Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reaching Beyond Walls: Connecting to the Spirit of St. Vincent

The city of Manila is an eclectic mix of new and old. Traditional Spanish churches and cobblestone streets blend with public green spaces and stretching boulevards while side streets are crowded with such western conveniences as Starbucks and Jollibee. Since Daniel Burnham’s efforts to incorporate aesthetic and functional cityscapes, Manila in part remains a city of “forgotten architecture” overshadowed by pollution, overcrowding and poverty. Though Burnham’s recommendations to create main arteries for traffic, incorporate parks, and add a thoroughfare along the bay are apparent today, the Philippine government abandoned his grand plans for creating a 30-acre campus civic center for government and public service.
At the heart of Manila’s history lay Intramuros, symbolically representing the separation of the wealthy, educated, Spanish ruling class from the poor, indigenous people and servants. The Burnham plan sought to connect this territory “within the walls” to the surrounding city. Ironically, as I traveled the streets of Manila, especially around the many universities, I was struck by the replication of walled institutions. The walls were created with the intent of creating a safe environment but there hulking presence were reminiscent of how historically physical barriers have been used to separate and isolate individuals of the basis of class, race and income.
In Chicago, such physical barriers were constructed to keep the poor in their designated areas of the city. In there heyday, the mammoth public housing buildings on the State Street corridor consist of more than 24 massive buildings with the Dan Ryan Expressway separating white middle class neighborhoods from the poor and working class minorities. The dead-end streets and underdeveloped retail areas promoted the intention of keeping the poor insolated and invisible. Urban cities worldwide face the challenge of managing the realities of poverty and crime while highlighting their attributes to increase opportunities for economic investment. Whether they are physical or transparent, the spirit of St. Vincent challenges us to reach beyond these walls to aid those in poverty and distress.The Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) at Adamson University has taken bold steps to reach out to impoverished communities and forge a model for battling urban poverty in Manila and its surrounding provinces. Their programs focus on using the strengths of the people to empower them to create avenues of income and savings and promote collaboration to work towards common goals of the community. I was impressed by how connected Adamson faculty and staff are to the Vincentian mission of serving the poor. Father Banaga has created a culture that invites every member of the Adamson community to become a stakeholder and active participant in poverty reduction. Urban poverty embodies many issues including healthcare, transportation and employment. Adamson students and faculty are encouraged to work within their disciplines to make meaningful contributions in their communities and explore methods for creating systemic change. As a current student, former employee and alumni of DePaul, I hope that we, as a university, can continue to grow in this area. By providing meaningful opportunities for service and education on social responsibility across disciplines, DePaul can expand its reach to those living in poverty while creating a greater connection to our Vincentian goals.

No comments: