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As We Sail Onto The Rough Seas

A story by Nur Faizal Dama and John Isidore Laure

In 2018, student leaders from schools in Cotabato City and Maguindanao Province formed the Responsible Young Leaders Organization or RYLO. Three years later, they tell their shared journey of gaining confidence, overcoming challenges, and working towards influencing decision-makers around them. This story was created by RYLO members who follow the development of their colleagues as their voices merge into one.
Members of the Responsible Young Leaders Organization listen to a speaker on the beach
© forumZFD

Nur Faizal Dama is a student leader in Cotabato City. “At a young age, I started using social media as a source of news and updates. However, it upsets me to see the toxic nature and unending conflicts on a day-to-day basis in the digital space. This taught me the importance of the proper use of social media, especially for the youth.”, he shares his reflections. “I asked myself, how can I, as a student leader, help in alleviating this situation”

Over time, social media has clearly embedded itself into the individual and social identity of Filipinos. This is more evident among the younger generation where social media has become an integral part of defining the Filipino youth. Despite the many advantages of social media, it has as also been a source of conflict, for example through the proliferation of fake news articles and conflict provoking pages and articles, as well as, online recruitment into violent extremist groups. However, for some students and youth leaders in Cotabato City and Maguindanao province, they see social media as an opportunity to share and help spread awareness on the peace process in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and to provide the youth an avenue to voice out youth-related issues and concerns to the government.

In January 2018, some of the leading students from different schools in Cotabato City and Maguindanao attended a five-day seminar on responsible use of social media organized by forumZFD-Cotabato in partnership with Department of Education – Cotabato City. The activity not only offered skills on maximizing the digital space but also served as a convention of like-minded individuals to discuss potential actions for sustaining the gains of the seminar and ensuring the transfer of knowledge and skills from one leader to another.

A week after, the participants created a platform where student and youth leaders alike can express their opinions and spread awareness on the importance of using social media responsibly. An avenue where the youth leaders can influence and potentially aid the youth in their endeavors not just in the digital space, but in their efforts to assert their role in sustaining and maintaining peace in  in the region. Thus, the Responsible Young Leaders Organization (RYLO) was founded.

Group picture of RYLO founding members turning over their positions to the new generation of youth leaders.

RYLO is a multipartial, student-based, youth-led organization composed of thirty-one youth leaders from Maguindanao province and Cotabato City who seek to break the barriers between schools and spread the culture of peace and unity in their community. The organization envisions youth leaders to become proactive in addressing social issues faced by their sector and the community in general by upholding the spirit of collective leadership. Social media, such as facebook and youtube, are among the tools RYLO uses to inform their fellow youth and enable peer exchange. RYLO engages with different stakeholders to create spaces for the youth to be involved in different decision-making processes and ensure that issues and concerns of the youth are heard, tackled, and addressed in the region. 

For the first two years of RYLO, the organization was able to share their knowledge and skills on responsible use of social media to the different schools of Cotabato City and Maguindanao through their re-echo programs. Furthermore, RYLO is actively participating in different activities relating to the peace process in BARMM such as the Peace Forum with Youth Leaders on Understanding the Bangsamoro Organic Law and their Role in the Bangsamoro Government, where they increased their knowledge of the newly established government. Despite the many activities of RYLO, the organization still finds time to participate in different community outreach programs like Lakaw Mindanao: Tulong sa Pag-ahon (Go Mindanao: Help to Rehabilitate), an earthquake disaster relief response initiative for the people of Province of North Cotabato.

We did all we could to gain new experience, endeavoring to seek answers. With the experiences acquired during the process, we found ourselves and built confidence in each and everyone. We developed a burning passion to influence, to accommodate, to be the voice of the voiceless, to engender a safe space for the opinion and struggles of children - the space that we never had. We wanted to be a game-changer because we are dreamers, and our dream is not just for our sake but for everyone else’s” – Sittie Yana Mardeyah Sanday, student leader and RYLO member.

As we flourish together with the organization, we were able to find answers to the questions we asked ourselves. Starting from a simple meeting, the organization is now full of eagerness to transform systems that create conflict and instead spread a culture of peace” - Ace Fiesta, student leader and RYLO member

“The organization achieved what was thought impossible for a youth organization but some of us went through a lot. Some faced harsh criticisms of the work we were doing: “Stop that silly organization,” “You will get nothing from joining that organization” were only words, but they were painful to hear. As well as this, it was also hard to carry out and sustain all the initiatives and projects we had for youth and communities. However, we did not turn our backs on our objectives and the reasons we commenced this journey on the rough seas.” - Alidatu Kalantungan, student leader and RYLO member

“Before the establishment of RYLO, social stigma among the different academic institutions was rampant. However, the formation of RYLO enabled the different schools to address their prejudices towards each other. We became the model to stop the stigma and built camaraderie among the schools in Cotabato City and Maguindanao.” - Faizal Maliga, student leader and RYLO member

As the organization grew in wisdom, it strived harder to plant the seeds of hope among the youth and continue what has been started. Together and with the help of forumZFD-Cotabato, a new breed of hopeful and young student leaders hopped on deck and joined the voyage of RYLO. They managed to sustain the gains of the organization and ensure its vitality in promoting and advocating the youth agenda and voicing out the issues and concerns of the youth in the region.

Former forumZFD project officer Nass Dunding with the first batch of RYLO leaders.

Today, after three years of voyage, RYLO is a stronger organization with well-anchored foundations, stronger social media presence, background on peacebuilding and non-violent communication, and a government-accredited youth organization in the region. The organization continues to pursue its development to become ever more capable of representing and raising issues and concerns of the youth in the region both in the digital and non-digital space. Reflecting on its accomplishments, RYLO can see that their efforts, little by little, changed the mindsets of the youth and of those in power in relation to the capacities of the youth - changes that signal a more proactive youth that looks for spaces to have their voice heard and a government that is now more open to provide these spaces to the youth.

“Today, it is now easier to communicate to those who are in position. We are now capable and confident in talking our issues with them” - Fatima Gonzales, student leader and RYLO member

“Sailing for the last three years was never easy. Nevertheless, our little victories against the rough seas bring me nothing but joy and heartfelt gratitude for starting this voyage. We are still growing and continually learning about the challenges present in our society. Dilemmas may hamper our journey towards achieving our goals but believing in and going back to our ‘why's' is how we continue.” - John Isidore Laure, student leader and RYLO member

“It is not just a typical youth-led organization, because one can find great companionship and a family. When I return in my mind to that time at the seminar, I was afraid to speak in front of other people. Now, I realize how I have grown and how this journey with RYLO answered so many of my questions I asked myself before. We have made a difference” – Jariya Farina Bayao, student leader and RYLO member

Truly we can say with great pride, RYLO for real progress. – RYLO.

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