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First Monday

Public Affairs


Rediscovering their roots in the Philippines

September 29, 2003

Photo of Danilo Begonia standing next to four of the students who traveled with him to the PhilippinesAlthough he's led a half-dozen SFSU travel abroad tours to the Philippines in the past, Danilo Begonia, an Asian American Studies professor, said his recent three-week trip was unlike any others.

This time it was a largely student-inspired trip made possible through the work of P.A.C.E., the Philippine American Collegiate Endeavor.

"These were highly motivated students who wanted to know about their homeland, its history and what it is like there today," said Begonia. "The students really made it happen and made it a success."

As soon as she heard about the trip, Sheryline Fastidio, a senior business major, started planning. The journey was important, she said, because it enabled students to learn and rediscover their roots and Filipino heritage.

"I gained greater awareness and learned to appreciate more of the Filipino culture," she said. "The trip not only helped me gain experience and knowledge of the Philippines but it also help me discover myself."

Fastidio was one of eight Filipino American students -- including one from City College of San Francisco -- who traveled with Begonia through the main island of Luzon from Manila to Pagsanjan.

Visitors are often awed by the beauty of the country and its 7,000 islands but the poverty of the Philippines' 85 million people is equally stunning.

"You have to prepare people for what they will see because it will break your heart. The poverty is absolutely grinding," Begonia said.

While in Manila, Begonia and his students witnessed an attempted military coup, an incident that provoked discussion about the country's economic and political conditions.

The most moving part of the trip came during a visit to an area known as Payatas in Quezon City near Manila. The shantytown is beside a mountain of garbage several stories high. The dumpsite, nicknamed the Promised Land, is home to about 80,000 people who climb the mountain daily to scavenge for items they recycle for cash. Three years ago the dumpsite was the site of a massive avalanche of garbage that killed nearly 200 people.

Before leaving the Philippines, each student donated a suitcase filled with clothes for the Promised Land residents.

"We couldn't give the clothes to them personally because the government had called it a 'restricted area.' But we were assured by the community leaders that the people would get them," Begonia said.

He hopes the trip served as a memorable lesson for students.

"This makes history come alive and gives students a different perspective and perhaps a new found pride as well," Begonia said.

-- Ted DeAdwyler


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Last modified September 29, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs