DOST scholarship program builds hope, strong science culture in Marawi

The road to Marawi isn’t filled with product advertisements or political posters, but with an unusual number of banners congratulating graduates and board passers who benefited from the DOST scholarship program. Even first-time travelers get the message loud and clear—the Maranaos highly value education. It’s not surprising that after the 2017 Marawi siege, one of the most disheartening realizations for many residents is that it would be more challenging to finish their education.

Jafar Lomantong knew this all too well. He was in senior high school when the armed conflict broke out. Losing their family’s small business meant he had to live with his relatives to continue schooling. While the effects of war only amplified his desire to finish school, he was aware the journey would be more difficult, especially with 10 siblings in the family. In 2019, while taking his BS in Biology at Mindanao State University (MSU), he learned about the DOST-SEI Bangon Marawi Program in Science and Technology Human Resource Development. He immediately applied and qualified.

Package of hope for 500, and counting

DOST scholarships are often described as a package of opportunities. Aside from a monthly stipend, book, and thesis allowances, and training opportunities, scholars enter the world of work with the advantage of a DOST stamp.

The Bangon Marawi Program, however, is more apt to be called a package of hope. Since its implementation in 2017, it has given hope to more than 500 science scholars.

“Some things are equally, if not more important than getting shelter and livelihood back after a catastrophe. For instance, people’s hopes and dreams. Bangon Marawi scholarships are meant to fuel these,” said DOST-SEI Director Josette Biyo.

Jonaimah Mangorangca, another Bangon Marawi scholar, narrated how Covid-19 made their situation worse. Still reeling from the effects of the siege, their family of eight had to endure more hardships as her parents lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic. Like Jafar and many other DOST scholars, she used her stipend to help her family.

The P7,000 monthly stipend for undergraduate scholars goes a long way, especially in Marawi where the cost of living is relatively low. Because of their stipend, Jafar and Jonaimah were able to catch up with synchronous learning, conduct experiments, buy tools for their theses, and even help friends who were also struggling at that time.

“I appreciated DOST’s assistance the most during the pandemic,” Jafar recalled. “We received a full stipend even when we couldn’t finish the semester. It did not only help in financing my education; it saved my family and friends.”

DOST scholarship program for the people

Rebuilding Marawi takes many forms, and the DOST deemed it crucial to first empower those who know and love the city best—its residents.

So, when former DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña joined the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Bangon Marawi, he prioritized the creation of a sub-committee at the DOST and tapped the SEI to implement a scholarship program for the immediate members of families affected or displaced from their communities.

The program’s initial run was a challenge for both the DOST-SEI and the applicants. “We had to move fast because the students needed help immediately,” Biyo shared.

She quickly gathered a team of project staff and formed technical committees from DOST-SEI and its partner institution, the Mindanao State University (MSU) System.

The qualifying examinations were waived for the first few years and applicants only needed to submit documentary requirements. But even this had been difficult and costly for students because the city was still in ruins.

Despite all these, the DOST-SEI was able to award over 200 scholarships in its first year of implementation. Of this, 90% completed their studies on time.

Regaining people’s trust and confidence

The Bangon Marawi Program is not just about providing scholarships or rebuilding the city’s human resource capabilities; it’s also about regaining people’s trust and confidence in the government. It’s about inculcating a love of country. It’s about giving back to the community that nurtured the scholars.

This was especially true for Jonaimah who once blamed the government for her family’s predicament. Not only did the scholarship change her perspective, but it also sparked her desire to take part in the city’s recovery. 

To reinforce the core values of professional excellence, social responsibility, and servant leadership, the DOST-SEI integrated its Filipino Patriot Scholars Project (FPSP) into the program. Scholars participated in various activities, such as values formation, community resilience, and leadership training.

It didn’t take long to see FPSP’s effect on the scholars. In March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, several Bangon Marawi scholars organized a community outreach program, pooling funds from their scholarship benefits to buying relief packs, groceries, and other essentials that were distributed to families in Marawi.     

DOST scholarship program continuity

In 2022, newly appointed DOST Secretary Renato Solidum Jr pushed for the continuity of the Bangon Marawi Program. Recognizing its accomplishments and the scholars’ crucial role in the city’s recovery, he requested the approval of 200 slots to be awarded the following year. The DOST-SEI also started administering qualifying examinations.

The first batch of 73 scholars signed their scholarship agreement on January 31, 2023, the same day DOST-SEI and MSU inked a new memorandum of agreement. To award the remaining 125 slots, the DOST-SEI will hold another exam this March.

“We envision a science-based future for Marawi, and that can only happen if we support our talented S&T students now,” Solidum said. On top of S&T scholarships, the DOST has initiated various programs and research projects and turned over technologies for Marawi residents.

The Bangon Marawi Program is now in its 6th year. It has produced almost 400 graduates. Some are already employed while others are either pursuing graduate studies or looking for jobs. Over 70 marched with Latin honors.

Originally meant to help students after the siege, the program has developed into a “long-term and sustainable solution” to uplift the lives of Marawi residents.

Jonaimah graduated last year and is preparing to get into medical school. She hopes to become a doctor in their province, while Jafar gears up to become a scientist. He now attends MSU Naawan Campus for his master’s degree in Marine Biology, a course he pursues to better contribute to his advocacy, the conservation of Lake Lanao.

For Jafar, his role as a Bangon Marawi scholar is to help rebuild not just Marawi but the entire province of Lanao del Sur. “I will dedicate my profession to advancing communities. Whenever MSU or DOST needs me, I will serve.” (Lovely Barba-Aquino, DOST-SEI)