Where would you find yourself on a Saturday at eight ‘o clock in the morning? Safe and snug under your warm blanket? Reading a calming novel out on a patio? Or maybe jogging around your neighborhood to get some fresh air? I would normally be doing at least one of those, but last February 4 I sprang out of bed to attend the Young Leaders Forum hosted by Habitat For Humanity in partnership with ADB Youth for Asia and World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific (WYAAP). That Saturday was unlike any other. Right there and then I learned how I can build a brighter future and how we as young people can lead tomorrow’s society–to begin with ourselves; to exercise our will power for the good and to step out of our comfort zones.
Alex Eduque, the founder of the Habitat Youth Council Philippines, opened the forum by stating how the “youth are game changers of society.” I felt a boost of empowerment after that which lasted the entire day! It was truly exciting to witness the whole event, participated by committed leaders from different organizations and universities, to train the youth and to give us an opportunity to share our ideas and insights about today’s pressing issues. I thought, it really starts with believing in ourselves–the younger generation–and providing us with the opportunity to grow and expand our knowledge.
Left photo: Mariana Silva from ADB Youth for Asia; Right Photo: Brenda Perez from Habitat for Humanity International (Photo taken from the Habitat Young Leaders Build Facebook Page)
By sharing key advice for what we can do in our communities, Brenda Perez from Habitat for Humanity along with Mariana Silva from the ADB Youth for Asia expounded on the role of the youth and the core values we must keep in mind. They expressed the importance of placing passion and values at the core of development, and of always embracing your WHY–why we do what we do. Finding one’s advocacy starts with finding your why, and realizing your personal response to that shared problem in your community; and as we become advocates of social and global change, it is vital that our advocacies are strongly reflected in our lifestyle and in our endeavors. As the famous quote says, “actions speak louder than words,” I realized how powerful leading by example can be and how much we can influence others through the ways we uphold and live out our advocacy.
Mary Imbong, the Regional Director of the WYAAP also reminded us that this passion we have and these values that we acquire should be directed toward recognizing human dignity within all of us. Through a holistic view of the person, development is effectively and purposefully achieved by providing people their right to live a life wherein every person’s dignity is respected.
Shenard Mazengera from Habitat For Humanity International Asia and Pacific (HFHI-AP) along with Sahil Nair and Shruti Mehta from the ADB, then advocated why housing is very important in order to live a flourishing life and in order to achieve sustainable development through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adequate housing creates an environment wherein people are able to live properly, and wherein people are provided with basic human necessities. Once these needs are met, we are able to fulfill our roles and duties effectively, and perhaps even become future agents of change.
Of course, it doesn’t stop with learning about the different aspects of advocacy. In order to become effective change-makers, ADB representative Zahin Hussain taught us how to put our faith into action by providing tips and advice on how to raise funds for our own initiatives through making a simple sales pitch. I was very grateful that we were given a crash course on the topic which was even followed by a group exercise wherein we had to make an actual pitch about a solution to water scarcity in Cambodia. Our group presented to Joseph Scaria from HFHI-AP, who knew a lot about community projects. At first, I was intimidated to go up on stage and speak in front of the crowd but I soon realized how it was a relevant learning experience for everyone in the room. Despite the numerous mistakes we made in our sales pitch, it turned out to be an insightful experience that I will never forget. I remain grateful to have been given the chance to step out of my comfort zone once again.
Finally, WYA’s very own alumnus, Dave Mariano talked about innovative volunteerism. Through his talk, I was reminded of a spoken word piece by Shane Koyczan–“Love is the volunteer in you that raises its hands up and steps forward without needing to be rewarded.” Indeed volunteering stems from our own efforts and is propelled by the motivation to show love to one another and to bring about positive change in our communities. As Mr. Mariano enumerated the different stages of volunteerism, I realized how much more I could do as a volunteer; how it’s not just about joining activities, but also educating and engaging with the people I encounter.
Overall the Young Leaders Forum really helped us realize how the youth can contribute to society. Towards the end of the event they asked a few participants to grace the stage and voice out our insights about what we’ve learned. It was a wonderful sight to see and a memorable experience for a youth advocate such as myself; being able to participate in an important discussion and to collaborate with creative and passionate minds widened my perspectives and inspired me to initiate meaningful and selfless endeavors for a better world. After all, we each have a role to play, even as young people.
Once we recognize the infinite potential of the youth and provide them with opportunities to maximize their skills and talents, the obstacles and disadvantages our world continues to face can be replaced with hope and purpose. Oftentimes I would hear about how people think that the youth today have lost their faith in the humanity. But seeing the energy and passion of the youth evidently shows how much creativity, enthusiasm, and potential we possess. If only the youth are able to divert that energy into achieving sustainable development goals, then we are capable of building a better world–together.
Written by Keziah Jereza, a WYAAP Emerging Leaders Conference 2016 graduate from the Philippines.