Interview with Cecilia de Arriba, coordinator of the University Learning and Service project.

Cecilia de Arriba


Cecilia de Arriba Rivas has recently joined the ETEA Foundation – Instituto de Desarrollo de la Universidad Loyola Andalucía as coordinator of the project ‘University service learning as a tool for development education in the field of higher education’.

We have spoken with her first hand so that she can give us a preview of some of the actions she plans to implement within the framework of the project.

-Good morning, Cecilia. First of all, we wanted to ask you about your arrival at the ETEA Foundation.

From the beginning I have felt very welcomed, both by the foundation team and by the university professors involved in the project: Eduardo Ibáñez, Ignacio Sepúlveda, Pablo Font, Pablo Pérez and Juan Antonio Senent.

In addition, I was fortunate that, two weeks after starting to work at the Seville campus, I was given the opportunity to attend the First Conference of reflection on the development interventions that Loyola Andalucía University is carrying out and I was able to learn about all the projects that are being implemented through the foundation and the style of work of the institutions of the Society of Jesus. This helped me to understand what my role is going to be and what role my project plays in society.

In any case, the ETEA Foundation was no stranger to me, as I was working with Mª Luz Ortega, former patron of the ETEA Foundation (now director of AACID), in a project called “Act with Care. Transform reality”, of the NGO InteRed, in which we analyzed how women’s empowerment processes were developed through caregiving.

-What attracts you most to working in the field of development education (DE)?

The truth is that I have a very specific professional path. I had studied economics, so for me DE was like a new look at the world. I studied a master’s degree in DE and that represented a change in my professional career. DE helps me to appreciate North-South relations and how this shapes the world at the socio-economic, cultural, anthropological…at all levels.

I have worked in different projects in several NGDOs, such as Oxfam Intermón, Red Cross, InteRed, or the APY Foundation, as well as in associations and collectives at the local level. I was also working in a youth participation network and I had the opportunity to live an international experience in a local association in a village near Nairobi, Kenya.

Now this learning and service project is presented to me as an opportunity to work in the university environment from the themes that I had already been working on: youth, social commitment, solidarity?

-So tell us about the project you are coordinating. What exactly does university service-learning consist of?

The learning and service methodology (APS) helps students to learn certain concepts of the subject of ethics and humanism in a practical way, through the experience in a NGDO. This activity combines the training and social awareness that NGDOs carry out with a needs analysis from which students will be able to design activities and projects within the community in which these organizations work.

From September we intend to incorporate this experience in different subjects, although it is already proving to be of great interest to the teaching staff. In fact, it has opened the doors to subjects that a priori had not been considered in the project, giving rise to the celebration of a course on APS that took place at the Seville campus, attended by 14 professors, and which has also been recently held at the Cordoba campus.

The impact on students and the generation of transformation are two of the elements of the project that connect with the mission of the Society of Jesus and the ETEA Foundation, training young university students who, from these experiences, develop a certain level of awareness regarding justice, solidarity and social commitment and incorporate them into their lives and professional careers.

As for the project itself, it is financed by AACID and has the collaboration of Entreculturas, Intered and Claver. After several meetings with the three NGODs, we have agreed to direct the experiences towards the prevention of male violence in schools, a project on interculturality and coexistence, and several projects on the rights of immigrants and borders.

This initiative is designed to involve 120 students per year, between Cordoba and Seville and considering the groups of the first and second quarter, since it is offered to the entire branch of the subject of ethics and humanism, which is given transversally in all grades.

Although it is incorporated within the subject, participation in the project is voluntary. Students will be evaluated for their participation in the APS experience, but not all of them will be able to participate. The commitment and availability of the students will be taken into account, with all that this implies. It is very important that the students have interest in both the training and the community service, because the hours dedicated to the APS experience will count as hours of the course. It will be a 30-hour work, and then they will have to elaborate a field diary on their experience, which will also be evaluated.

-So what can we expect from this project?

We are confident that this project will have a positive impact on the three participant profiles: the teaching staff, the students and the social entities themselves. We expect students to acquire the ability to question the context in which they live, the concept of social justice, development, solidarity, ethics, social commitment… and to understand them through real experiences.

In development education we do not speak of one-off volunteering, but of transforming experiences that mark a path from social awareness to participation and advocacy, which in this case is materialized in these activities with the community.  We wonder if this connection with the NGOD world can open new research paths for both teachers and students. We think that this NGDO-university approach can bring new perspectives in the projects, new contributions and new collaborations for research.

We also intend to move towards creating a defined model to integrate this activity into the educational plan and to make it last over time. New relationships are being established with the universities of Deusto and Comillas, because they have APS experiences and are planning to create a network project for the institutionalization of APS in universities, so I am very excited because this is the seed of something that will enrich university education in the future.