Nestled within the confines of the City of Cebu is a small community within a community. It can be reached through various access roads but it is not directly visible from the main thoroughfares that surround it. I am talking about of course, Sambag I and Sambag II, generally known as the Urgello area and it is, for all intent and purposes, Cebu’s largest University town.
A University Town can be called such if the community around a certain school thrives and lives off from the comings and goings of that school. The school here is Southwestern University and the neighborhood around that school is a group of villages that form a town unofficially. It is bustling with student-centered businesses, from boarding houses to cafeterias, from laundry services and even dental clinics.
No other university town here in Cebu can boast of such a teeming life and mutual co habitation as Southwest Town or SWTown has with SWU and the two barangay Sambag’s as they are officially known. The barangays surround the university campuses, including the main and the coliseum campus near the Pa-ilob village.
The SWTown is a hidden village very much like Konoha and it definitely has its fair share of Ninjas. The town life revolves around the school and its campuses and together they share a bond, a symbiotic relationship that has stood the test of time.
The school was founded by Matias Hipolito C. Aznar II and Anunciacion Barcenilla Aznar in 1946. It has a very rich history and much of what develops in the school, the town around it is inadvertently affected.
In 2015, big changes came as the original owners welcomed new investors. Major ownership and share of the corporation running the school went to PHINMA. Southwestern University officially became SWU PHINMA and in May 2016, Dr. Chito B. Salazar, the President for PHINMA Education set out to revitalize the school’s relationship with the surrounding community. He wanted to strengthen the bond between the school and the barangays by integrating and uniting both into one society – Southwest Town.
The revitalization program was headed by a newly formed department called ComDev or Community Development headed by Ms. Heidi Foulc and Mr. Ronnie Anudin. Their thrust was to open communications with the residences and businesses surrounding the school. They were given the task to spearhead any and all projects involving SouthWe town.
Various projects were launched over a two-year period which covered three areas: Health and Nutrition, Community Engagement, Community Education & Socialized Housing. For SWTown, it is particularly quite ambitious, the PHINMA Education President wants the school and the community around to have the same visual attributes, one theme, one design. A feel that anybody who would come to the town can undeniably say, it is one and united.
A major step towards this visual unification program is the village of Pailob or Sitio Pailob. Incidentally, the village was standing on a piece of land owned by the school corporation and instead of asking the residents to leave the land, SWU PHINMA built a medium rise condominium building and offered the informal settlers ownership of the units at very reasonable rates with a friendly financing scheme in partnership with Pag Ibig Funds. Those residents who cannot afford where offered jobs and placement assistance so they can earn money to pay for their own units.
The new residential building of course is designed to look like the other buildings of the school. The pathways and walkways connecting the buildings and campuses within have one design. Using the same materials and applying uniform finishing, colors and decorations, once the walkways and the new buildings are finished, it will look like one big town both inside and outside the official campuses. It will be difficult to tell which one is the school, and which one is the town.
For the Health and Nutrition Program, a new project was launched dubbed as Katungod sa Kahimsugan, SWU PHINMA First 1,000 Days Program or commonly known as F1KD. This is in relation to the National government’s call to combat malnutrition at its’ onset – a mother’s pregnancy. Barangay Sambag 1 and 2 are home to a lot of indigents and marginalized members of society, and as such, malnutrition is a common phenomenon to many of their constituents.
Medical students of SWU with one of the infants from the F1KD program
The F1KD involved the colleges of SWU PHINMA including Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Rehab Sciences and even Optometry. These colleges would coordinate with ComDev and send students to the households and barangay centers to identify pregnant women and lactating mothers, small children and infants.
The idea is to take care of the mother and the infant during the first 1,000 days of their lives. From the pregnancy (9 months ideally) up until the child turns two years old. It is during these crucial days that children develop severe malnutrition resulting to stunted growth and other medical conditions that cannot be undone until the child grows up.
This project is ongoing and a lot of beneficiaries have already received the treatments and the care they needed to grow up normally.
Another project involving the colleges is the IYCF Program. IYCF stands for Infant Young Children Feeding and the colleges sponsor certain parts of the villages around Sambag I and II. They set out on certain dates, usually on a weekly basis and conduct feeding activities aimed to assist in the children’s growing health.
For community engagement, the school decided to open its gates, literally, to the residents of the surrounding barangays whenever there is an official school activity. No other school in Cebu does this. Even the Siglakas, the intramurals of the university is open to the residents to see and experience.
Students of SWU and their Barangay Sambag families during the Caroling Competition
During the official opening of the Christmas season, the University invited the barangay to a weeklong engagement dubbed as Festival of Lights – Pasko sa Sambag 2018. The residents of Barangay Sambag I and II joined the University’s Christmas parade and all other activities. They were part of the Christmas Caroling competition in which every choir entry adopted five families and gave each member of the families presents during the final event. Some Sambaganon kids also shared their talent during KidsMas Variety Show while at least 500 Indigent Senior Citizens had their own day – the Senior Citizens’ Day in partnership with the NSTP Department.
Summer programs and training programs are also part of their activities that involve the residents of the two barangays. There are tutorials for Cebu City Central School and reviews for Night High School students and scholarships are also being offered for those who wish to study in SWU PHINMA.
The volunteers of the tutorial program and their pupils.
Chef JP is an entrepreneur in the food service industry and a part-time TESDA accredited trainer for competencies like Cookery, Food and Beverage and Front Office NC II. He previously worked in the hotels and restaurants as a cook but now concentrates on managing their family’s business operating food establishments for private and public clientele.