By CHRISTINE CHEAH
THEY are all leaders with a cause and alumni of several US international exchange programmes, but more importantly, the young people who congegrated at the recent 2013 LEAD Asean Youth Summit in Manila, Philippines are all ready to make a difference in the world.
LEAD – which stands for link, engage, activate and develop – is an annual summit which hopes to forge a strong youth network across the region.
Hosted by the Ayala Foundation, in partnership with the Manila US Embassy, the three-day summit gathered 150 of the brightest young people aged 18-24 from across South-East Asia.
The youth summit featured interactive panel discussions, excursions, cultural exchange activities and workshops to empower the young leaders with adequate knowledge to craft their own programmes to benefit their communities back home.
Ten delegates from each Asean country and 60 from the Philippines were chosen by the Ayala Foundation and the US Embassies across South-East Asia, and they were either from US Embassy Youth Programmes or Ayala Young Leaders Congress alumni.
The international summit focused on various subjects, such as economic development, environment, education and awareness, and human development.
The participants were invited to attend think labs facilitated by successful organisations, such as Teach for the Philippines, where they had the opportunity to discuss pressing social issues as well as go on excursions to witness how successful local enterprises are run.
The participants were introduced to several outstanding individuals who are also Ramon Magsaysay Award (often referred to as the Nobel Prize of Asia) recipients, and one of them was 63-year-old Antonio Meloto, the man behind the “work with the poor” NGO, Gawad Kalinga (which means “giving care” in Tagalog).
Meloto, or Tito Tony, as he is affectionally referred to, had risen from the squatters of Bacolod city in the Philippines to attend the Ateneo de Manila University on a scholarship, eventually carving a successful career for himself in the printing business.
Happily married with five kids, Meloto was living a comfortable life as an upper middle class citizen, but he could not forget the squalid environment he grew up in, as well as the thousands, if not millions, of people who are still living in poverty and struggling to survive.
In 1995, Meloto embarked on his dream to help the underprivileged by founding Gawad Kalinga with a vision that the Philippines would become a first world nation by 2024.
Nineteen years later, thanks to Meloto and his team’s hard work, Gawad Kalinga has built communities across the Philippine archipelago and is referred to by locals as the most trusted NGO in the nation.
However, it wasn’t all smooth-sailing for Meloto. When he first started the project, there were doubters who asked, “Why would one invest in a land and let ex-convicts build homes on it?”
Meloto, of course, proved them wrong. Corporations donated, people volunteered and Gawad Kalinga became a worldwide movement that has positively affected other countries like Papua New Guinea and Australia.
The youth summit provided an avenue for the participants to collaborate and learn and on the final day of the summit, the participants produced ideas for innovative projects that will not only benefit their respective countries but the region as well.
On top of that, they also designed a framework to sustain the Asean youth network in years to come.
* For more information on the LEAD Asean Youth Summit, visit facebook.com/LEADASEANYouthSummit.