Today is officially my first day of work for the year as I have finally recovered enough strength and function from my bout with bronchitis. I know it’s Sunday, but that is what being part of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Program of the University of the Philippines Manila College of Allied Medical Professions (CAMP) entails: being able to respond to the schedule and activity of the community. As most of you (CAMPers, that is) will understand, the CBR Program has been in Montalban for quite a long time already (16 years to be exact), and plans for sustainability and transition was only realized in the last 7 years. I am the lucky person designated to ensure the sustainability of the CBR Program in Montalban, Rizal (Sustainability has been defined as financial support, municipal legal mandate and setting-up of physical and organizational support structures, all of which have been more or less achieved), ensure a smooth transition to the next site, and prepare the community of the next site for the CBR Program. San Mateo, Rizal (the town before Montalban, if you take the long road) was chosen as the next site for objective (it fulfills the reqirements for an ideal community for CBR) and logistic reasons (geographic location to original site and UP Manila). I have to juggle my time with the available schedule of municipal officials and personalities, with my supervision, with my lectures at CAMP). There are times when I have to have a class in Manila, and run to Montalban/San Mateo, for a "talakayan" seminar with the locals or a meeting with a barangay captain. So you can see how difficult it is to be head of the CBR Program, and it is one of my chief sources of depression and anguish that some colleagues not only appreciate the efforts that the CBR staff puts into this noble cause, but even come to the point of poisoning the minds of students and fellow faculty members about how seemingly pointless the program is to them, based on hearsay, or their very limited experience within the program or with the staff (which does not necessarily have to be all good, but to my opinion, a bad experience or hearsay can never be used to come up with a conclusive opinion about the whole program). With this, I salute the staff, past and present, for having the heart and resolve to serve and teach amidst the atmosphere of resistance to what we do and the challenges that community work entails.
Today, we met with the new parish priest the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu Shrine in San Mateo, Rizal, Monsignor Generoso “Henry” Mediarito, for the reason that we are seeking the support of the parish in providing the backbone of the organization of persons with disabilities (PWD’s), as the local government unit (LGU) of the municipality is ready to commit in providing the infrastructure and support people (which includes the barangay health workers, the future CBR workers and others), that is, providing the service aspect (rehabilitation and community education) of CBR. The municipality, in my prior meeting with their new mayor, Ariel Diaz and the municipal health officer, Dr. Sochaco, has already agreed to the establishment of the CBR Program. The site of the CBR headquarters has already been identified and the barangay health workers are ready to be mobilized for survey and other preparation purposes. It is perhaps providence that Mnsgr. Mediarito is a very close friend of my parents, and has had prior experience with PWD’s in Tahanang Walang Hagdanan (which he aimed to integrate within parish activities when he was parish priest of Cainta, Rizal) that our meeting went along very smoothly. He was more than willing to institute the proposal within his parish, that he had already set this as an agenda in the next pastoral council meeting. So far, the social preparation for the next site is going smoothly.
One of the things that struck me in our meeting with Mnsgr. Mediarito was his resolve in changing the religious attitudes of the parishioners in San Mateo. He noticed that the parishioners seem more focused on the external manifestations of their religious practice, these are the ceremonies, the costumes and the regalities of the festivities and prayer activities, rather than the internal spiritual manifestation of faith. He confessed to us how sometimes he, as a parish priest has oftentimes been misunderstood and misinterpreted by his parishioners. He had to remove all the “bongga” activities whenever he discovered that these served more as obstacles to spiritual growth rather than supported it. It should be understood however that some of these “traditional” activities have been part of the Filipino culture that the parishioners have grown to be familiar with. (Thanks to our Spaniard colonizers, who have ingeniously transformed the ancient Filipino animistic beliefs to Christian devotions to ease the natives into the faith. Local historians even claim that some antique Sto. Niño statues were carved from “anitos”). There’s nothing inherently wrong with these activities, images or representations of the Christian faith, especially if these help enrich one’s spiritual experience and helps deepen one’s faith. However, it is an entirely different matter when these become the primary foci in one’s practice of faith (which has become one of the major critiques of the Catholic faith). Monsignor Mediarito further discusses that the activities that we organize, the things we do should always reflect a worthy goal, benefiting individuals and the community in the long run. According to an example he provided, we do not hold religious processions along public streets wearing white garbs to be seen by onlookers in the hope that they will be held in awe by its beauty and extravagance. We participate in these processions to be reminded of the virtues and values that these originally represented. Some individuals, we will realize (and this does not only happen in San Mateo, Rizal), during the feast days of their towns, will be so involved and invested in the preparation of the festivities that they forget the real meaning why these feast days are celebrated at all.
I realized that this extends beyond the religious domain, and pervades even other areas of our lives, workwise even. How often do we organize or participate in events for the sake of fulfilling an obligation or expectation, of trying to outdo other people and be recognized and be worthy of fame and praises, or of proving a point to embarrass other people? Sometimes we cover this, rationalizing that these actually fulfill a noble goal. It seems that we already live in a Machiavellian world, too focused and demanding in quantifying the results and looking good, that we have grown blind to the real purpose and mission of our work, our organizations and our lives.
This is indeed a great challenge especially for those involved in community organizing, an indispensable aspect of our work in CBR. As supervisors, we guide our students, interns and CBR workers in designing and organizing activities through a participatory process (which involves needs assessment and planning involving the stakeholders). But oftentimes, we notice them doing these things out of an “obligation” since this is expected of them, or for the “reward” of getting a good grade or approval, or even for the “competition,” that they will outperform the other groups. Sometimes, we have organized programs and activities for the main reason that the community will enjoy this and have fun, that we will look good and more likeable. There have been some activities and programs that have been implemented which when closely examined have been designed for things other than the objectives and beyond the mission of the program. Soetimes, these have even been cleverly “giftwrapped”, appearing to be fulfilling the objectives. But impressively, there were others which were honest to their purpose, implemented by proponents who were truly sincere in their work. It is indeed important that we be more conscientious when we plan activities or design programs.
With the lessons gained from the success and failures in Montalban, we'll be able to successfully establish and implement CBR in San Mateo, and in the future, adaptation in Rizal province and others. With this, we hope that the transition to San Mateo will be untroublesome and painless.
By the way, "Aranzazu" means “abundance of thorns” in Basque/Spanish...