As experienced by many universities around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way AIIAS operates. From restricting travel and moving classes online to requiring most personnel to work from home, adjustments have been made to minimize the impact of the crisis.
Students and faculty have expressed appreciation for the AIIAS campus as a “haven” in the midst of a world that none could have envisioned three months ago. AIIAS employees and students have navigated these adjustments surprisingly smoothly, even as the institution is still recovering from the Taal volcano eruption in January.
While colleges and universities around the world scrambled to reconfigure classes and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AIIAS enviably conducted its graduation ceremony on March 8, 2020, at a time when the coronavirus did not yet touch those who attended the event. Steps had been taken to ensure that people attending the ceremonies took health precautions seriously: hand sanitation stations at the doors, non-contact greetings recommended, and the wearing of masks requested for out-of-country guests.
Just days after the 2020 AIIAS graduation, nearby Metro Manila was placed under community quarantine, with domestic flights stopped. A few days later an enhanced community quarantine was imposed by President Duterte on the entire island of Luzon, where AIIAS is located in the Philippines.
In response to the quarantine and the directives of the provincial governor, AIIAS Church become the first major congregation to suspend face-to-face worship gatherings. Since then, church services have been provided weekly via live-streaming.
On March 16, 2020, AIIAS went into lockdown. This meant that only staff essential to the ongoing sustenance of AIIAS could come on campus, visitors were not allowed, and exit from the campus was restricted in order to minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Many personnel has been working from home. To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 on campus, and just three cases in the nearby town of Silang. The AIIAS family is deeply grateful for God’s protection.
In the meantime, life at AIIAS continues, with measures taken to limit exposure between people. Classes have smoothly shifted online via Zoom and Moodle. Thanks to 17 years of experience with fully online graduate programs, the move to online delivery was nearly seamless for AIIAS. “In terms of technology, instructional design, and faculty preparation, we were built for this,” states Dolf Oberholster, the VP for Academic Administration at AIIAS. Current class schedules have not been interrupted. However, two scheduled cohort sessions, which would bring a group of students to campus, have been canceled, to be rescheduled later.
Campus events have been delayed or canceled, including the AIIAS African Theological Association’s Forum scheduled in March, and the Asian Qualitative Research Association (AQRA) conference scheduled for April. The AIIAS-sponsored AQRA event normally attracts many nationwide participants. Online training has since been organized to bring association members together.
Not all students have stayed at AIIAS in face of the spread of the pandemic. Some chose to leave; however, several returned when realizing that AIIAS provided a safer and more convenient place to ride out the pandemic. Some have left to reunite with families in their home countries or returned home on the advice of their embassies.
As part of creating the “haven” atmosphere of the campus, limited external exposure has been a core principle in curtailing access to individuals outside of the AIIAS campus. The AIIAS canteen remains open, and the on-campus vegetable market that normally operates three days a week also continues, making it possible to obtain most food needs on campus. By local government declaration, only one person per household is permitted to take a weekly out-of-campus trip to visit the pharmacy, bank, or grocery store. Campus families can be seen frequently walking around campus together in the mornings and evenings, tending the social distancing guideline of 2 meters from other families.
One of the benefits of campus lockdown has been the heightened attention to gardening. Family and individual gardens can be seen flourishing, with good conversation taking place across the spaces. Additionally, recent graduates Kes and Hewan Shadeed and current students Rodney Banas and Judy Marquez Banas have led out as students have started a large new community vegetable garden by cultivating a section of Kingfisher Park on the southeast corner of the campus.
Every morning and evening students can be seen spaced out through the gardens, new gardeners learning from experienced gardeners as they deepen friendships and enjoy a sense of community. There is a saying that “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.” AIIAS students’ foresight in planting Kingfisher Gardens during this time of lockdown is expected to produce even more blessings in the future and is a testament to the Adventist heritage values of combining gardening with education.
Another blessing flowing through the AIIAS campus has come via a generous donation from Adventist members in the China Union Mission. The donation has so far provided for the purchase of 5 tons of rice to benefit neighboring communities where the quarantine has left families with insufficient food. With the help of the local police force and municipal health officials documenting the need and distributing the rice, and Chinese students at AIIAS procuring and repackaging the rice, hundreds of needy families have benefited as each receives 10 kilograms of rice. The program is ongoing.
AIIAS administrators and key officials have been continually monitoring the situation, communicating government directives and providing guidelines to ensure that the campus continues to remain safe and healthy. The campus clinic, chaplains and counselors have also been supportive of students, staff, and faculty. Families of AIIAS have been heard expressing their positive outlook despite the lockdown, noting that the situation has provided opportunities to spend more time with their families, and commenting on how blessed and safe they feel to be on the AIIAS campus during this time of crisis.
“We give all credit to God,” says Ginger Ketting-Weller, “for His continuing protective hand over AIIAS, and for the unexpected blessings that have emerged as we have navigated this crisis. The campus will be even closer and stronger as we welcome our new students in August for the next school year. We greet each day with gratitude.”
By: Bruce Sumendap and Ginger Ketting-Weller