Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sustaining Communities Through Design-Build Education

Receiving my Fulbright certificate at the Philippine-American Educational Foundation holiday party on December 17, 2015. - Photo by Hersley-Ven Casero

My five months as a Fulbright scholar and consulting architect for Foundation University's design-build program has flown by!  From August - December 2015 I teamed up with ma'am Geraldine Quinones the director of research and community extension to research the first three Estudio Damgo community projects: Dungga daycare, multipurpose hall, and the floating guardhouse.  I used this research to institutionalize the design-build program by creating an advisory committee made up of department heads, faculty, and Estudio Damgo alumni.  As a committee we created guidelines for the program and future projects.  You can read about my experiences in the feature article in Dumaguete City's Metropost, "Sustaining communities thru design-build education".

It's already February 2016 and just over two weeks after I returned to the Midwest to establish my career back home.  As my time was winding down with the Fulbright in the Philippines last month, we had a tragic loss of a Foundation University colleague and friend, Phil Prins.  His death hit the university hard.  Being a close friend, I was engrossed in grieving his death for several weeks with the Filipino community at the end of my stay.  Although my time in the Philippines on the Fulbright has been the shortest since I have been involved in Estudio Damgo, these past months I felt more deeply rooted because of these human experiences.  The mother of Phil Prins said it best regarding grief and funerals,

"Filipinos do it right, they communicate and come together to support the grieving process.  They spend time with the deceased body at all hours of the day, never leaving it alone. They play games, share stories, and they talk about it over many days.  American's have formal funeral gatherings that are limited to specific times, and we don't talk about it, instead we go off on our own to grieve alone." - Kay Prins

She reflected on the journey to the Philippines for her son's funeral, and feels she has gained a family abroad.  It was an unexpected blessing to cope with the Filipino community in her state of grief.  Phil's death opened me to a whole new understanding about life, death, and grief through the heart of another culture.  I am grateful to have been able to authentically participate and cope in a different way, even though it was a culture shock for me to spend so many hours connected with so many people, to share and play games, I eventually found the benefit of going through the pain and loss with everyone.  I was able to make peace over those few weeks and it was a natural process to let go and find some resolution in Phil's death.  And through Phil's death, I was able to connect with nearly everyone I know in Dumaguete City linked with Foundation University before returning to the States.  For me it was a reunion.

As I reflect on those experiences while building my practice in community and public interest design,  I've learned that being part of a community takes time.  Strong communities naturally stem from strong family roots and connections.  You must share in the joys of life by being present at births, weddings, and celebrations and grieve alongside one another during a time of loss.  Being integrated fully means you participate at a human scale with human emotions attached.  For me, it's a good indication of how deeply rooted I am in a community, is whether I've shared in human events like births, weddings, and funerals.  I've lived many places in the United States and prior to the Philippines I had not felt as fully integrated into American communities for the lack of family connections, as I had in the Philippines.  Over the past three years, I've felt welcomed and embraced by Dumaguete City and Foundation University - and most certainly *been "daggit" by the "city of gentle people".

* been "daggit" is a Visayan saying: when someone traveling from outside of Dumaguete City stays for a long time, usually longer than they had originally planned, and eventually make it their home. 

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