Video presentation showcasing ASEP 2015 owned by the Ateneo de Davao University.
“Only by being a man and woman for others does one become fully human.”
– Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
The heavens took no remorse. Storm clouds blanketed the once-blue skies of Compostela Valley province, drowning the lands with terror. The winds blew with unimaginable strength as they took away roofs and crops of thousands of families. The rain fell like ammunition. Landslides ravaged properties. Stumps covered the remnants of what was once a sea of trees.
Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, came in like an uninvited visitor, leaving tremendous amounts of damage as it went along its path, both in the fields and in the homes of many families. No one could have expected a disaster of such scale in this part of Mindanao.
Unlike what was past shrouded in darkness, the sun was visible that day in Barangay Nga, Compostela Valley. The locals have moved forward. Still, Rexor Amancio along with peers from Ateneo de Davao University arrived at site seeing a world very different from what they were used to. Davao City was more comfortably positioned during the storm, but even without it, Barangay Nga is still a completely different world.
In an institution that strongly promotes social justice and the common good, the Ateneo de Davao University’s Arrupe Office of Social Formation (AOSF) seeks to develop social formation programs and activities to inspire critical, discerning, and responsive students. These are to address social realities and to establish community involvement initiatives for greater service with partner communities.
Formerly called as the Social Involvement Coordinating Office (SICO), the office changed its name to honor Pedro Arrupe, a Jesuit who fought against inequality and oppression. His love for the poor persisted even amidst criticism from opposing understandings of theology.
Every year, AOSF hosts the Ateneo Student Exposure Program (ASEP) for selected volunteers to immerse in communities and live with families, making them experience social problems at a personal level. The idea is to put classroom theory about society and service into action by placing the volunteers as foster children in their respective host families. So far, there have been 44 batches of student volunteers since 1978.
Far different from city life
Several ASEPians shared that the immersion settings were vastly different from their own homes back in Davao City.
“In a very busy urban city, time just flies away so easily, yet there are a lot of things that we miss out. We do not see the goodness or beauty of many things around us because of all the other things we thought were more important,” said John Chin, a Batch 43 ASEPian.
John, an Industrial Engineering student, was assigned to Sitio San Vicente of Barangay St. Peter of Bukidnon. He stayed in his foster family’s home for six days and five nights, which was the program requirement.
Batch 43 ASEPian Rexor, who was assigned to the Barangay Nga municipality of Compostella Valley province, remembered that during their exposure, the typhoon Pablo-stricken area had bald coconut trees with only the trunks left standing.
Every morning, Rexor and his foster brother took turns in pumping water from another house to the hose that they will use for bathing. For drinking water, however, Rexor had to walk for a couple kilometers.
Asked about the family he stayed with, John shared, “The people may have lived a simple life, yet that simplicity was probably their greatest source of happiness.” He said he realized how the concept of poverty does not only refer to a physical manifestation but may also manifest in the social or spiritual context. What John saw as financially poor could not compare to the lack of happiness of some people who have it better.
Rexor on the other hand reflected on the quality of life he was not able to imagine if it were not due to the immersion.
“I was able to see the reality of life in the peripheries compared to a life of a student who’s well-provided,” said the Mass Communication student.
Rexor shared that although he is financially well-supported by his parents, he still saw his foster family as a good family because of her foster mother, Nanay Lyn. He described her as a “stage mother in a good way,” both lenient and active in supporting her children with whatever they want to do.
“Like everyone else, I have many goals in life. But this family is already contented with eating three times a day and for the children to be able to graduate.” Rexor said he realized that compared to work and material possessions, family should always come first.
Tricia Firman, an Education student and a batch 44 ASEPian assigned to Zamboanguita, said that it was enlightening after the program when AOSF Director Ms. Lilibeth Leh-Arcena told them that the program was not crafted for annual volunteers but rather for the people who are in dire need of service and assistance.
“We were merely there to see their real situations and that served as a wake-up call. We had to go through all that so we would know how they feel and we could do something about it,” she emphasized.
According to Tricia, her priorities in life changed. She was no longer very conscious of how successful, rich and powerful she should be when she graduates, because she is now aware that apart from an individual’s choices and goals, she should serve people in any way she can.
Takeaways from the experience
“It wasn’t easy when the program ended after 6 days, because we already formed a bond,” Rexor recalled.
The openness he felt with his foster family was solid so the most difficult thing about the program was not adjusting to the environment, but having to leave. Faced with little alternative, Rexor continued to keep in touch with his foster brother and sisters through text.
John saw the experience as life-changing. “I would have been that student caught up with the importance of grades. I would have been that student who have mastered the books of operations management and have been fully comfortable in the four corners of the classroom.” John believes that understanding the interconnectedness of every person can affect one’s actions that, in turn, affect society in general.
“This experience was indeed a blessing,” said Tricia. For her, seeing something is not enough to understand the whole picture. A person must also get to feel it and experience it for themselves. She believes that through this, one’s choices can be lead for the common good.
AOSF has inculcated a learning necessary in the university’s pursuit of producing not only academically outstanding individuals, but those who live for a greater service beyond serving only the self’s interests.
Through the volunteers’ sentiments, Fr. Pedro Arrupe’s words in the opening of this article are embodied, not only by the volunteers themselves, but also to those who find meaning in them amidst student duties and academic demands. The Arrupe name is lived out “as it comes to mean–in Jesuit tradition–men and women for others, a life of generous service, a faith that does justice, and culture and dialogue,” in the words of the office itself.