In a meeting with former colleagues and the Board Chair, discussion about the future or fate of our member-youth federation turned into a heated debate. Everybody was all about closing it up – meaning no further fund allocation for the youth federation – until I spoke up. Their sole argument was there were no more young people interested to continue with the federation.
Precisely, I said, why are they not interested or have lost interest?
My colleagues looked at me like, who’s this Hydra? To their credit, I felt like It at the time.
They mentioned that many have migrated to the City to study and now didn’t have the time to participate in federation activities.
That’s a given, I said, but what did we do about it?
I then recounted to them the gist of my meetings as OIC with youth officers and volunteers of member-youth associations in the areas. The young people had told me about the general mismanagement by adult mentors of their organizations which eroded their trust and enthusiasm over time until they “lost interest”. (The young people’s disclosure had been buoyed up with their expectation that maybe I can facilitate some change, to which I felt deep sadness for them because how is it that the problem had blown up to such proportions that anybody would feel faint – I did – contemplating a solution?)
I said that the youth actually have bright dreams and plans for their organizations and do they (my colleagues) know this?; the youth just needed guidance and support where it matters.
During this exchange with colleagues, the boss went and requested the donor representative to join us. She too was for the federation’s closure. I repeated my arguments for her benefit. I proposed that instead of taking a drastic route, why not set a meeting with core officers of the youth associations and have an honest talk about where they see themselves and the youth federation going. Perhaps a spin off social enterprise or similar initiative could be identified in the process. I reminded them of the pool of young peer educators whose knowledge and skills can be offered at a price. I cited examples of initiatives and organizations set up and managed by young people. I said that it’s time to see the federation’s young people transitioning as employers and entrepreneurs themselves after more than a decade of training and supporting them.
That would be the day, I said, when we can say we have empowered the federation’s youth.
To my utter surprise everybody reacted saying, it’s different here! That won’t work here!
How? I asked, sobering up a bit remembering I was among tribes.
They said that the culture in the areas, or among Filipinos, is that young people are still under the influence of their parents; that they can’t just do what they like.
I remember then the complaint among locals of the lack of skill in the art of gangsa playing (as part of the canao ritual) among younger generation of IPs. I’m told that elders before would stop young people then when they tried to have a go at the instrument because according to the canao rite only adults had the right to play it. The impact of that rule is now manifest in today’s IP community. So now there’s a local school or two that’s reviving the art by retraining their IP students.
Okay, I said, I understand that some things may be culturally inappropriate for certain communities and we don’t want to push, but the other side of that is maybe the problem is in how we view our young people.
For God’s sake, I continued, these are young adults. Nobody should dictate what they should or should not do. Let them speak for themselves. Let’s not assume we know their minds. Don’t tell me that you don’t believe this, we who are working with children and young people? This is why I’m pissed- that without consulting them we’re sure that we know what they want and so decide for them. I’m okay with closing up their organizations but only if and when the youth themselves decide that. They’re registered independently with SEC. Kumbaga sa bansa, they’re sovereign.
I had spoken with voice raised several octaves high then, surprising everyone even myself. We were at one of the lounge areas of a hotel. I dropped to my seat before somebody thought of calling a guard.
Silence descended on our group, everyone in thinking mode. Finally, the donor representative broke the silence, saying she’s amenable to allocating funds for exploratory talks with the youth and subsequent activities resulting from the talks. That needless to say concluded the discussion.
I have great respect for my colleagues and elders, but in our exchange can be gleaned the oppressive regime persisting in Philippine communities that keep young Filipinos in their “proper place”. The Sangguniang Kabataan continues to be at the mercy of this culture. In turn, SK officers adapt the same in their own lives and therein starts the perpetuation of habits, attitudes, and values that work against the national vision of the youth as hope of the motherland.
I understand that much of the anti youth culture is inherited from older generations who lived in times in which knowledge and attitudes differ from today’s hence are spontaneous acts with good intention. Like, Bobby’s mother in the movie Prayers for Bobby who prayed over her son’s homosexuality in the belief it will go away through prayer. Had she known what she came to learn after Bobby’s death she wouldn’t have done that. We owe it to ourselves therefore to continously strive to question our own patterns of thinking and beliefs. Moreover who should be able to say what the proper place of a young person is in the community if not by the individual and collective determination of young persons themselves?
What is an empowered SK like? Let’s take a look at Australia where the Australian Greens’ national youth poll run online in early 2013 showed that 82% of young people are interested in politics and current affairs, but 59% are frustrated and 28% are disappointed with the current political climate. Only 18% of young people believe their voices are adequately represented by mainstream media.
Australia’s youth and government model is a YMCA sponsored youth parliament programme which is present in every Australian state and territory.
In New South Wales,
the Youth Parliament is open to young people aged 15 to 18 who represent their local electorate in the Legislative Assembly in the Legislative Council. Parliamentary committees were established. The Youth Parliament passed the Same-Sex Marriage Matter of Public Importance in 2012 with 70 ayes to 11 noes. A Bill for Marriage Equality was passed in the Legislative Assembly the following year 72 ayes to 0 noes. 2013 saw the introduction of the Legislative Council and the creation of the YMCA Youth & Government suite of programs, making it the only YMCA Youth Parliament in Australia to run a bicameral Parliament and programs other than that of the initial Youth Parliament.
That is what youth in nation building is in action, what we want to see happening with our own SK. For it to be independent of the political influence of the old party system. For a new breed of adult citizens and leaders to be borne from out of this early positive experience of political independence. That is how our young people become the nation’s hope.