Volunteer Profile: Grace Lopez

Grace M. Lopez volunteered for the RISE Program at Ateneo de Davao University.

Science is fun!

To me, this tag line aptly epitomizes what Pueblo Science stands for.

Wow, how time flies! I just can’t believe it has already been five years since I first started working with the Pueblo Science team! Five years of doing fun and awesome experiments with the scientists, participants and co-volunteers. It still amazes me, even now as I share my experiences and stories here with Pueblo Science.I recall in the first year Pueblo came to Davao, I was excited to meet real scientists in person. I remembered I had funny preconceptions that the Pueblo scientists would have that hairstyle like Albert Einstein's or maybe have stern faces like how they are depicted in books and encyclopedias. Happily, my first encounter with them improved my thoughts about the looks of a scientist. And being able to get closer with them made me realize that they are truly intelligent beings, humorous and fun folks to be with. Also, not to mention, a lot of them have pretty and handsome faces!

Let’s go to the amusing part (relatively amusing for me, hehehe!): my story as a volunteer of Pueblo Science. I have so much to tell, I could fill pages and pages, but I’ll try to keep it short! Back in 2015, Pueblo Science was first introduced to the Ateneo de Davao Junior High School (AdDU-JHS) community by Dr. Nina Ingle, the OIC Principal at that time. When she commissioned the Science Department to facilitate the partnership with Pueblo Science’s Executive Director Dr. Mayrose Salvador, at that time, I was working as an administrative associate in the laboratory and helped prepare materials for science experiments. Consequently, my work led me to help in the school’s collaboration with Pueblo Science’s RISE (Rural Initiative for Science Education) Program. I was accordingly assigned to communicate with Dr. Mayrose to clarify matters about the materials. Along with other laboratory assistants, we bought and prepared the materials needed for experiments, and suggested possible alternatives for any that could not be acquired easily or were not at all locally available in Davao.

RISE Workshop session in Davao, May 2015

Passion Projects

I grew attached to the team, possibly because of the cause and approach that their group was advocating. Working with the volunteers, I saw and felt their sincerity to the goals that their organization was passionately working towards. I witnessed how the scientists were committed to teach and share low-cost science experiments even to the farthest rural schools; and they were admirably flexible in limited resources and circumstances. The team always give their best to keep the RISE Program fantastic and affordable for the teachers and participants. And for a person like me, who has been wanting to give back and share with people and communities, the education and experiences I gained through my involvement with Pueblo Science became an avenue for me to work on projects I am passionate about, namely to help those public schools wherein STEM has always been difficult and challenging to learn.

Furthermore, imparting quality STEM education in public schools has also been a challenge for most of the teachers, specifically, acquiring the materials. In my elementary and high school days in the public school system, I remembered that we frequently skipped most of the experiments in our lab manuals. Our teachers just lectured instead and chose not to do experiments because the school lacked lab apparatus and chemicals. I was rarely able to use and hold a single glassware from the lab. Instead, I remember meeting “Mr. Test Tube” in a picture and needing to draw nicely the curves of the “Flask Family” to perfectly memorize each one.

Until now, there are a lot of students here in the Philippines that have had similar experiences, especially in rural schools.Thus, having an opportunity to collaborate with Pueblo Science empowered me to help teachers and students in the public schools, even in simple ways. In turn, I hope that more teachers will be empowered to become more flexible and innovative in making experiments for their classes. Pueblo showed teachers that they can make use of the local materials available around them to perform experiments without jeopardizing the concepts of science.

Experiencing Davao and eating a lot of pomelos

In addition to the teaching, we also arranged trips and adventure activities for the scientists to enjoy and explore the beauty and “awesomeness” of Mindanao, particularly Davao. These adventures allowed me to get to know most of the volunteers. Truly, a very dynamic team with diverse personalities, expertise in STEM, and craziness in fun (in a good way)! Most of them loved to visit Bankerohan Public Market to buy fruits and a lot of pomelos (and I mean, a lot!)! Others loved the island tours, snorkeling, scuba diving at Talicud Island, river tubing and water rafting at Tamugan River. Some experienced trekking the mountains, witnessed the beauty ofwaterfalls, and were exposed to the local culture of the communities both in the city and in the mountains. I think these adventures add up to the motivation and inspiration of the volunteers of Pueblo Science to keep coming back to Davao. Happily, some of them came back twice, thrice, or more and still counting. (P.S. we encourage more scientists to come!) 😊

Rafting with the Pueblo instructors after the RISE Workshop in Davao, May 2017

Thread of happiness

Solid and sustained support from the volunteer staff, teachers, and administrative associates of Ateneo (both past and present, including Fr. Micheal I. Pineda, Dr. Nina Ingle, Mr. Lusuegro, Mrs. Analyn Encio, and Mrs. Laarni Cahulugan) make the RISE Program in Davao successful from year to year. The program became another way for the staff in the AdDU-JHS to work and bond as a team. It is nostalgic to recall the laughter, happy faces and big smiles of the people while working for the RISE program that seemed to become an annual event for the community.

With the Ateneo de Davao local coordinators during RISE Workshop in Davao, May 2015

I am pretty sure that my work in the laboratory was what brought me to this cause but I think what made me continue to volunteer for Pueblo is the fulfillment, happiness, and inspiration of seeing the big laughter, endless smiles and thank you’s from the participants for the great experiences they had, and appreciation for the new material they learned which they could then impart to their students. In addition, I will always have good memories of tight embraces of happiness and fulfillment from the co-volunteers who worked as a team for the success of the RISE program.

Empowered for a journey

I have been engaged with many community projects. I have witnessed and experienced how different people and organizations work. I can safely say that only a few can be counted with genuine commitment to develop and continue what they have started. Only few have shown respect and consideration of the opinions of the few in collaborations. I could count using just my fingers the individuals who possess admirable flexibility amidst the scarcity of resources, and only a number possess the humility to accept critique and vulnerability. Working with Pueblo Science taught me these – the values of respect, inclusive collaboration, commitment, flexibility, and humility. The team has been very passionate with their advocacy. Having witnessed these values from their volunteers, I am sure that their organization will empower more schools, teachers, and students globally towards a greater quality STEM education.

At present, I am no longer working in the corners of a laboratory. It means I can no longer do the usual volunteer work I am doing for Pueblo Science. My current work is helping me to be exposed to the local communities of Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao (such as the Lumad). I desire to continue to help bring Pueblo Science to other rural schools and communities that wish to improve their quality of teaching in STEM. I am hoping one day that we can also bring and integrate STEM to Lumad education while preserving their local cultures.

As I reflect on the years I worked for Pueblo Science, I believed that the RISE Program uplifted the people and communities that they’ve come across. Personally, it triggered inside me the genuineness, passion, and commitment to journey with people and communities. Surely, a lot more will also be empowered by them! Kudos Pueblo Science! High five!

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