July 3, 2020

In the Philippines, AIIAS Continues to Thrive During Pandemic

AIIAS, and Adventist Review

As experienced by many universities around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (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 a few months ago. According to campus leaders, AIIAS employees and students have navigated these adjustments surprisingly smoothly, even as the institution is still recovering from the Taal volcano eruption in January 2020.

Graduation Ceremony

While colleges and universities around the world scrambled to reconfigure classes and events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AIIAS 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, the nearby Manila metropolitan area 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 Adventist church become the first major congregation to suspend in-person worship gatherings. Since then, church services have been provided weekly via livestreaming.

Campus Lockdown

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 to minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Many personnel have 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, leaders said.

In the meantime, life at AIIAS continues, with measures taken to limit exposure between people. Classes have shifted smoothly 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, vice-president for academic administration at AIIAS. Current class schedules have not been interrupted. However, two scheduled cohort sessions, which would normally bring a group of students to campus, have been canceled, to be rescheduled later.

Not all students have stayed at AIIAS in the face of the spread of the pandemic. Some chose to leave; however, several returned after 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.

Life on Campus

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 frequently be seen walking around campus in the mornings and evenings, tending the social distancing guideline of 6.5 feet (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 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.

Every morning and evening, students can be seen spaced out throughout the gardens, new gardeners learning from experienced gardeners as they deepen friendships and enjoy a sense of community.

Outreach Doesn’t Stop

Another blessing flowing through the AIIAS campus, leaders said, came via a generous donation from Chinese Adventist members. The donation has so far provided for the purchase of 11,000 pounds (5 tonnes) of rice to benefit neighboring communities, where the quarantine has left some families with insufficient food. With 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 22 pounds (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 remains 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 family members, 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,” said AIIAS president Ginger Ketting-Weller, “for His continuing protective hand over AIIAS and 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.”

The original version of this story was posted by the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies.