A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to visit the Philippines as the U.S. delegate to observe the 6th installment of a U.S. State Department sponsored youth program, PYLP, and to present a workshop entitled, Spiritually-based Activism: Fueling Inspiration and Overcoming Challenges.
The Philippines Youth Leadership Program (PYLP) is not unlike our very own MYLS (Muslim Youth Leadership Program). PYLP recruits a selective group of highly talented and committed High School students from the conflict-ridden island of Mindanao and sends them to Northern-Illinois University (NIU) for leadership and conflict resolution training. Each student will eventually implement their acquired skills in community engagement and service projects in their respective communities.
The PYLP was designed to facilitate inter-faith dialogue and conflict resolution amongst the many religious communities in the Philippines, namely the Lumads (Indigenous religions), Muslims, and Christians. The Southern Philippines, specifically Mindanao, is an embattled region where the pre-dominant group is a marginalized and neglected Muslim population consisting of various ethnic tribes. Conflicts have created much rancor and angst amongst the various peoples.
The collaboration and collective awareness that this program inspires in the youth is a definite step in the right direction. It makes me proud as an American to have our government sponsor such a pivotal initiative. After all, if we can help uplift our young people, then through them we can enact peace and rid societies of the destructive chains of intolerance and bigotry. I commend Dr. Russell and Dr. Madale, the two esteemed coordinators who work tirelessly to execute these brilliant endeavors.
I was utterly impressed with the PYLP youth participants as they showcased the skills they had learned at NIU in their community service projects, engaged in the activities of this particular program, and formed lasting friendships with each other. Their passion to help one another and do good was striking. It was a pleasure to have been a part of their training at NIU but it was even more fulfilling to spend a week with them in their home country. Though I was a visitor, their love and respect made me feel like I was right at home.
Visiting the Philippines was more than I could have bargained for. My thirst for cultural exchange was more than satiated by the open arms in which many hosts, friends, and strangers embraced me. Of course, it didn’t hurt to be in a tropical paradise. The beauty of the islands was only surpassed by the kindness and respect of the Filipino people.
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