Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Lina Ong
Lina Ong

Susan Russell
Susan Russell

To obtain a print-quality JPEG of this photo, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

May 19, 2008

30 Filipino leaders will visit NIU
to learn about, experience American democracy

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University will welcome a diverse group of 30 adult leaders from the Philippines who will arrive on campus Saturday, May 31, for a month-long institute on the American democratic process.

The institute, known as the Cultural Citizens and North-South Dialogue project, will focus on majority-minority relations in the Philippines and the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic, plural society.

The project aims to promote partnerships between U.S. and Filipino groups, strengthen understanding of democratic values, develop an appreciation for American governmental structures and cultural diversity, and strengthen participant skills in methods of citizen participation.

The Philippines is a nation comprised of more than 7,100 islands in the Pacific Ocean. While the country is a young representative democracy, it has been prone to corruption, civil unrest, ethnic clashes and threats from terrorist groups.

The U.S. Department of State is providing NIU with a grant of $370,000 to partner with Filipino groups and offer the training institute. It is being run by NIU's Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the International Training Office, with assistance from faculty across the university.

NIU has offered similar institutes in each of the last five years to Filipino youth activists and to adult leaders in 2006. The programs are making a difference. Past participants have gone on to develop grassroots-level, social-improvement projects, from environmental cleanups to book programs for needy children. In all, the Department of State has provided $1.5 million in funding for the programs at NIU.

This spring's institute will be the largest effort to date. More than 150 Filipinos applied to become program participants. The 30 finalists come from across the Philippines and include a journalist, legal analyst, school principal, vice governor, CEOs, university professors and non-governmental organization directors.

“The institute will build on the skills participants already have in civic engagement and grassroots organization,” said Lina Ong, director of the NIU International Training Office. Ong and Susan Russell, an NIU cultural anthropologist specializing in the Philippines, serve as co-directors of the project.

“The program aims to expand the participants' understanding of how government works, how they can legitimately influence it and when and how it is important to take action to change things for the better,” Ong said. “They likewise will be exposed to American civic institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, and leaders who exemplify U.S. values of democratic and responsible citizenship–including volunteerism, tolerance, activism and respect for diversity.”

The institute also will unite like-minded groups so they can work together on common goals.

“We want to bring these Filipino groups together so they can have an impact at the national level,” Russell added. “These are first-class individuals, all of whom work with youth or are in a position to influence youth. Some of them already are having an impact on a national level.”

The institute will rely on the expertise of NIU faculty in public administration and political science, including Professors Kurt Thurmaier, Yu-Che Chen, Curtis Wood, Heidi Koenig, Barbara Burrell and Matthew Streb.

Other faculty and staff lending their expertise to the project include Sociologist Kay Forest; Laurel Jeris and Jorge Jeria, professors in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education; and Sylvia Fuentes, director of planning and research development for diversity and equity in the Division of Student Affairs.

“Our experts at NIU will teach participants how to influence government and form coalitions and networks that can influence policy,” Russell said.

While visiting NIU, institute participants also will job shadow local officials and take cultural field trips, including to Chicago and Springfield. When participants return to the Philippines, they will be expected to implement action plans developed at NIU.

A team of NIU representatives will return to the Philippines as early as late this year to help organize a national seminar on active, responsible citizenship. The seminar will include the launch of a nationwide Network for Active Citizen Participation.

“The purpose of establishing a formal network is project sustainability,” Russell said. “We hope that the skills Filipino leaders learn at NIU will be expanded among similar leaders in their country.”