THERE were over 20 bright young sparks at the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Young Fellows programme held two weeks ago, in Manila, Philippines, each with their own dreams to better their communities, and by extension, the world.
R.AGE was invited to participate in the leadership programme, and here are just a few of the amazing young people we met there:
Farah Ali Ghodsinia, Philippines
“All human beings are born equal and espouse the same basic rights. I dream that no matter where a person is born, he or she is assured to live a dignified life, free from injustice, discrimination and poverty.”
What makes Farah stand out in a crowd is her commitment to serving her country and promoting equality for all.
Her mother is a Maranao – Maranaos, largely based in Mindanao, are Muslim and an ethnic minority in a country that is 90% Catholic – and that has inspired her to establish the Children of Mindanao, a socio-civic venture that helps children have better access to education. Children of Mindanao reaches out mainly to children from minority groups. By distributing books, schoolbags and other materials, its hope is that more Filipino children — regardless of religious and cultural affiliation — learn and live together in peace.
This hope is close to Farah’s heart, as she herself is of mixed parentage (her father was born in Iran). She spent years being educated in a private Catholic school – the only Muslim in a batch of 400 students. This background laid the foundation for a passion for advocacies that promote understanding, peace and security amidst cultural and religious differences.
The first-year law student at the University of the Philippines is also serving as the president of the 10th National Youth Parliament of the Philippines. It is the country’s biggest and most prestigious parliamentary gathering of youth leaders, serving as a platform for them to lobby, discuss and craft policy recommendations that address national youth issues.
Nazeer Riaz Jamal, South Africa
“I want to tell the world that Islam can be fun.”
Nazeer has made a name for himself in Durban, South Africa as a religious hip-hop artiste who raps in Arabic.
The multi-talented singer, composer and beatboxer is also part of a popular community-based Islamic radio station named Radio Al-Ansar, where programmes are geared towards educating the Muslim population in the region. Nazeer’s band, a fusion nasyid quintet named Waahid, has opened for international stars like Maher Zain.
Besides his musical pursuits, he is also passionate about environmental issues, which are a huge problem in South Africa where wildlife poaching is rampant and laws are poorly enforced. His radio hosting gig aside, Nazeer is also the assistant director in the South African government’s department of environmental affairs, under the multilateral environmental agreements section. During the Young Fellows programme, his passion for the environment was evident in every classroom activity we participated in.
Lorena Flores, the Philippines
“Know that change is possible. One of the first hurdles that we come across is self-doubt, and this is especially true for people who want to employ changes that go against institutions or traditional practices.”
Flores joined the programme as a delegate, but she is also the co-founder of Social Play and Innovation Network (SPIN) Manila, which conducted the training and arranged the itinerary for the whole six days we were in Manila.
Flores is trained as a landscape architect, and while she would love to redesign Manila’s layout to make it more cohesive, what she really wants to do is redesign people’s mindsets and help them reach out and connect with other people. “The programme validated one of our core assumptions for setting up SPIN – that there is a growing movement towards connectivity and collaboration on a global scale today in a manner that is unprecedented” she said, adding that “technology, social awareness, and the proliferation and success of platforms like the WIEF and the Young Fellows programme point to a ‘glocal’ future where global perspectives and sensibilities enriching and impacting local projects and endeavours become the norm.”
Richard ‘D-Cal’ Dacalos, the Philippines
“Lets stop blaming each other, and just start acting and working together.”
Dacalos was the trainer and programme director of the WIEF Young Fellows programme. Also a co-founder of SPIN Manila, he was an inspiration to all of us during the programme, which is why he’s on this list – even though he wasn’t one of the delegates.
“The idea of SPIN was born in 2010 when I realised that the change I wanted for the Philippines is not going to happen if I waited for other people to make the change. I needed to make it happen,” he said.
Two years ago, Dacalos took the plunge and created a platform for people to get together, have conversations about social issues, and develop projects together. That platform is SPIN. Now, SPIN is a think-tank, network and platform working towards Dacalos’ and Flores’ dream to bring together a diverse group of professionals from different disciplines, working together to solve social problems.
Fun fact: Dacalos has authored a book, and is also one of the pioneers of the Philippines’ underground hip-hop scene!