By Evelyn “Beng” Manaois-Buenaventura, BSSW 1976
I initially thought that getting into ISWCD (now CSWCD) in the ‘70s was accidental . I never imagined that my college education would have a great influence on my advocacies and present career as a Social Development practitioner.
I entered UP as a student of BS Nursing, not because it was my choice, but rather as a result of parental introjections. I really wanted to become a war correspondent. And all my achievements in high school were related to journalism, e.g. I was Editor-in-Chief of the high school paper, awardee of the National Secondary School Press Conference, Most Well Read Girl, and School Journalist of the Year. My father, who is achievement-oriented, was euphoric over my achievements but frowned on my dream to be a journalist. He dreamt about his daughter studying Nursing in UP as her passport to landing a job in America and fulfilling the American Dream, earning lots of green bucks. His marching order was, “by all means you should graduate from UP with a BS in Nursing degree.” I was so upset and pitied myself because I never wanted to be a nurse. I observed my two cousins who were BSN students holed up most of the time in their rooms, studying hard and strictly confined to Malcolm Hall, seemingly apathetic to what was happening in the university. The College of Nursing was noted to be conservative where boycotts in classes were taboo. I never longed for this kind of student life.
Destiny was not kind to my father. At the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), I had difficulty in hurdling general education subjects like Chemistry 14 and 40 as well as Zoology 11 which were pre-requisites to the BSN degree. I passed these subjects, albeit not with flying colors. At that time, I realized that my future career seemed desultory. And I did not want to stay longer in the university. Besides, I wanted to graduate from UP with a degree that would land me jobs with enough income so I could help my parents and my older sister in financing the college education of my only brother . Working in America as a nurse was farthest from my imagination. I abhorred the idea of working with American imperialists (a product of my political indoctrination in unstructured settings within the university).
The decision on what degree program to shift to was problematic. I weighed my options based on my personal standpoint and interests as well as with the course requirements. I loved and valued people, especially the poor who did not have a voice in decision-making. I have always been a dynamic person who is thrilled with action and adventure in the outdoors, taking me to various places and meeting people from all walks of life. Amidst the height of student activism, the atrocities of Marcos’ martial law and American interference in our country were slowly creeping into my consciousness. I experienced an inner personal conflict between being a good daughter and graduating on time, and following my pro-people and anti-dictatorship political standpoint. The almost daily boycotts at CAS helped me resolve the conflict and became instrumental in my resolve to shift to the B.S. Social Work program. Social Work was consistent with my pro-poor people orientation, my interests for action and dynamism and my over-all academic inclination.
Despite the fact that UP sent all my report cards to them, my family, particularly my father, was unaware that I already shifted to BSSW. They only learned about it when I graduated in ’76. My mother was surprised why I was with the BSSW, not BSN, graduates. Oh, my! She really cried a river and my father, too, was totally inconsolable. I did not enjoy my graduation dinner thereafter which was hosted by my aunt whose own son, “super jock” of sorts, also graduated, but with a magna cum laude in B.S. Electrical Engineering.
At the ISWCD, I was not a “super jock.” Rather, I was just an ordinary student, painstakingly hurdling the Social Work subjects, content with simply passing them. As they say in UP,” pa tres-tres lang, okay na that is normal”. Fortunately, my lowest grade in my SW subjects was not 3 but 2.5. This was for my research class. During my Master in Social Work years, when I took research courses (SW 299.1 and 299.2) under Professor Edith V. Maslang, I realized that social research cannot be appreciated cognitively simply by reading books. It must be applied. I got an uno (1) in both courses. These days, social research is part of my consulting work in social development, and the safeguards, bragging aside, is now “peanuts” to me. My performance in undergraduate SW was lackluster and not impressive. I only excelled during my MSW years. Most of my grades were a so-so, neither high as in “1-1.75” nor “pasang awa” as in “3”.
I enjoyed my studies and the camaraderie I built with my batch mates, my mentors and with non-academic personnel. My experiences in the Institute intertwined academics and extra-curricular activities. We had field visits to areas like Constitution Hills on a rainy and muddy day filled with maggots as well as to rural areas like San Miguel, Bulacan where Agnes Lopez Manasan was fancied by the Municipal Mayor and where our instructor , Evelyn Ramos, sang the “maramdaming” song “Lay your Head Against My Pillow”. As an ULIRAT choir member, I sang alto to Ines Pinat’s and other members’ sopranos. We won a University-wide choral competition with the song “Naku, Kenkoy” by Nicanor Abelardo.
I also enjoyed out-of-town escapades during semestral breaks with classmates like the one we had in Balete, Lipa, Batangas in the rest house of our classmate, Miriam Cadiz –Alcantara. We swam in Taal lake and ate grilled “tawilis and kamatis with pahutan”.
Likewise, I greatly appreciated the academic freedom we enjoyed and the resulting creative thinking through the no-holds-barred intellectual discourses, and the study groups we had in classrooms within the pre-fab building and the Insti Lounge, and under the big acacia tree outside the building. These sessions developed my creativity and analytical skills. I especially took note of the integrated method in SW which I learned from Prof. Thelma Lee Mendoza’s class which I still apply now in my present consulting engagements. Among the three (3) basic methods in SW, community organization (CO) seemed to have a special place in my social development practice, albeit casework and counseling techniques are also employed in my alternative career as Christian counselor in our Catholic Charismatic group.
As attested by many among us in Batch ’76, the late Professor Flora Celi Lansang, was instrumental in my love for CO work. She encouraged us to make a difference in the lives of poor people in urban and rural communities through organizing and mobilizing them into actions that transformed them as critical participants in development , making a stake in all these socio-economic activities taking place in their communities. My love for CO work took me to Bicol area in Tatalon, Quezon City for my field placement where I facilitated the organization of the Samahang Nanay and the Samahang Kursilistas. This stint in an urban poor community was both exciting and daring, albeit, dangerous at times. We played “cat and mouse” with Marcos Metrocom’s MISG who branded us as communists (during those times, anyone working with people’s organizations in squatter communities were stereo-typed as communists). We earned the ire of barangay officials like Barangay Chairs Familara and Banega who put us under surveillance. Strategies and tactics sessions on pressing social issues were done clandestinely in a private girls school. These sessions with “nanays” helped me operationalize the participatory problem-solving and decision-making process, see the need for a thorough social investigation (SI) as basis for sound solutions to issues, and the importance of letting the people identify, analyse and decide on issues affecting them. I am also thankful to Grace Ymzon’s challenges during my SW 200 class in graduate school . Under her tutelage, my skills in conceptualization were further honed. They are constantly demonstrated in my present career as a social development practitioner.
I reminisce my experiences in Grace’s class and apply all the learnings I gained in all my BSSW and MSW subjects at the CSWCD every time I am asked to develop concept papers and programs, manuals and handbooks, safeguards guidelines, social impact studies on poverty alleviation, beneficiary participation, gender mainstreaming and ethnic minority development. These are part of my terms of references (ToR) either as a freelance Social Development Specialist, Community Participation and Gender Specialist, Resettlement Specialist or Institutional Development Expert in official development assistance (ODA)-funded projects of the World Bank, ADB, JICA (formerly, JBIC) and the EC here in the Philippines as well as in the many countries I have been a consultant to since 1989, particularly in China, Vietnam, People’s Democratic Republic of Lao, and Cambodia. I have also made some breakthroughs in Myanmar in such sectors such as irrigation management, sustainable agriculture and natural resources, water and sanitation, sewerage and drainage, sustainable agrarian reform settlements; and power and public utilities.
What I am today, I owe to the accidental shift from B.S. Nursing to B.S. Social Work, and the completion of a Diploma in Social Work in 1994, also at CSWCD. I lack 6 units to complete my master’s degree in Social Work, to the dismay of my “ninang and another outstanding SW mentor, and former CSWCD dean, Evelyn A. Pangalangan, who, up to now ,encourages me to write about my work, and finish my thesis. I would also like to honor the legacy of my former classmate, and former CSWCD dean, the late Dr. Romeo C. Quieta. As to when I would obtain my master’s degree, time will tell. I need more pressure and time to do this. I thank you, CSWCD, for making me into what I am today in the field of social development and for transforming my lackluster performance during my undergraduate studies into a great and rewarding consulting career nowadays.
As to my father, who is now in his, eighties, he had a 180- degree turn in his outlook. Whereas before he was so frustrated that I did not become a nurse, he is now an excellent “drumbeater” of the SW profession . He advises would-be college students to take up Social Work because this is a lucrative job and would take you soaring high in professional development. Of course, this is not absolutely true. Meaningful professional practice depends largely on the career opportunities that come your way, and the nature of one’s academic preparation, be it in Social Work or in another field.