A new breed of leaders

Youth leaders from every corner of the country gathered in Baguio City last September 19 to 22 to discuss how their leadership skills would be enhanced further and help achieve the seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations (UN) – that is to ensure environmental sustainability – in their respective communities.

But as the convention was going on – and we the staffers of the Philippine I Transform! Young Leaders’ Convention (PITYLC) believed it served a timely and valuable lesson for us – a storm was battering Luzon.

Tropical cyclone ‘Mario’ (‘Fungwong’, which was once a tropical storm then elevated into a typhoon) did not severely affect any part of the country, but its enhanced southwest monsoon (‘Habagat’) winds dumped intense rainfall over Metro Manila, Baguio City – the venue for the PITYLC – and other provinces in Luzon. Once again, heavy flooding that damaged houses and crops, worse traffic and landslides were experienced for the past two days. What a huge mess Mario caused, as some areas in Luzon even forced to put themselves under state of calamity.

The PITYLC delegates who were supposed to catch up on their trips to Baguio City were not spared from Mario’s fury. They either got stranded in the middle of the vast expanse of the Manila floods or had their flights postponed until the weather got better.

But thank goodness they pushed through with their trips despite traveling along harm’s way, and arrived safe.

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Both the organizers and the participants of the PITYLC groove to the music during the ‘solidarity dances’.

As soon as the almost 500 youth leaders and their advisers, or 95 delegations from across the islands, reached Teachers’ Camp to take part in the PITYLC, amazingly their energy never faltered. They survived the stormy weather and the freezing-cold temperature of Baguio City, thanks to their electrifying voices, their enthusiasm to learn more, and the warmth of newly-formed friendships.

Banquet of ideas

However, beyond the seemingly undying energy of youth lay within these young leaders that burning fervor to practice leadership that is ‘transformational’, or that allows positive change to happen.

The ‘Kabataan Fair’, one of the highlights of the PITYLC, allowed 20 selected delegations to showcase their projects focused on environmental sustainability, being the theme of the convention, to the participants and a panel of experts.

Students from Cebu Normal University proposed that they and other partners would build boats made of palm tree and other affordable wood materials to help residents living in the Liguasan Marsh (the largest swamp in Mindanao and a World Heritage Site of the United Nations) go on their daily activities without risking their safety. It primarily aims to help children there attend school hassle-free. The representative of the project believed that through the boats, the right of the child to accessible education would be assured.

Meanwhile, a local version of Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) would be devised by students of the Baliuag University in Bulacan through the Project SHINE, or the School Hydrological Information Network. They noted that they adopted the original project first devised by the Pampanga River Basin Flood Forecasting Center. Being prone to floods during the rainy season, the representatives explained that a network of applications and devices would help monitor and inform both community officials and residents on the rainfall amounts in different areas in Bulacan and the status of the rivers which surround the province.

On the other hand, students from De La Salle-Lipa in Batangas introduced their ‘Project Hillview’, wherein it aims to change the attitude of the people toward mining and offer them safer and more suitable opportunities. Activities in the project would include literacy campaign about mining and its dangers to the environment, planting of fruit-bearing trees that could be their alternative to earn income, and hygiene education for children. Hillview, they noted, is actually an indigent community near the school which had become notorious for mining activities.

Also, delegates from Cebu Technological University (CTU) proposed a new, ‘greener’ design for their school canteen building, which was ruined by both the 7.2-magnitude earthquake and Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ (‘Haiyan’) last year. ‘Greener’ would mean applying environmentally-suitable innovations like solar panels for its electricity, hanging gardens, and a rainwater harvesting system. The catch was that the delegates were not Architecture students, and neither was their adviser. The project aims to fulfill the vision of CTU-Pollution Control Office as a hub for “clean and green advocacy through scientific, technological education and transformational leadership.”

The ‘Kabataan Fair’ was supposedly a ‘marketplace for young leaders’ innovation’, but it turned out to become more of a banquet of emerging leadership and sustainability ideas which one who is change-oriented could relish.

Taking the lead

Aside from this and other fun activities (group reflections, solidarity dances and even a beauty pageant!), the PITYLC also featured guest lecturers coming from various organizations but clearly with one cause: protecting the environment. They altogether encouraged the youth leaders to take the initiative in establishing leadership that roots on such cause.

Adelina Timoteo, senior program officer of Shontoug Foundation and a member of the Kalanguya tribe of Benguet, stressed the need to take care of the environment as part of the preservation of the country’s culture. She noted the high regard of their tribe for earth, which meant respect for land boundaries set by different tribes and utmost value for their land which they use for planting. Such tradition eventually went on to become a collective cause to protect not only the environment but also the rights of the indigenous peoples of Benguet and Ifugao.

Meanwhile, Paolo Pagaduan, project manager of World Wildlife Fund – Philippines (WWF), said during the open forum that one has “to work on a future where the same mistakes made by those before us would never be done again.”

Oscar Gador, volunteer coordinator of Greenpeace – Southeast Asia, enumerated such mistakes as the following: ignorance of the Filipino on current issues particularly nature-related ones; no sense of responsibility or community; one’s low value of nature; and the feeling of helplessness.

He added the power of the majority is also significant in harnessing leadership skills. “Let us remember that those who are governed, and not those who govern, have more power and can even define our government,” he added.
For his part, Foundation for the Philippine Environment project officer Edel Garingan stressed small acts can make a huge difference in stepping forward toward environmentally-sustainable leadership. “Alam n’yo, masabi mo lang sa parents mo o sa mga kaibigan mo na itapon sa tamang lugar ang kanilang basura, that will go a long way.” He also highlighted the importance of firmly believing in any cause one supports no matter how difficult things get along the way.

Garingan’s statements was somehow supported by multi-awarded singer-songwriter Joey Ayala, who was conferred with the ‘Gawad Kadakilaan para sa Kalikasan’ by YouthLEAD Philippines, the organizer of the PITYLC. “Dapat matuwa ka sa sarili mo at sa ginagawa mo. Kung pakiramdam mo api ka at hindi mo gusto ang ginagawa mo, kawawa ka naman.”

He stressed in his acceptance speech that ‘kadakilaan’, or ‘greatness’ in Filipino, can be an ordinary thing. “Ang kadakilaan ay hindi ikinakahon sa sarili, bagkus ay lumalabas at humahawa” just like a virus, he said.

Leadership for the environment

“We don’t need magic to transform our communities and our world. We carry already that will and power within ourselves. Just have faith,” said PITYLC chair John Maraguinot during the closing ceremony.

“We don’t need magic to transform our communities and our world. We carry already that will and power within ourselves. Just have faith,” said PITYLC chair John Maraguinot during the closing ceremony.

At a huddle of staffers, the PITYLC chair shared to us what his mentor told him, “Beyond academic learning, climate change is real. We can see it, we can feel it.” The four-day convention encouraged the country’s youth leaders to take the lead in nurturing of the country’s natural resources, especially in these times that the worsening effects of climate change are becoming the new normal.

But there was more to that. Leadership for the environment can cause a massive ripple effect.

Both PITYLC delegates and organizers learned that once leadership for Mother Nature has been realized, not only would the environment benefit from it but also all other aspects of society. The ‘Kabataan Fair’ taught us that once a leader takes the initiative in taking care of the environment, it would also give way to the assurance of the preservation of culture, human rights, food security and education, among others.

Also, leadership for the environment is a collective call for everyone, not only for leaders themselves, to take immediate action in solving the problems brought about by climate change. It is not enough that only those who have the power, influence and authority carry the solution. We at the PITYLC believe that leadership for any cause is empowering those who look up to us. Who knows, our collective efforts may give birth to new ideas and innovations.

It is our hope that the PITYLC will be able to produce the country’s new breed of leaders.

Time may be running out to solve climate change-related problems, as experts claim. But it is never too late for all of us to do so. We are given every moment of our lives to do our share.

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