Be brave and dare to dream
No matter the age, there’s no limit in what we can do to change the world for the better.
Every year, typhoons batter our town. Families would flee their homes and rush to evacuation centers. My family, on the other hand, would stay put. They would refuse to go even as rescue was at our door. I listened and obeyed. I was a kid, what would I know? Our world as children only revolved around school and play, or so I thought.
Today, I am usually one of the first people in the evacuation shelters. I help assess the situation and ensure everyone feels safe amidst the storm. Today, I know that children and the youth have so much more to offer. We have a voice and we have a responsibility.
Today, I lead the Kabataan Kinabukasan Kaunlaran youth organization or KKK. We inform, inspire, and instill change among children, communities and concerned groups so together we can become resilient against disasters, and as our name implies, create a future that is bright and full of progress.
"My family, on the other hand, would stay put. They would refuse to go even as rescue was at our door. I listened and obeyed. I was a kid, what would I know? Our world as children only revolved around school and play, or so I thought."
Finding the light, and my purpose
I never would have thought I could become the person I am now. I used to be really shy. When a friend invited me to join an activity happening in our area, I hesitated. I said my parents wouldn’t allow me to go out. It took a bit of convincing until I said yes, and I’m glad I did. It was a UNICEF activity on child-centered disaster risk reduction (DRR), and it was there I learned about children’s rights and how as a young person we are not simply victims during a disaster. We have a role to play before, during and after a hazard occurs.
We learned so much during those days, it was empowering. We didn’t want the experience to end or go to waste. And it was there we dared to think, what if we started our own group? So, we did. KKK was born.
Not all sunshine and rainbows
It was a rough start. People weren’t used to the idea that someone young could take part in planning, in sharing opinions. It was understandable, although uneasy. Not long ago I believed that talking back to adults is disrespectful. This is not true, I realized, and it was all a matter of how you say it and why you say it. In our case, we wanted to take action and to be seen and heard. Our UNICEF training taught us that our perspectives mattered.
Thankfully, our youth members are deeply committed to the cause. We did our activities despite the lack of support, from coastal cleanups and tree plantings to orientation sessions on DRR and climate change adaptation. We also held free movie viewings called Cine Kalye where we sold popcorn, and a Togas for a Cause, where we became photographers for graduating students. You see, we needed funds as much as we needed our local government officials and elders to value our efforts. Our organization felt like a small plant that couldn’t get enough sunlight to grow.
"We wanted to take action and to be seen and heard. Our UNICEF training taught us that our perspectives mattered."
Persistence and passion pay off
KKK eventually gained ground when the second phase of the UNICEF child-centered DRR project began. We were introduced to officials in the community and municipal level—I was able to speak with the Mayor! Me. Who knew this was possible? This was a big win for us.
Soon after, we were conducting activities for both young and old, such as building three-dimensional maps to identify risks and hazards in our town. The municipal DRRM office valued our ideas and provided means to expand our work. The community started to trust us and sought information from us on disaster preparedness.
Action knows no age
My town, Mapanas in Northern Samar, has shown that a fifth-class municipality in this country can come together to fight climate change, whether you are eight, eighteen or eighty. We can all contribute to improving the way our community works. I am grateful that my age is not seen as a hindrance to the merit of my message.
Last May, I was unsure again of speaking out loud and serving as the national youth representative to the 2022 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) in Bali, Indonesia. But, I realized that this was an invaluable opportunity given to me. I was in this international stage with government leaders, decision-makers and fellow youth, all gathered to discuss the gaps and development in reducing disaster risks around the world. I used the moment to encourage them and emphasize the importance of my generation’s views and abilities. It was also, I realized, a moment to inspire youth in other countries, especially those like me who felt timid or felt underappreciated by those in authority.
I shook off my worries and told the story of my town and our organization. What started as a child-centered DRR activity with UNICEF in 2015 has now flourished into an independent yet collaborative movement by the youth, with the youth and beyond the youth, accredited by the local government and also supporting other municipalities outside of Mapanas.
"I was in this international stage with government leaders, decision-makers and fellow youth, all gathered to discuss the gaps and development in reducing disaster risks around the world. I used the moment to encourage them and emphasize the importance of my generation’s views and abilities."
If there is one big lesson from this incredible journey, it is knowing that we aren’t alone. Many other young people and communities are facing challenges, be it climate impacts or getting the right support. It is on everyone to increase our ranks, share the lessons and drive change.
To parents, you are the first cheerleader of your children. Nurture their interests and talent. To communities, treasure the youth. They are a vital source of ideas and enthusiasm. Keep them involved in local programs. To governments, please include us in planning and decision-making. Allow us to contribute to the future we will inherit.
Lastly, to my fellow children and youth, don’t be afraid. Never stop dreaming. Your inputs are worthy. You are worthy. Together, we can create a world that is resilient.
Faye Bandilla is the President of Kabataan Kinabukasan Kaunlaran (Youth, Future, Progress), an organization in Mapanas, Northern Samar, that advocates for child participation and youth involvement in disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness and climate action.
UNICEF Philippines joins the celebration of this year’s International Youth Day, focusing on intergenerational solidarity. UNICEF Philippines supports this aim by empowering the youth to develop their voice and recognize their role in shaping positive change within their communities, as well as enabling them to collaborate with other stakeholders, whether young or old.