Technical Professionals in Development Work by Faith Varona
The recognition of the need for technical professional assistance in development work, especially for housing and security of tenure, is fairly recent compared to the post-Martial Law decades devoted to social justice and equality by social development workers, civil society organizations, and community based organizations.
Community development work as a full-time career choice for technical professionals especially women is a rarity in the Philippines. It is not common to find architects, engineers, planners, and designers devoting their time assisting the poor and the marginalized on a wide array of social development issues.
This article recognizes with pride this new breed of women development workers who found purpose and fulfillment in working alongside people in the communities, creating opportunities for learning and venues to act together towards the common goal of sustainable human settlements development.
These are just 10 of the few who dared. There may be more out there working quietly and diligently with the poor. Hopefully, this new breed of development workers will increase in the years to come.
1. Maria Lourdes Domingo-Price, architect
May’s work with urban poor communities started while still a student of architecture at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. In 1986 she helped organize the socio-civic student organization UP Task Force Arki, which paved the way for more architecture students to get involved in a parish-based housing improvement projects for poor families in San Pablo Apostol Parish in Tondo, Manila. Challenged by how the practice of architecture could be more socially responsive, she continued her work after graduation in Tondo and in other poor communities. During this period she also became part of other similar socially oriented groups of architects like the Site and Shelter Team (now ALTERPLAN, Inc.) and Panirahanan, Inc. For brief periods, she tried conventional private as well as public practices (she worked for the government, under HUDCC).
Guided by the conviction that the poor are capable of finding and designing solutions to their own housing and community development problems, she spent her years working with people – learning, exploring and being continuously challenged by how housing, community design, and construction could be effective avenues for enabling and bringing poor people together to initiate change in their communities. In 1995, with support from the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) in Bangkok, May spent several years in Cambodia, working and planning with urban
poor communities on housing issues and linking with the university to encourage faculty, students, young architects, and planners to engage in the same. There she met and eventually married Jonathan Price, a British architect of Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO). Together with their two daughters, both continued to travel around Asia for VSO, the UN, and ACHR. In 2006, they briefly settled in Iloilo City when May worked full-time with the Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives, Inc. (PACSII) to support the housing initiatives of the Homeless People’s Federation, Inc. (HPFPI). Currently, May and her family are based in Syria but she is still active with ACHR and finds time to travel
around the Philippines and Asia assisting communitybased organizations as well as supporting networks of community technical professionals.
2. Sarah del Castillo-Redoblado, architect
Sarah attributes her involvement in student activism in college and her commitment to development work to the University of the Philippines. Over the years, she remained hooked in all sorts of development challenges that she never
thought the training in architecture would be responsive to, but somehow has been. Among her inspirations is German architect Albert Speer who believes in the process of deconstruction that she considers an essential analytical skill in development work. She is one of the founding members of the Sites and Shelter Team, a group of young architects who
assisted various urban poor communities organized by non-government organizations associated with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Metro Manila. Decades of development work have enriched her experience in the provision of technical assistance to non-profit and participative development of housing and settlements, research, and organizing capability-building activities for government and NGOs that work on urban and local development planning.
Sarah is now the Executive Director of ALTERPLAN, Inc., an offshoot technical service NGO from the Sites and Shelter Team. The Quezon City based ALTERPLAN provides training and design workshops in community planning and cooperative housing, research, and event management of housing, urban development, and planning-related activities. Apart from this, she also serves as the Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA), a national service network of social development NGOs based in major urban centers of
the country, and sits as a member-representative of the Professional Sector at the Quezon City Development Council.
3. Arlene Christy D. Lusterio, architect-environmental planner
Arlene was born to a simple family in Bacolod. Her mother was a teacher and her father a centrifuge operator in a sugar
mill. She is a product of living seven years in the suburbs, a year in the farm, and 33 years in the city. She missed kindergarten and was forgotten to be enrolled in Grade 1, but still made it to college at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Her choice of an architecture degree was not at all noble. She was simply dissatisfied with the design of her parent’s house and did not trust anyone to make it better for her. Architecture brought her closer to the social realities of life either by mere coincidence or a divine plan. She joined the UP Task Force-Arki and became a permanent fixture in Tondo. The housing project of Samahan ng Angkop na Pabahay ng San Pablo Apostol (SAPSPA) in Barangay Magsaysay,
Tondo had been a haven for both technical and social learning. Her early training, fueled by the thirst for challenges and the search for relevance, sustained her work with the poor. Her work through TAO-Pilipinas continues to support the disadvantaged and bring about unconventional solutions to urban poor housing problems of poor Filipinos living in the hidden edges and under the shadows of the big city.
Arlene is currently the Executive Director and Program Director for Human Settlements and Environment of TAO-Pilipinas, Inc.
4. Mercelyn P. Galicia, DC, architect
For Sr. Lyn, joining the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul after earning her architecture degree and professional license not only fulfilled her aspiration to serve the Lord holistically but also gave a new meaning and dimension to her practice of architecture. She is helping in the formation of the sisters in her congregation and at the same time assisting in the construction projects of their various institutions. Her technical skill was especially challenged after typhoon
Reming devastated Bicol and she and her sisters were tasked to help rebuild houses for the victims. The enormity of the task was daunting but with courage and solidarity, they were able to push it through together with their partner community and supporters. The experience taught her and the sisters to be more human, in touch with reality, and accepting of their weaknesses. It warms Sr. Lyn’s heart to see her small construction team from Anislag relocation housing project grow from being mere helpers to skilled workers, thanks to the exposure and experience they got from the housing projects that the typhoon’s devastation instigated. Their initiatives with the community on post-disaster rehabilitation gave Sr. Lyn and her sisters more reasons to uphold their vows. With the completion and success of their Anislag housing project, DC is now eyeing another housing project in Zambales for the Aetas who were displaced by typhoon Ondoy.
5. Maria Veronica A. Hernando, interior designer
Even as an undergraduate interior design student at Assumption College in Makati, Enika already showed her affinity
to the poor and needy. Her undergraduate thesis on the interior renovation of a public hospital known for catering
to the very poor in Quezon City earned her a best thesis award, besting old favorites like 5-star hotels and fine dining restaurants. After college, she ventured into mainstream interior design work with two big firms for three years but left dissatisfied and restless, feeling she is needed somewhere else. While pursuing a master’s degree in Community Development at the University of the Philippines, she got the chance to participate in TAO-Pilipinas’ Young Professionals Orientation and Training Program on Social Housing. The experience strengthened her resolve to pursue development
work seeing the great need for professionals in the improvement of the poor’s living conditions. She finally decided to work with indigenous groups where she saw the harmony of the settlements and structures built by the people with the total environment.
For the past six years she worked with Ayta communities in Tarlac under the Holy Spirit Ayta Mission and her journey with the IPs will continue as she joins the Episcopal Commission for Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) starting July 2011 as part of a team that will document IP education systems all over the country. Enika dreams of the time when she will be able to once again apply her professional design skills to the conceptualization of a school building/school premises that will fit the needs of the IP schoolchildren. For Enika, there can only be one purpose for the practice of one’s profession: to
make human existence more meaningful and purposive for as many people as possible.
6. Charlene Hazel C. Tan, civil engineer
Charlene became a civil engineer because she wanted to be of service in development work, she wanted to build a
civilization. Over the course of her studies and teaching post at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and
later, her NGO work at Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), she often wondered what that truly meant. Many
people speak about development and growth but in the light of environmental crises, they are forced to rethink their assumptions on progress and the general direction of society. For Charlene, the answer thus far is an enterprise that responds to the needs of the marginalized by being in solidarity with them. This is the experiment that Good Food Co., a community shared agriculture program she helped form, believes in. It supports the organic farmers in Capas, Tarlac
by bringing them into communities with socially responsible consumers. With mutual commitment to sharing investment and harvest, all involved become partners in the food production system. In this way, she hopes to build a more sustainable and humane society, a true civilization.
7. Ma. Bethanie C. Sulleza, RSCJ, architect
Studying architecture at the University of the Philippines in Diliman became more meaningful for Beth through her involvement in Task Force Arki (TFA) which exposed her to the realities of the urban poor. She found TFA’s
vision “to build an environment that builds people” very inspiring and, at the same time, her actual calling. After getting her license, she started her private practice in Iloilo while also teaching in the University of San Agustin’s Architecture Department. In 2004 she searched for ‘the more’ in her life, which eventually led her to enter the Society of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ). Her life as a sister led her to be with God’s little ones thru teaching environmental awareness to out-of-school-youth, giving art activities to pre-school children and children with special needs, and providing values and spiritual formation to the youth. At present she is serving as Campus Minister in Cebu Normal University in Cebu City. God continues to lead Beth to go beyond the architecture of space and deeper into the architecture of the heart.
8. Carla S. Santos, architect
Carla has been interested in houses since childhood, imagining and recreating in her mind how real houses were actually designed. In college, she learned the structural aspect of building and how natural illumination and ventilation can be
optimized in a tropical country like the Philippines. After college, she diligently got her license, assisted an NGO in electing an office space in Ifugao province, and got hooked in rural development work with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). Her calling in what she calls “social architecture” has brought her to provinces from the Cordilleras to Basilan. The travels and travails taught her many things she never learned while in school, and most importantly, offered an opportunity to know and understand farmers, fishers, rural women and youth with whom she has learned principles and practices for sustainable food production and livelihood. She hopes to continue doing this well into the next decades. Carla is currently the Director of Movement Building and Field Operations of the PRRM.
9. Geraldine R. Matabang, architect-environmental planner
Geraldine’s early exposure in college in technical service for the urban poor in Tondo through the UP-Task Force
Arki finally motivated her to go into development work. After graduation, she initially went into mainstream practice for
international and local architectural firms but she often found herself looking through both sides of the fence. With most of her contemporaries toeing the line and finally going into mainstream practice, she felt that she was needed more in community development work, and so decided to carve a career path in that direction.
She has been working with TAO-Pilipinas since 2004, initially as part of the Board of Directors and eventually as part of the staff itself, successfully handling the Young Professionals, a sub-program of the Education and Training Programme for several years before finally becoming its current Program Director. Geraldine has received numerous awards (Provention Young Researcher Grantee and UNDP-The Urban Governance Initiative) and honors (EnP Board Topnotch) in the course of her work and studies but she has remained humble and committed to development work – a rare quality for someone who could accomplish a lot with her level of intellect and skills in mainstream practice.
10. Rosalyn-Frances Marcelo-Veneracion, geodetic engineer-environmental planner
When Rosalyn was invited in 2005 by her old UP-School of Urban and Regional Planning friends to join the staff of the
women-led technical service non-profit organization TAOPilipinas, she thought that it would be a stepping-stone for
her to practice the planning profession since most of the staff of the organization were planners and architects. It was far from what she expected. As she learned and got to know more about the organization, she became inspired by the group’s commitment to provide technical service and assistance to others to uplift the quality of people’s lives.
During her first few years with the organization, shifting to development work did not even occur to her. But later she found something that according to her neither wealth nor self-centered gratification can equal. Among these are the network of friends and role models she found, practical skills and experiences she gained, and the confidence and self-esteem that made her more effective in her work. Her exposure to the realities in life gave her a better understanding of
what she wanted to do with her life. She found more satisfaction in helping others and in getting things done. Finally, in development work, she realized she has found meaning and fulfillment to the gift of life that the Creator has given her. Rosalyn is currently the Education and Training Program Staff for Young Professionals of TAO-Pilipinas.
Note: Rosalyn just recently resigned from TAO-Pilipinas, Inc. last December 2011. This article was written during the middle of 2011 as such some information may no longer be updated.