LAST April 14, 2012, a group of 22 youth, including myself, and 4 adult leaders, all coming from Mindanao, had our first ever trip to United States of America. The 9th Philippine Youth Leadership Program is a five-week US-based exchange program on responsible citizenship, community service leadership and action plan development sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the US Department of State and administered in partnership with the Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, USA, and AFS Intercultural Programs Philippines Foundation, Inc.
Participants joined workshops, lectures, volunteer activities, tours, and even theatre and arts – all aimed to cultivate in our hearts the love to serve and to enlighten our minds to be sensitive to the needs of others and to be acquainted with other cultures. There was a time during the program that we were immersed in an American culture through living with an American host family. It was a two way process, as we learn their cultures, they likewise learn ours. Some of them have not heard about Philippines and where it is located so it was really an opportunity for me to share to them our cultures.
One of the highlights of the program was we had the chance to tour around the state of Illinois - two of which were in Dekalb, where NIU is located, and Chicago - known as the “Windy City”. We presented our rich cultures through our native Mindanao tribal and ethnic dances to various types of audiences almost everywhere we go. From there we went to the capital of the United States, the Washington District of Columbia (DC).We even had the chance to tour inside the White House. We received our certificates at the US Department of State from Jen Bookbinder, the officer in-charge of Exchange Programs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (BECA) at Washington D.C. after completing the said program.
We headed back to Manila where we also personally met with the former US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. Each of the PYLP participants was given an initial monetary support from the scholarship grant in order to implement our proposed community service projects to our respective communities. The community service projects were mostly implemented annually or in a year-round cycle depending on the type of project without monetary support from the grant but with the participants’ sponsorships and linkages to other organizations.
This program gave me a bigger picture of the world where I lived in. It made me realize my greater responsibilities as a youth in my community and as a student leader. To be a leader, much is required and one must have the truest heart for others. No earthly ranks or nationality or social edge or any color could hinder one to make a change.
Yes, we all have differences in our beliefs, practices, priorities, and in all aspects in our way of life. But with all these differences – we still have similarities. The call is there, let us not dwell on our differences instead let us cherish our similarities. We all believe in God, we all love life and we love to live happy with our families and everyone around us. The challenge is – let us nurture those similarities. Let us recognize in our hearts the fact that we are brothers and sisters because we were created with one God and we dwell on this one island –Mindanao.
Remember everyone is a strong force that can stabilize our society. Everyone is endowed with potentials essential for development. We can be united behind our differences and we can make Mindanao – boom to success! With my associations with Muslims and with other tribes I learned that they are just like us – very friendly and very sincere people.
America is a very exciting place to go but we can make Mindanao more exciting if we start to remove that barrier which we allowed to hold us for long, the barrier of misconception and discrimination. With the trainings and learnings I gained with this program, I have come to fully realize the responsibilities I have to be an instrument of change by living a life centered to God and my fellowmen.
Rena Jean is a third year BS Biology student of Davao Doctors College and belongs to Batch 9 of the Philippine Youth Leadership Program. (Rena Jean M. Gonzales, PYLP Alumna)
Sunday Essays are articles written by Ateneo de Davao students for their journalism class.