Global Social Work

Global Learning in the Philippines

"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Last summer Keisha Berglund, MSW '13, participated in the NYU Silver School of Social Work's global learning course Community Health Needs Assessment: An Experiential and Collaborative Case Study of Del Carmen, Philippines. A three-credit course offered from June 18th to July 18th, it was taught by McSilver Associate Professor in Poverty Studies Robert Hawkins. In the course, students conducted a community needs assessment, which focused on international poverty reduction, by collecting research through interviews and observations of the everyday life. Six female college students from the Siargao Institute of Technology aided students in translation and traveled with them around Del Carmen.

Del Carmen is made up of 20 villages in the Philippines, located on the mainland of Siargao Island. Students met with the mayor of Del Carmen Alfredo "JR" Coro III, who expressed a desire to know what his community needed. From there, students traveled out to the villages, called "barangays." At the beginning of each day, students ate breakfast together and then split into groups of four to five NYU students, along with local college students. All student groups visited one to three communities throughout the day to assess the needs of that particular community.

"A lot of the barangays had a small community feel," Berglund warm-heartedly described. Upon entering a community, students first spoke with the barangay captain, the community leader, as a sign of respect. Barangay captains would describe their opinion of the felt needs of their local village and would suggest which community members students should consult. Berglund and other students met with various community members, such as students, teachers, nurses, and government officials, in their homes or places of work to discuss the various needs of the community. Several areas of serious need -- from food scarcity to education access, from infant mortality to environmental destruction -- were identified.

"Although many people were struggling to provide for their families, they opened their doors to us and shared their present struggles and hopes for a better future," said Berglund. She remembers one school in particular in Halian, one of the communities in Del Carmen that was a two-and-a-half hour boat ride away from the mainland. "This community only had an elementary school," she said. There are three teachers for five classrooms, and each class had two or three years of students in it. Teachers were very overwhelmed but remained hopeful. Many students do not attend high school because it is too far away.

These issues were at times difficult to stomach. Berglund remembers when one of the local students started to cry when they spoke to a mother who was so malnourished, students worried about the her and her baby's health. Despite this, Berglund said this trip was one of the best experiences in her life. "The children are so happy and hopeful and the local student translators were so amazing and inspiring." The local students are committed to making a difference in their communities and took time off from school without pay from NYU to help Silver School students.

The needs assessments made up most of the day, with students out from six in the morning to six at night. The research did not end at this point, however. "Dr. Hawkins said every moment is a moment for observation, and so the research doesn't end when the day does," Berglund recalled. Students attended dinners for prominent figures in the community, and sang karaoke, a popular pastime in the Philippines. "By the end of the trip, I felt like we knew everyone there."

Berglund and other students who participated in the trip have started a mentorship and scholarship program, the International Young Women's Initiative, for the local college students to give thanks for their help in Del Carmen and to show appreciation for the commitment they have to making a difference."We can't let these girls down," Berglund exclaimed passionately. Berglund and students have already paid for all six women's first semester of college tuition. The goal of the Initiative is to help these local students complete college, successfully acquire jobs, implement a community development program to counteract the forces of poverty, and encourage these students to become community leaders. As part of the program, the local students will also be encouraged to communicate with Silver students every year about which issues they are going to address in their community as part of their community development project.

Hawkins will write a report for the mayor of Del Carmen about their experiences and impressions of meetings with citizens of the community. The long-term hope is that this information will aid in implementing projects that assist in poverty reduction.

Berglund strongly encourages students to take advantage of the chance to study abroad while at NYU. "You grow so much from these kinds of experiences."

Learn more about global learning opportunities at NYU Silver.