Blesilda Calub: ‘Being a Germany-Alumna is both a privilege and a responsibility’

Name: Dr Blesilda M. Calub
Lives in: Los Baños, Philippines
Country of origin: Philippines
Period in Germany: April to May 1994 in Feldafing near Munich and Witzenhausen, 1995 to 2006 once a year as a member of the Trainers Team in Feldafing, Leipzig, Witzenhausen and Göttingen  and once in Berlin to attend an international Agricultural Fair
Educational institutions: Göttingen University and Kiel University as part of field visits of the training courses
Occupation: University Researcher and Affiliate Faculty, Integrated Farming Systems and Agricultural Extension Division, Agricultural Systems Cluster, College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines Los Baños

Dr. Blesilda M. Calub first came into contact with Germany through a training programme of the German Foundation for International Development (DSE) as a young researcher at the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. In 1994, she took part in continued education programmes in Feldafing and Witzenhausen. She was particularly impressed by the fact that the courses were geared towards active participation by the trainees. In 2003, Blesilda M. Calub summarized her expert and educational experience in a manual. Originally conceived as a guideline for course participants in the Philippines, it was increasingly used in GIZ’s areas of operation in the Southeast Asian region. Today, it is also available in Khmer and Lao.

You took part in a DSE training course on ‘Farming Systems Development’ in Germany in 1994. Which skills and lessons learned could you share later on when you yourself started to run courses for local farmers in different Southeast Asian countries?

Blesilda M. Calub: What impressed me most were the interactive and participatory training methods, which was far from the usual lectures we had in my country. My Training Officer continued to mentor me by inviting me as one of the members of his multi-cultural team of trainers in the subsequent training courses they offered in Germany and in the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos from 1995 to 2006. This follow-up hands-on exposure was important to really help me gain confidence to further improve my skills.

I experienced that a ‘one shot’ training course is not enough to have lasting impact in building the capacity of people. I learned how to provide the proper environment where people (especially those who are not able to write and do not have the confidence to speak up) can gain confidence in expressing themselves.

As an output of your practical work in the field, you published the manual ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal Guidebook’. How did you come to write this guide, and which goal did you want to pursue with it? Looking back at it, how do you rate its success?

Blesilda M. Calub: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) was becoming popular in the late 1990s. Most PRA publications were from other countries. Very few if none were written with a South East Asian perspective. Some were quite theoretical and like textbooks while others were only on PRA tools. In writing the guidebook, I thought to combine both concepts with the tools in a format that could serve as guide for extension staff in undertaking a PRA in the field with examples and pictures in a South East Asian setting.

It had to be simple so that everyone can use it easily and many would be able to conduct the PRA on their own. The guidebook was also meant to serve as reference guide for trainees and development workers. I can say, the PRA guidebook has been successful in terms of the number of people it has reached and influenced.

Could you name the challenges concerning the introduction of participatory methods to the rural working context in Southeast Asia?

Blesilda M. Calub: Introducing PRA to my colleagues at the University was my first challenge. There was some hesitation to learn participatory methods and visualization techniques. The other big challenge was when I worked 2003-2005 for the Lao-Swedish Upland Agriculture and Forestry Research Programme. I introduced PRA to our national and district Lao staff and to farmers. The participatory methods were considered radical to use in their centralized government programmes but I persisted and made them realize not to be threatened when people (both farmers and district staff) are enabled to express their thoughts. I was just very careful not to use the words ‘empowering people’. Instead, I used the words ‘participation’, ‘consultation’ and ‘working together with the people’.

Before I completed by contract with the programme, the Lao officers have become interested to translate the PRA guidebook into Lao language. I thought to give the book a Lao context by changing the pictures with those of the Lao people in the villages where we conducted the PRAs. Of course those people and the Lao staff were so impressed and proud to see themselves and their drawings in a book!

Speaking from your experience, what difference can participatory methods make in the field of rural development in Southeast Asia?

Blesilda M. Calub: Aside from just focusing training to field staff, it is equally important to expose the higher level bosses to appreciate participatory processes. Otherwise they feel threatened from their subordinates who express ideas, and when threatened they block support to these subordinates.

I guess it is important for the whole institution to appreciate participatory methods. Participation should not just be regarded as a method that is switched on by field staff when they go to the villages, but when they go back to their institutions, they are dictated upon by their superiors. Participation should be something that is part of the normal process of their daily lives in the institutions they work in. Participation should also aim to a point when it can influence policy formulation within and beyond the village level participation.

What are your future plans and projects?

Blesilda M. Calub: I have been thinking to write a sequel guidebook, this time on Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation. This is what I feel is lacking as monitoring and evaluation is most often always done by outsiders (hired external consultants or experts).

The farmer associations we helped establish are growing but many members are now getting old. Now, I would like to focus on the youth. If we can lead our rural youth to self-reliance through programmes in their own communities, then there would be less youth moving to the cities. At the moment, we have an on-line distance learning certificate course on organic agriculture at the University of the Philippines Open University. My dream is to be able to reach out to the rural youth by making this on-line course available in the local language and by making Internet services available in those rural areas. Another dream is to train teachers on participatory learning methods for elementary and secondary students around the topic of sustainable/organic agriculture for food security and safety.

What does it mean to you to be a Germany-Alumna?

Blesilda M. Calub: For the many professional and personal opportunities that were opened to me by my training in Germany, I believe it is my obligation to pay forward to other people, regardless of nationality. Being a German alumna is both a privilege and a responsibility that will always be in my heart, mind and hands!

See profile of Blesilda M. Calub in the Community