AJCU-AP Service Learning Program 2012 One Earth Many Religions: Constructing Dialogue and Solidarity towards the Integrity of Creation

Sanata Dharma University as the host of SLP 2012, presented the theme “One Earth Many Religions: Constructing Dialogue and Solidarity towards the Integrity of Creation.” This theme is embracing two global concerns: environment and religious pluralism, which is highlighting on understanding the socio-ecological issues, based on the experiential learning in various religious communities.

Environment is selected as the theme of SLP 2012, since it is still becoming a major concern, globally and locally. Located in the ring of fire, Indonesia, especially Yogyakarta is not new to natural disaster. In fact, the people living surrounding Mt. Merapi are still recovering from its last eruption in 2010. Religious pluralism is also selected as Indonesia is well-known for being multi-cultural and multi-religious, which sometimes also becomes the root of many conflicts in Indonesia, as well as the glue that brings people together.

The highlight of the theme lies on the phrase: “Constructing Dialogue and Solidarity towards the Integrity of Creation.” Despite the differences in culture and religions, in the end, all God’s creations are united under one interest: protecting the earth. Without the earth, the home of many living creations, nothing really matters. Therefore, it is important to focus not only at the differences, but also at how people from different background and religions in Yogyakarta, construct a dialogue and work hand-in-hand to put aside their differences in order to preserve and protect the earth.

Based on that perspective, SLP 2012 was divided into two phases, which gave the participants exposure to the Indonesian context through the visits to various religious communities and through the live-in at Somohitan Parish. From the visits, the participants had a closer look on how these various communities through their religious practices were trying to connect themselves to the nature and to their Creator. After the visits, the participants were given the opportunity to live among the community surrounding Mt. Merapi slope area at Somohitan Parish, where they blended in with the community and together they contributed in replanting Mt. Merapi slope areas, and also contributed in several activities during Ramadhan (Moslem fasting month).

To sum up with, through the theme “One Earth Many Religions: Constructing Dialogue and Solidarity towards the Integrity of Creation”, the SLP’ participants were invited to learn and understand how people from various religious communities were trying to connect themselves to nature and to their Creator through their religious practices, and to experience living with the those communities in their activities to protect the environment. Hopefully, through this experience, the participants are able to reflect and to plan their own follow-up action to serve their own communities in their own “dialogue” with the nature.

 

The Participants

 

SLP 2012 hosted 37 students and 6 faculty members from 8 members of AJCU-AP. Total of 4 countries (Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Philippines) were participated. Sanata Dharma University as the host delegated 16 students, Sogang University delegated 4 students and 1 faculty member, Sophia University delegated 8 students and 3 faculty members, Ateneo de Naga delegated 3 students and 1 faculty member, and Xavier University delegated 2 students and 1 faculty member. Ateneo de Davao delegated 2 students without faculty member, and both Ateneo de Manila and Ateneo de Zamboanga delegated 1 student without faculty member. The list of participants is enclosed in the appendix.

Faculty members were invited to actively participate in every session. They were also requested to guide group and country reflections. Since the Philippines only delegated 2 faculty members for 5 universities, they were divided into two groups. The faculty member of Sogang University had to leave early, thus leaving the participants to deal with their reflection on their own half of the program.

For future reference, it would be most helpful if each university could assign a faculty member. Or in the case of the Philippines, it would be possible to collaborate and ensure that at least there would be adequate number of faculty members to guide the reflections for all participants from the Philippines.

Aside from guiding the reflections, the faculty members could also act as a sharing partner as well as a mentor that could guide them in establishing their action plan, back in their home country. Thus making sure that what the participants have learned during SLP could be shared with others who did not participate.

Time Frame and Agenda

 

SLP 2012 was held on August 5th-25th 2012, with the details as follows:

  • August 6th-7th : Introduction and Program Orientation.

Participants were given a brief introduction on Indonesia, and the program of SLP in general.

  • August 8th-12th : Exposure Program.

Participants started visiting various religious communities (Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Indigenous community) in which they were given the opportunity to look closely, ask questions, share experience, and even get involved in some religious rituals performed by the communities.

  • August 13th-22nd : Immersion Program.

Participants left the hotel and went to the Wonogondang camping ground in Mt. Merapi slope area for 3 nights, before leaving to the Somohitan Parish. During their stay in Wonogondang, the participants were involved in helping the locals replanting and conserving Mt Merapi slope areas. After 3 nights in Wonogondang, the participants moved to Somohitan Parish to stay in local families and experienced living and working like the locals for a week. The immersion program was closed by cultural performances from all participants, attended by their foster families.

  • August 23rd-25th : Final Remarks

Participants returned back to the hotel and reflected upon their experiences from the beginning of the program until the end of their immersion, and also set up follow-up actions based on their reflections.

 

For detailed daily schedule, please see the appendix.

 

Evaluation

 

Though overall process of SLP was conducted successfully, evaluation was inevitable to give valuable feedback to the present host as well as the future host of SLP. Therefore, during the final remarks session, all participants (both students and faculty members) were requested to give a written evaluation on the whole process of SLP.

 

Some issues which were highlighted during the evaluation process are:

  1. Time management.
    • The late start and the inflexibility in some sessions made the participants having late meals.
    • The schedules were changed quite often without prior notice.
    • The schedules were not really facilitating the Moslem participants when they were colliding with their time to break the fast and pray.
  2. Subject and Activities.
    • The elements of the theme were understood by the participants, but not successfully integrated.
    • Though originally the theme was focusing on two issues, the multi-religious issue seemed to be grasped more than the environmental concern. Until the end of the program, both concerns were understood, but not integrated as the theme intended originally.
    • Some reflections were considered inadequate in terms of depth. It was expected that there was a point by point guidelines to the reflections, so that it could capture the richness of the participants’ experiences.
    • The purpose of games was not understood due to insufficient debriefing of games.
    • The facilitators were not properly introduced to participants, and their expertise was not explicitly mentioned. As the result, the participants were failed to understand the relevance of the facilitators to the theme and their activities.
    • There were no complaints on this matter. Any problems occurred during the program had been quickly addressed and solved.

 

In general, the main problem was the lack of communication between the committee and the participants regarding the schedule, activities and facilitators. It was noted by both committee and participants that keeping an open and continuous two-way-communication could prevent most of the issues mentioned above.

Aside to some minor issues above, all participants reflected their deep appreciation to the whole program, and also expressed that they have got a valuable and unforgettable experience as SLP participants. All of them agreed that this program needed to continue as it could give its participants an exposure of the real world outside their comfort zone, which inspired and challenged them to be the real agent of change.

 

Action plans and follow-up

 

It was mentioned earlier in the introduction that this experiential learning is considered as the center of their learning and serves as an arena to do a share for development. In the end, it will bring about in the students a development that is geared towards a lifelong commitment to service and leadership.

Responding to that, at the end of the program, participants were asked to propose some activities to be carried out as an action plan in their home country. All participants were challenged to come up with an idea which was realistic, small, but inspirational.

Ian Poblete (the representative of Ateneo de Naga University and Ateneo de Davao University) proposed SLP organization (within each university and by the alumni of SLP). She mentioned about SLP networking (through Facebook / Twitter) & websites, so all the participant got updated info about activities from AJCU. Ian also suggested a local SLP in cities or in regional level (starting with pool of volunteers from SICO). Another action planned was an integrated religious dialogue in NSTP programs (proposed to be implemented as part of formation for Ateneans). All will be integrated in local/regional SLPs and to be discussed with volunteers. Videos on personal experience of SLP participants could be another option. Usually immersions focus on economical conditions, it’s nice to consider the religious aspect of a community.

Jefferson Chua (the representative of Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, and Xavier University) proposed institutional change by giving feedback and sharing the experience from SLP in order to see greater recognition of religious diversity in the community (university). He also had a plan to cooperate with communities in Manila to give more exposure to the reality of religious diversity (by giving the students a chance to be exposed to religious diversity). Joseph Vincent Suarez had different opinion. He saw apathy on interreligious dialogue. So he would promote interreligious dialogue with art activities.

Cecille Marie Turrecha and Anitta Nuevo (Xavier University, Phillipine) said that there were several Moslem students in Xavier University. But the university did not give enough attention to them. Xavier University already had CSLP. Based on that fact, they were challenged to cooperate with the existing communities. Their purpose was to collaborate with Moslem student’s community to plan an activity mainly celebrating peace. In relation with SLP, they proposed to institutionalize the SLP alumnae organization in order to think in long term. During the SLP program, they had dominant feeling to recognize values and learning to be of service for the others.

Seo Minyeong (the representative of Sogang University, Korea) got value learning from SLP. She learned about religions and she thought that interreligious dynamics which was in harmony was impressive. She said that there were communities of religious students in Sogang and she wanted to help dialogue between various religious communities. As one part of the actions, Minyeong and her friends intended to go ‘door to door’ and talked with neighbors. They also wanted to promote stronger relationship with grandparents by promoting writing letters to grandparents.

Another opinion came from Machiko Kawano (the representative of Sophia University, Japan). She wanted to work on a Post SLP Project such as campaigns or promotions (ideas were still in progress). She also wanted to share her experiences gained during SLP. She wanted to know more about Japan and to experience another interreligious dynamic life by living in the villages in Japan. As a suggestion in relation with SLP, her suggestion was making a network (for example: group on Facebook), where all students following SLP could join and share information on activities/ projects with the others. The network could also act as a support group.

And last but not least, Wisnu Agung Pradana (the representative of Sanata Dharma University, Indonesia) did not have specific plan yet. But at the minimum level, they wanted to write reflections and shared their experience during SLP in GEAR Magazine, so that their concerns were spread among students and faculty members of SDU. Ideas had to be discussed further. So far the group has only brainstormed on ideas.

 

Committee’s reflection and evaluation

 

SLP is not just an arena for students to learn and grow. It is also an arena for the committee to learn and grow together with the participants and the communities involved. So far, Sanata Dharma University is the only AJCU-AP member who has hosted SLP twice; first in 2009, and second in 2012. Learning from the process, the obstacles, and the actions taken in SLP 2012, the committee comes up with several points that need to be considered in the future:

  • There should be a basic design of SLP that any host can use as a guideline. So far, the design, the theme, the activities, and the goals are purely based on the interpretation of each host. Therefore, there is no standard activities or goals that the participants could look forward to. Designing a template form of SLP would ensure that all hosts would have the same goal, and would help the participants to prepare themselves better.
  • Designing a template form of SLP might also help to reduce the cost of SLP. Based on the previous experiences of hosting SLP, all hosts admitted that the total cost exceeded the income from the participants. The host would have to cover the remaining cost which was approximately under the ratio of 60:40 (60% from the program fee, 40% from the host). By having a template design, the committee could have a clearer plan on the activities, and thus could reduce the number of unnecessary cost.

 

What’s next?

 

The long process of SLP finally brings us to this final question: what’s next? This question was taken as a challenge by the participants to reflect what they have learned into a real action in their own community in their home country. Through their action-plan proposal, the participants have shared their idea and their dream of what they think they can do in their community, and their university. The Indonesian delegates, who were still brainstormed ideas during SLP, are now planning a campaign for Human Rights. They are campaigning to support every individuals’ right to choose and practice their own religions through the University annual event of SALT (Students Actions for Life and Trust) 2012. This event is a celebration for International Human Rights Day on December 10th 2012.  Some of the activities are children’s drawing competition and Seminar. The concept of the campaign is highlighting unity in diversity: as an individual, everyone is different; but as a community, we are one.

Thus the next step is an introspective question: how do we – the universities and AJCU, support their idea and help these young people put their dream into action? After five periods of SLP, this might be the right time to take it out of the SLP circle and into our community, so that all of us can truly be men and women for others.

 

 

 

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.

But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop -Mother Theresa-

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