Words by: Mariniell Clarete
Just recently, I and sixteen other UA&P delegates were accepted to join the fifth installment of the Asia Pacific Youth Exchange (APYE) that was held on the 9th to the 20th of January 2018 at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Headquarters, Ortigas, Metro Manila. As official delegates of the program, we were given the unique opportunity to learn and participate in sustainable development initiatives through the program’s four major components: Leadership Development Training, the Local Immersion, the Asia-Pacific Youth Symposium and the APYE Fellowship Program. Initially, I was quite hesitant to join the program because I thought of myself as unqualified or inexperienced. The standard of professionalism expected us to formulate practical application through project execution and planning based on eminent problems we identify in our local immersion site that must be still related to our assigned Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Furthermore, each group had to present their project proposals to private and public investors, government and non-government representatives, concerned or related institutions and fellow delegates for approval and possible funding. However, I realized that the biggest pressure did not come from any of these factors. In fact, the most involved and concerned stakeholders that all delegates felt responsible for were the community members themselves. Ultimately, all our hard work in crafting practical and sustainable solutions was direct for the benefit of the community members.
Prior to the local immersion, all delegates were trained and oriented on proper stakeholder management, strategic community planning, and research and data gathering to prepare us for our stay at the community. My group, along with five other group others, was assigned to the farthest and probably the most difficult local immersion site in Barangay Tulay Buhangin, Quezon Province, in terms of living standards. It is a small coastal community that has little to no electricity and no clean source of water of their own. I was hosted by Nanay Cora de la Peña, a 55 year old widow who tends and provides for her son and grandson. We all slept in the floor with only thin coverings to keep us warm through the cold night. Considering that the main source of livelihood of this little community was fishing, with no man in the household, Nanay Cora is left with no regular employment or stable income – a problem many of the women in the community face. For the three days that we stayed in the community, Nanay Cora would openly express her personal and financial struggles to me. She yearned for the day that she would be able to give her family a comfortable lifestyle, but even in providing for her son’s daily allowance posed as a struggle. Her honesty and transparency did more than just open my eyes to the harsh realities of poverty, but it more feverently ignited a sense of urgency for action to be done – now. I believe all my fellow delegates would agree with me when I say that we found the big “why” factor to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle in the relationships we built within the community – and this made all our efforts even more meaningful.
Plainly, there are many more stories like Nanay Cora’s who suffer in varying degrees. And one does not have to go far to know this apparent fact. According to research done by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2014, there are more than 700 million people in Asia and The Pacific who live below the global poverty rate of $1.25 per day. That’s 700 million people struggling to live without the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter. The numbers are huge, but so is the number of young people in the region. Asia and the Pacific, alone, holds over 1.1 billion young people and is considered the most youthful region in the world. If supported and empowered, the youth have the capacity and ability to meaningfully contribute to economic, social and political progress. It’s about ripe time for the youth to focus their energy on more important things outside of themselves. After all, we can’t stay young forever. Why not make the most out of it by living for others? Why not start now?
Each and every one of us are advocates of something. Whether it be for quality education, safe and decent housing, social justice or as simple as waste management, the youth has immense potential to be agents of change. Precisely, platforms such as APYE promote youth-focused and youth-led participation in civic and political life, that hone the next generation to take up their responsibility in addressing global affairs. APYE was a great start for many. What’s yours going to be?