A professor in Dubai who counsels Filipino workers and trains teachers to identify depression among pupils has been recognised with an international award in Washington DC.
Dr Rommel Sergio, 44, a professor at the Canadian University Dubai, received the Outstanding International Educator Award from the United Federation of Filipino-American Educators.
Dr Sergio was one of 100 candidates in the category which, unlike the other prizes under the award, is not restricted to US citizens. And he was one of only 10 candidates from the Middle East and South-East Asian countries.
For Dr Sergio, the award means validation for his hard work in the classroom and beyond. Helping others seems to be second nature to him, as he volunteered in the Philippines before moving to the UAE 10 years ago.
“I would give leadership training programmes for boy scouts in Manila, for children and adults,” he said. “I was involved in giving psychological services such as art therapy for male inmates. It is my fulfilment to help.
“Other than teaching and research, I share part of my expertise with wider society by giving my time and support to the community I have chosen to serve unconditionally.”
The award recognises excellence in teaching and research. Dr Sergio said he had published several papers over the past few years.
One was rated best academic research in emotional intelligence in the Middle East by management at Harvard University in 2013.
The final criteria for the latest award is excellence in community engagement, an area in which Dr Sergio excels.
He leads the psychological programmes for Overseas Filipino Workers and has launched a psychiatric aid programme at the Philippines Consulate General in Dubai and in the Northern Emirates, where counselling is offered to hundreds of Filipinos each year.
“All the distressed workers come to us,” Dr Sergio said. “Some have resigned, some escaped their employers from maltreatment.”
Up to 800 of the workers seek the programme’s services every year, free of charge.
“We do treatment for them as groups or individual counselling, so before they go home they have good hope for what is in store for them,” he said. “We do what we can, at least to give a flicker of hope to them.”
And when Dr Sergio is not coaching workers, he is guiding schoolteachers to identify depression and possible suicidal tendencies in pupils.
The founding president of Filipino Educators in the UAE, he leads free classroom management workshops that focus on methods for teachers, and crisis intervention for pupils who could be suffering from depression, bullying or suicidal thoughts.
“There was a series of suicides that happened in schools in the Philippines and this is worrying us,” Dr Sergio said. “So we did anti-bullying and anti-suicidal campaigns in the eight Filipino schools across the UAE.”
In the Dubai, his team has counselled more than 100 pupils.
“Parents also consult with my group for free. There are about 60 of them now,” Dr Sergio said.
He has received many accolades for his work. In 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Award by President Rodrigo Duterte for Outstanding Overseas Filipino Worker in the individual category.
In the same year, he won the Top 50 Global Educators Award by The Oxford Journal.