You might be thinking: “so I understand that you’ve brought all these fun people together, and that you’ll send to them to exotic destinations around Southeast Asia to engage in community service, but how do you know you’ve done something truly tangible and meaningful for the community and the SEALNet team? Just how does this whole SEALNet thing work?”
Great question! You’ve come to the right place. Instead of boring you with complex flowcharts or operating models, let me tell you a short story about how Project Philippines 2007 was put together.
1. Identify a significant issue in a Southeast Asian community
The story begins with health concerns induced by gastrointestinal worms, which were introduced to the SEALNet team by Dr Vincente Belizario from the National Institute of Health. In the city of Cebu, at least 50% of the student population have an above-average worm infestation problem. For this project, the SEALNet team decided to focus on the worst case of worm infestation in Cebu, which is found in the Alaska community. In Alaska elementary school, 9 out of 10 students are afflicted with an above-average worm infestation condition.
To get a SEALNet project started, all it takes is for 2 college students to step up as SEALNet project leaders and propose a draft project plan. These plans are reviewed by the SEALNet project review board towards the end of each year, and after receiving the go-ahead, the project leaders start fleshing out the details of the project. As part of the review process, SEALNet identifies relevant mentors to work with the project leaders.
A SEALNet project typically lasts for 2 weeks.
2. Work with the right partners and supporters
A SEALNet project would be dead on arrival without working with the right partners and supporters. There are several different aspects to partnership for a SEALNet project. The following partners were involved in Project Philippines 2007:
Project execution- City of Cebu Mayor’s office for medical supplies, logistical and security support. University of Cebu for logistics support.
Content – National Institute of Health for background on issue of Gastro-intestinal Parasites.
High School partner – University of Philippines High School
Medical Safety – International SOS for medical services and AIG for group insurance. Both organizations donated their services to the 5 SEALNet projects this year.
Financial Sponsors – ASEAN
In-kind donations – Schneider
Project leaders identify relevant partners to work with given the nature of each project and SEALNet mentors provide assistance through their own networks.
3. Form a highly diverse team of passionate college students
SEALNet puts together the Service Leadership Retreat for the project leaders of all SEALNet projects 5 months before the summer projects. This is a 2 day retreat focussed on skills training and team building for the project leaders as well as the mentors.
After the retreat, the project leaders refine their project plan and begin their recruiting campaign for team members. This is done through an online application process. Historically, each project is oversubscribed by 300%, with 1 out of 4 applicants ultimately selected to join a project.
In Project Philippines 2007, 15 college students from 9 different countries converged in Cebu to participate in a city-wide campaign to wage the “War on Worms”. About 25% of this SEALNet team are either local or speak the local language.
4. Identify local change agents to cultivate
SEALNet teams work with local high school students to cultivate them as local change agents. In the Philippines, we were fortunate enough to receive tremendous support from Prof. Balthazar, the principal of the University of Philippines High School. High school students apply online to be involved in the SEALNet project. Their selection is based on how they respond to questions like “what do you see as pressing issues in your community?” and “how would you go about solving these issues?”. In several cities where we’ve had prior SEALNet projects, high school students from those earlier projects have returned to participate in the current ones.
Over the 2 week project duration, the SEALNet team goes through a series of leadership workshops with the high school students, while collaborating on a joint solution for the community issue that was highlighted as the project’s theme. The SEALNet team recognizes that its stay in the community is short, and as such, the best leverage for the team’s efforts is to mobilize and empower the local change agents. For some projects, SEALNet has even provided a small amount of seed funding to encourage the high school students to start their own initiatives. SEALNet members and the high school students also pair up on one-on-one mentoring relationships, and many maintain this connection even past the project’s duration.
For Project Philippines, the combined team put together a “Worm Day” program that will provide greater sanitation awareness to the Alaska elementary school students, as well as deworming the 2000 students at the school. This program will then be rolled out to the other elementary schools in Cebu by this group of high school students.
5. Execute the program
SEALNet and the UP High School students then execute the Worm Day program that they’ve been sweating over for the past few days. The Cebu City mayor, Mr Tomas Osmena, is invited to officiate the opening, and local media is present to cover the event. The team goes through the half day program for Worm Day, it is both tiring but fun, with the group having to improvise on the spot to control the 2000-strong student crowd!
The lessons learnt at the end of the day will go towards subsequent Worm Day events, as the UP high school team prepares to continue this War on Worms with the rest of the 100,000 elementary school students in Cebu.
6. What’s next?
This SEALNet project has set the UP high school students on a path to continue the “War on Worms” for the rest of the high school population in Cebu. Aside from the issue with worms, there are other issues in the community that can serve as opportunities for future collaboration in Cebu.
Part of the SEALNet experience is to encourage its members to become project leaders for next year’s projects. These projects could be continuations of current year work, or could branch into new areas.
SEALNet members who have graduated from college also return as mentors to the project teams. All this continous engagement goes towards SEALNet’s mission of building a vibrant community of service leaders.