Message at the Launching of the 2nd Asia-Pacific Youth Exchange
Hanyang University ERICA Campus, Ansan, South Korea
It is an honor to be invited here today, to speak before such a beautiful crowd of very young people, and to celebrate their innovative ventures, as we open the second Asia-Pacific Youth Exchange here in South Korea. The coming week may be challenging and packed with activities, but I hope that you will find the time to have fun and create meaningful connections with your peers. It is in this kind of learning and free space that great ideas are enriched.
I would also like to congratulate the hardworking team who made this event possible. At a time when the youth are showing such a strong interest in starting their own movements, we are blessed to find partners like the Urban Youth Academy, Hanyang University, and Asian Development Bank, who have been very helpful and supportive in the advocacies of our young people today.
Last year, the Office of the Vice President of the Philippines partnered with APYE during the Manila run for a program where youth participants immersed in local areas and developed projects that will benefit the communities they learned about. One of the local areas they visited was Doña Remedios Trinidad, a farming town in Bulacan, north of Manila. The APYE leaders introduced the town to better irrigation systems that will improve yield in the farms. We hope to visit the community again together with the APYE group, and observe the changes that it brought and how we can further improve on our engagement.
Last month, we had a chance to once again be a part of the transformational journey of young leaders through the Angat Buhay Youth Mindanao Summit. The best projects that have emerged from the summit have received a generous grant from US Embassy in Manila, through its Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative program, that will fund some Angat Buhay Youth Projects back home. The top winning youth organization, the Youth for Peace [Movement – Davao Oriental] in Mindanao, is here with us today for APYE Korea, and is brimming with excitement for this wonderful experience. Perhaps this is the first time for many of them, including the other representatives from the Philippines, to get a taste of the world outside their comfort zones, and work with many other young people from many different countries. This, I am sure, will be a transformative experience for them, and will widen their horizons and deepen their perspective, nurturing them into individuals that believe in the potential to change the world.
So, thank you to APYE Korea, for giving them this wonderful opportunity. We look forward to all the possibilities that this opens, not only for our team, but also for all the other Filipinos counting on our help, and also the other Filipinos who are all counting on us back home. Because of your trust in the ingenuity and talent of our young people, you are helping them to be more empowered and active in nation-building.
To all the young people here, beginning a new journey today, it is important to ask ourselves these questions: What kind of a leader do I want to be? What is my advocacy, and how can I contribute to make this world a better place for others?
American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner once said, and I quote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And so we ask: Where am I most needed now? Where am I being called to serve?
At the Office of the Vice President, for example, most of our staff are very young people. It never fails to amaze me how most of them are capable of dedicating so much of their lives to be of service to other people. I have seen first-hand how they manage the daily grind and respond to different crises—how they pour their heart and soul in attempting to change the world. This is what makes them unique and resilient.
These very young people remain at the core of our office’s driving force; and with them at the helm, our organization is slowly transforming lives back home.
Unlike other countries, the Office of the Vice President in the Philippines has a very limited mandate. Under our Constitution, the Vice President is relegated to be a “spare tire”, with no specific mandate except to be ready to step into power when something happens to the President.
But right after we assumed office, I told my staff that we cannot spend my entire term in office by just doing ceremonial work. We needed to reinvent the office and make it more relevant, by taking a bigger role in transforming our nation. And so we immediately got to work and turned our office into an advocacy-centric agency that caters to the most basic needs of the Filipino family. We called our anti-poverty program Angat Buhay—“angat,” meaning to uplift, while “buhay” means life. True to its name, Angat Buhay is our contribution in the fight against poverty. It aims to uplift and improve the quality of life of every Filipino, with no one left behind.
In conceptualizing the program, we identified six key advocacy areas to address: food security and nutrition; universal health care; public education; housing and resettlement; rural development; and women empowerment. We also have different modes of engagement, where we partner with different groups, such as schools, local government units, and private organizations, to provide interventions and mobilize support to our different partner-communities.
Our office brings together the public and private sectors—organizations and individuals alike. We positioned our office as a conduit between them and the farthest, poorest communities in need. This meant hiking up mountains and crossing rivers to reach far-flung communities who felt like they were forgotten by government. It meant taking hour-long boat rides to reach coasts where fishermen do not even have their own boats to fish. It meant listening to the stories of mothers and their children, fathers hard at work in their fields, and students who take their lessons in makeshift classrooms.
But all of these have been worth it. Since October of 2016, when we first launched the program, until the end of June of 2018, Angat Buhay has already served more than 155,000 Filipino families in 176 areas, through about 252 million pesos worth of projects.
Why am I telling you these? Our visits to communities are often short, but we would always leave the communities with our hearts filled with hope, love, and gratitude. Every person we have met exhibited such unbelievable gratitude for something as simple—if you think about it—as reaching out to them. The mere effort of going there already meant the world to them. Taking the inconvenient path shows empathy and compassion, and it ensures that the voices from these far-off places are heard. They are in the margins, almost feeling invisible, but because of one short visit, they were made to feel that they have not been forgotten.
Earlier, we asked “why” and “where” you are most needed—now we ask how. This means listening to your peers and the community in which you belong. This means allowing other people to participate in implementing programs and consulting them for improvements. This means feeling the ground, knowing where you are most needed, and actually being there. The center of leadership will always be the people whom you serve. They are the reason why you are doing what you are doing. They are the source of your strength, your passion, and your will.
We launched Angat Buhay Youth last year to complement Angat Buhay, and to provide a platform for our young people to participate in our advocacies. It is our way of empowering the youngest, brightest minds of our younger generation, and inspiring them to create impactful change that leaves a mark in the lives they touch.
Several youth groups went through a similar program like APYE, where they listened to more experienced resource speakers who talked about social development and leadership, and discussed among their peers some of the best practices in championing their chosen advocacies.
During the first Angat Buhay Youth Summit last year, the most outstanding group pitched a project that benefited at-risk youth in Lipa, a small town in Batangas, just south of Manila. It was spearheaded by a medical student named Jon Sergei Aclan, who at first only wanted to teach kids how to play the violin. But together with his friends, they formed Project Gifted, a youth organization with a passion to use their talents to inspire and help children to develop their own talents. During the summit, they proposed to put up a Lipa City Youth Orchestra to help children with drug and mental health problems through music therapy.
Project Gifted was awarded as the best among 10 finalists, and had a chance to visit Hanyang University to join last year’s youth congress and present their project. Because of their successful pitch, they were given additional funding for their project for the Lipa youth. As of now, the children have already been given their musical instruments and workshops are already ongoing. They are currently working on their first recital, and we cannot wait to hear them perform.
The Angat Buhay Youth Summit was such a huge success, that we thought of having regional runs around the country. Last month, we launched Angat Buhay Youth Summit in Mindanao, a big island region south of the Philippines, where the most pressing issue is insurgency, armed conflict, and violence in the most vulnerable communities. We brought together 30 youth organizations from different parts of Mindanao, with the common goal of building a culture of lasting peace in the region. The participants of the summit learned how to design, plan, and create community development and peace-building initiatives towards countering violent extremism in their communities.
The group that stood out from the pack was the Youth for Peace Movement – Davao Oriental, and as I mentioned earlier, the members of that group are here with us here today. May I request the two of them to please stand and be recognized. [applause] Thank you.
Their project was called Bal’lay Duwaan, dubbed as a “happy hub for the sons and daughters of New Peace Advocates.” It is a transition shelter that aims to aid the reintegration of the children of rebels in Davao Oriental, who are returning to the fold of government. Davao Oriental is a province in the southern part of the Philippines.
Based on their proposal, aside from providing shelter, Bal’lay Duwaan will also have communal vegetable gardens they can all work on, a learning center, and a recreational area for learning and psychosocial activities. These will all aid in their healing process, and prepare them to be reintegrated into mainstream society, together with their parents.
While we were listening to their plans, alongside many other youth groups, during the presentation last month, we could not help but feel overwhelmed and take pride in their innovations and commitment to help change the world. This kind of selfless service is what we need most today, and these are the kinds of stories that light our way and fill our hearts with hope.
This is why we should never underestimate young people. More than taking part in igniting the flames of such movements, they become the faces of this generation’s best minds: You are our problem-solvers and game-changers.
But as someone much older than you are, I will tell you now: It will not be easy. Making a difference means ruffling feathers, stirring the pot, or choosing the road less traveled. The world may tell you that your plans are too idealistic or too ambitious, and people will question your motives and your methods. At times, you may feel disheartened and discouraged to continue.
But do not give up. Make your dreams so big that they eclipse all other problems. Understand that unconventional ways have always, from the beginning of time, scared people. So when they turn you down, they are not rejecting your idea, nor you. Most of the time, they are simply scared of change. It is your job to let them see the vision only you can see, and when they do, they will begin to cheer for you.
Your knowledge in technology is already beyond us, and this is exactly why we need you now. Your fresh eyes and creativity, your energy and rigor, your vision, will drive us forward. I am confident that with you as the face of our future, the possibilities will be endless.
And I know that if we work together, we may one day see our nations free of poverty, inequality, and injustice. My dream for you is not only for today or for the near future. We are enduring this fight for you, and for the generations that follow. As we pass on, it is our dream to bequeath to you a better, brighter future—one where every child, your sons or your daughters, can dream those big dreams and realize them fully into fruition.
This is our hope for you and the dream in our heart. And during these extraordinary times, we are counting on you to make this dream into our reality.
The success of your leadership does not rest on grand projects. More so, your experience of being youth leaders do not end when this program does. Your success will always be measured by how much you affect the lives of the people you serve. In the end, the kind of leader you are will reflect on the good work that you do for your community.
For us, it has always been clear: just as Angat Buhay’s name suggests, we are grounded and driven by our vision to uplift the lives of every Filipino, today and tomorrow. And through programs like Angat Buhay Youth and APYE, we prove just the same: that one can never be too young to lead the way and serve the last, the least, and the lost.
May today’s stories and tomorrow’s discussions inspire you to dream even bigger dreams, not only for yourselves, but for the community you belong to, and the world around you.
Thank you very much, and we are all looking forward to working with you! [applause]