Celebrating 50 years of Operation Manong

Clement Bautista, Melinda Tria Kerkvliet and Amy Agbayani

by Clement Bautista

The Friends of Operation Manong (FOOM) and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Operation Manong (OM) and the Office of Multicultural Student Services (OMSS). The event will be held at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu on Saturday, November 19, 2022, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, large numbers of Filipinos began immigrating to the United States through its family reunification provision. A large proportion of these immigrants settled in Hawai‘i, where they faced social, economic and educational challenges. Social service agencies and public institutions were not prepared to adequately serve the newly arrived Filipinos. Furthermore, refugees from the Vietnam War added to this growing enrollment of newly arrived, non-English speaking students.

To address the need to bolster basic services for recent immigrants, University of Hawai‘i faculty and students, members of the Filipino community, and the State Immigration Services Center formed the Filipino Volunteers of Hawaii (FVH).

In 1972, with funding from the United Presbyterian Church Council on Church Support and ACTION (a federal agency), FVH organized Operation Manong to provide direct assistance to immigrant children enrolled in Hawai‘i’s public school system.

For a long time in Hawai‘i the Ilokano term ‘manong’ was used by non-Filipinos in a derogatory manner. The FVH decided to call their project, Operation Manong, to reflect the positive designation of ‘manong’ as a symbol of respect, alliance, and cooperation in building a better understanding among the younger population of Filipino ancestry in Hawai‘i.

OM manongs and manangs tutored their adings and provided out-of-school activities (e.g., picnics and hikes) to help improve adings’ conversational English skills.

OM was formally designed to: (1) provide University of Hawai‘i students with training, supervised research and community practicum in cross-cultural relations, bilingual/bicultural education and tutorial techniques; (2) provide tutorial, cultural orientation and recreational activities to immigrant and local-born youth; and (3) conduct and cooperate with other University units, the Department of Education and other agencies on teacher training, curriculum development and research on immigration related issues, particularly involving immigrant youth.

Throughout OM’s first decade, placing college students as bilingual tutors in the Department of Education was its primary task.

As the aims of OM grew, however, the program was reorganized and transferred from the Social Science Research Institute and the College of Education to its current position under the Office of Student Affairs.

In July 1985 the Hawaii State Legislature further mandated OM to conduct student service programs for disadvantaged students for the purpose of ensuring equal access and opportunity to public higher education.

To meet this mandate OM began organizing recruitment and retention activities for Filipino Americans and other underrepresented students at UHM. Strategies included disseminating information about the UH system and providing encouragement and academic assistance to younger students.

Thus, as one the UHM’s first programs to address campus diversity and service learning, it now addressed equal access to higher education by developing extensive community outreach programs and services for public school, pre-college and college students.OM student workers conducted seminars, workshops and forums, as well as provided personal counseling on goal setting, career choices, and preparation for college and acquiring financial aid. Recruitment activities extended to community colleges, community groups, and neighbor island high schools.

Among the many activities and projects coordinated or implemented by OM/OMSS over the past five decades include the following: Pre-Engineering Project, Pre-Freshman Enrichment Program, Hawaii Summer Academy, UHM Elementary Summer Program, Hawai‘i Minority Pre-Graduate Program, Future Teachers Workshop, BIN-I Volunteer Project, UHM Transfer Project, Buddy-Buddy Project, Central District Sports Program, Ota Camp Tutoring Project, Kalihi and ‘Ewa Elementary School Programs, Kalihi-Kai Elementary Afterschool Project, Club 21 Dance Project (with Kalihi YMCA), Kūle‘a Project, Rainbow Ohana Coalition (drug prevention outreach), Early Intervention Projects (elementary schools), Hawai‘i Undergraduate Initiative (HUI), and Pasefika Passion Pipeline (3P).On the UHM campus OM/OMSS coordinated community conferences (Pulong sa Mānoa and Samoa ala Mai) and student organizations (African American Student Association and Native American Student Association).

In its Together in Excellence (TIE) Partnerships, OM/OMSS staff continued to provide assistance to outside agencies and institutions such as the Office of Youth Services (Juvenile Justice State Advisory Council), Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Museum of Art film festivals (Human Rights, African American, Jewish, and Spanish Film Club), Mutual Assistance Associations Center, Samoan Service Providers Association, Filipino Community Center (college fairs), Sariling Gawa and the Filipino-American Historical Society of Hawai‘i.

The Friends of Operation Manong (FOOM), a non-profit group made up of OM alumni and other individuals committed to equal opportunity in education, was created as a tax-exempt, non-profit organization in 1992.

FOOM raises private and foundation funds to supplement OM activities and programs. FOOM has also administered scholarships, educational and cultural grants from the Hawaii Community Foundation, People’s Fund and the Honolulu Committee for the Humanities.

From its beginnings with dedicated individuals such as Ben Junasa, Amy Agbayani, Sheila Forman, Melinda Tria Kerkvliet and Johnny Verzon and UHM advocates such as Anthony Marsella and Doris Ching created the firm foundations from which OM/OMSS staff – Clement Bautista and Adrialina Guerero – could build upon over the following five decades. OM/OMSS is proud of its countless alumni and participants.

The 50th anniversary reunion will be an opportunity to reconnect with and reflect on one of the most important and extensive university/community initiatives. The public and, especially, all former OM/OMSS alumni and participants are invited to attend the celebration. Please RSVP at https://bit.ly/OM50th.

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