June 24, 2016
For more than a decade, a Susquehanna University program has made donations of rice to needy families in the Philippines. This year, the total effort reached 100,000 pounds.
In May, six Susquehanna students traveled to the Philippines and delivered rice to an 18-year-old woman who is raising her five younger siblings on her own. The students were fulfilling the university's cross-cultural requirement through the nationally-recognized Global Opportunities (GO) program, in which all students study away in a culture different from their own. GO PLUS (Philippines: Learning, Understanding and Service) is a two-week, service-learning study trip oriented around cultural immersion in the Philippines.
Jeffrey K. Mann, associate professor of religious studies, leads the program, but he and his Filipino wife, Neneth, began delivering rice to families living in severe poverty in 2001.
"With rice being a staple in the Filipino diet, receiving a bag like this ensures that everyone in the family will have a full stomach for weeks," Mann said. "This does not just drive away the pain of hunger, but allows adults to work and children to study more effectively."
All of the charitable projects taken on in the Philippines are paid for through private donations, many of which come from alumni of the program. Mann estimated the monetary value of the rice to be between $40,000 and $50,000. In addition to rice, students have helped to build nine houses over the past nine years and have helped several Filipino students pay for their educations.
"In Filipino culture, you don't react much when someone gives you a gift, so reactions are usually limited to a polite, 'Thank you,' and a smile," Mann said. "However, there have been numerous times when the recipients broke down in tears after we left. I remember that being the case with a woman many years ago who, before our donation, had nothing that day to feed her family."
Delivered in 55- or 110-pound bags, Mann said the simple act of physically delivering the rice is significant for the students who are serving.
"Carrying a 55-pound bag of rice on your shoulder for a kilometer, in the heat and humidity of the Philippines, is not the most comfortable thing students could be doing during their summer, but grunt work is a necessary part of service to others," he said. "And knowing that your pain and sweat made someone else's joy possible—for weeks to come—is a pretty good feeling."