpen  the feminist framing of my  work.

At the College of Social Work and Community Development, I have found a collegial community that strives to operationalise the values and principles it stands for :  pro-poor orientation, critical thinking, academic freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and diversity, gender equality, and solidarity, among others.  It is a life  still governed by the academic calendar. But my mind now sees the opportunities and spaces the calendar provides for  community-engaged scholarship, and for influencing social work education in the country as we assume leadership roles in  professional bodies.

To the question of “which should come first: changing values or structures?’ my answer  now is “both.”