Friday Feature

By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent

A COMMUNITY worker who assists women-traders in Tawi-Tawi, a volunteer who was part of the team that evacuated some 1,700 residents trapped during the Marawi siege, and a Davao City-based rugby coach to less-privileged children — they are among the eight young leaders from Mindanao who are off to New Zealand on Aug. 23 for a four-month leadership program.

The Mindanao Young Leaders Programme (MinYLP), with a P97-million funding from the New Zealand government over five years, is managed by charity organization UnionAID with International Alert Philippines, and the Victoria University of Wellington.

The MinYLP aims to give young leaders exposure to new ideas, develop their research and evaluation skills, and contribute further to peace and sustainable development initiatives in Mindanao communities.

“Poverty is one of the main problems in Tawi-Tawi. It is very rich in natural resources, we have abundant supply of fishes as well as bananas that we can use, manufacture items that we can export. But women traders don‘t have the skills to process these items… I am helping them through the help of International Alert,” said MinYLP scholar Sharifa Ain Abdulmajid Lipae, project officer of the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc.

In an interview during their send-off dinner Tuesday in Davao City, Ms. Lipae said their group helps develop the entrepreneurial and processing skills of women small-scale traders who ply maritime borders between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

A native of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, she noted that cross-border trade is a lifeline and revenue source for conflict-affected and far-flung communities, which are not easily reached by government development programs and private investments.

Another scholar, Abubakar “Abs” De Juan Basman from Marawi City, said he plans to establish a youth early response network after he returns from the New Zealand program.

“Hopefully, the participants (of his project) will learn disaster management and conflict resolution, and also to get involved in preventing violence and conflicts,” said Mr. Basman, who was part of the White Helmets volunteer rescue group that saved some 1,700 lives by going into the battle zone during the Marawi siege in 2017.

In the aftermath of the siege, Mr. Basman helped in database management for the survivors and casualties, and continues to be engaged in the evacuation centers and temporary shelters.

Ang problema namin sa (Our problem in the) province, not just in Marawi, but Lanao del Sur, hindi pa bukas sa isipan ng mga tao ang maging (people are not yet fully aware of being) disaster-ready,” he said.

His fellow scholar Hilton Lanuza Soberano, club manager of the Davao Durian Rugby Football Club, wants to strengthen the use of sports as a tool for grassroots development.

“Young and adults have an innate desire to play. Using sports now as a platform to involve different groups, nawawala ‘yung mga (we are able to break down) barriers and misconceptions of one tribe or religion,” he said.

Mr. Soberano said he plans to hold a Mindanao-wide caravan, especially in far-flung areas, to promote peace and economic growth by engaging people in sports.

The five other MinYLP scholars are: Alexis Yonson from Cagayan de Oro City, who works with indigenous people (IP) weavers, coffee producers, and entrepreneurs; Rohanie Ibra Amer from Marawi City, a development worker focusing on a gender-based violence project; journalist Malaya Genotiva from Davao City; ecologist and conservationist Ben Raye Marco from Pigcawayan in North Cotabato; and Sanny Priann Justo from Esperanza in Agusan del Sur, a teacher and Red Cross youth advisor.

“These are all leaders. When we did the selection process, we also wanted their commitment, that is why there is a special course in the program where they will be able to explore their particular interests in New Zealand. At the same time, they will have the opportunity to create their own proposal for the projects that they will implement here,” Diana Jean Moraleda, Senior Communications and Social Media Officer of International Alert Philippines said in an interview.

“The change projects are not compulsory, but optional when they come back and they will be provided with small grants,” she added.

Vicente T. Lao, New Zealand honorary consul to Mindanao and chair of the Mindanao Business Council, said the scholars will be able to learn best practices in New Zealand that they can adopt back home.

He noted that New Zealand itself has not been spared from terror-related incidents, citing the mosque shootings last March.

“One of the trips they will be having is a trip to Christchurch… after that (shooting) incident, there were conflict alleviation protocols that were put in place and we want our people to learn how that can be done because it might come in handy,” Mr. Lao said.

New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines David Strachan, who led the send-off ceremony for the scholars, said his country is “committed to do what it can to support peace and stability in Mindanao. We recognize the pivotal role youth will play as agents of change.”

He added, “This is historic because this is the inaugural batch of the Mindanao Youth Leadership Programme… as we speak now, this is probably the greatest opportunity to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for Mindanao.”