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The Ateneo de Manila University, together with all the basic education schools in the Philippines, went through restructuring and reformulation of its curriculum as the government fully implemented the K-12 that require each student to finish a 12-year basic education. This paved the way for the creation of a new social involvement program in the Ateneo de Manila Junior High School – the Danas Ecological Engagement Program for Grade 8 students.

The program is the response of the school to the challenge posed by Pope Francis in his encyclical letter entitled Laudato Si’: Care for our Common Home. In Chapter 6 of Laudato Si’, he said “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, our mutual belonging, and a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes, and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

The school started to offer Danas during the school year 2016-2017 when the school also started the full implementation of K-12. From the word Danas, which means “to experience”, the program encourages the students to experience their role as stewards of God’s creation and to promote sustainable development by enkindling their interest in agriculture. The Philippines is primarily an agricultural country, however, this is one of the aspects of our society that is being neglected. That is why the CSIP wants to make our students aware of this reality and partake in reviving it. The program also provides an opportunity to discuss social issues such as poverty, food and environment security, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, disaster risk reduction, and other relevant and related issues. Through this program, it is hoped that students embrace God’s call to live a life with concern for nature and humanity and develop their gifts as they live out this calling.

In the past six years of the implementation of Danas, the program went through several revisions in terms of its contents and activities but still upholds its main objective to make our students grounded with the basic concept of caring for our common home – the mother earth. And like any other social involvement program, actual experiences of encounters are one of the vital components that we need to provide to the students. Therefore, we include a one-time DANAS Ecological Trip wherein the students will have the opportunity to visit an institution that actively promotes sustainable development programs like farm schools. It is a whole-day activity that includes a tour of the facility of the chosen partner institution and a simulation of different activities which aim for the students to appreciate nature and increase their interest in actively participating in taking care and protecting the environment. Some of the activities that the students might do are tree planting, chicken coop, pig pen fencing, organic gardening, harvesting, and vermiculture composting. Through the Danas Ecological Trip, students truly gain experience of encounter with the creation of God and this experience alone ignites conversion of beliefs, perspectives, and attitudes.

During this pandemic, the program had to adapt to the online learning environment in which the same objectives of the program are being achieved. Such objectives include discussing the present state of the environment both in local and global contexts, explaining concepts and ideas related to environmental ecology, assessing their lifestyle and its effect on the environment, and reflecting on their own experience of ecological engagement. While online discussions through the modules were implemented, students were also encouraged to initiate and actively participate in social involvement activities at home that promotes caring for the common home. These activities include “Active Stewardship at Home” where students are required to grow and take care of a plant/s at home. They will document their project and monitor the growth of their plant. Furthermore, students are also required to do the “Eco-Challenge: 7 Days and Beyond” activity where they will create an Eco challenge timetable on the promotion to care for the environment. They will do simple and doable activities in the comforts of their home that may include but are not limited to healthy lifestyles, waste management, upcycling, gardening, eco-advocates, downsizing, and or minimalism. Students will take a picture of themselves doing the challenge and use any platform or site where they can also share in their social media accounts. They are encouraged to continue practicing the challenge as a response to the call to care for the environment.

As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, the Ateneo aims to form young men for others who seek sustainable and integral development to protect our ‘Common Home’ and to promote social justice. The program is geared toward “Caring for our Common Home” as it is everyone’s responsibility. Pope Francis asserts that the environmental problems that we experience now are manifestations of the decline of human and social values. Thus, the Danas Ecological Awareness Program aims to provide the students with an opportunity to appreciate the innate beauty of God’s creation, think of specific ways to preserve and protect the environment and examine how our human and social values reflect the state of the environment and to collectively act towards the promotion of intergenerational justice.

Mr. Jomell L. Caramancion & Ms. Dickel A. Dagoc
Faculty of Christian Service and Involvement Program (CSIP) at Ateneo de Manila Junior High School