“If you change your mind, you change tomorrow. If you change your heart, you change forever.”

This is what Atty. Antonio Oposa, Jr. passionately declared during the LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit while he was sharing his battle for environmental justice to young delegates from all over Southeast Asia.

I believe the mentioned quote perfectly captures the motivational factor that fueled a regional gathering here in our shores this week.

Held on 2 -6 December 2013, the LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit gathered at least 150 young representatives from each ASEAN country in Makati to initiate dialogues, share best practices, and translate hopeful visions to concrete actions.

The summit was indeed a confluence of both aspirations and opportunities.

Aspirations — because all the delegates came from pertinent advocacies that ranged from the environment to social media, and everything in between. Opportunities – because the summit itself served as a point for actual collaboration in different projects that aim to occupy the gaps in our own communities back home.

ONE BUT MANY. Delegates to the ASEAN LEAD Youth Summit pose after designing their own t-shirts. Photo from the ASEAN LEAD Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LEADASEANYouthSummit)ONE BUT MANY. Delegates to the ASEAN LEAD Youth Summit pose after designing their own t-shirts. Photo from the ASEAN LEAD Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LEADASEANYouthSummit)

Youth action

If there is one thing that I learned from these inspiring people at the summit, it’s that there is no excuse for the younger generation to be indifferent towards present issues that will inevitably distress the future.

Drawing on our common practices as a whole region, this experience explores how members of today’s youth not only make sense of critical issues, but create a culture of action to respond to them as well.

In an emerging globalized context, we find ourselves telling the same tales of success and adversity.

For example, the clamor for environmental problems in Indonesia may not be as the same as the one here in the Philippines, but the short distance we share calls us to see common grounds that worsen the issue such as poor governance and unplanned urbanization.

Also, the problem of youth participation here in the country may not be the same as the ones in our ASEAN counterparts, but our shared experiences call us not to denounce the situation, but to challenge the prevailing mindset through small but collective efforts.

In the process of exploring each other’s backgrounds, I have come to realize that many of us share a certain level of concern when it comes to youth participation because it is being labelled as too dependent on formal strategies that are usually unrepresentative and inefficient.

This is where we come to see that youth action does not only entail active engagement of young people in their areas, but it is also a matter of finding opportunities to incorporate young people’s everyday perspectives into solutions.

However, as the summit experience allowed us to collaborate with people from different sectors such as the government, civil society, and private institutions, the experience made us see that we still have able mentors and allies who can identify with the belief that the younger generation can come up with solutions that are thoroughly meaningful, effective, and creative.

Photo from the ASEAN LEAD Youth Summit FB page (https://www.facebook.com/LEADASEANYouthSummit)Photo from the ASEAN LEAD Youth Summit FB page (https://www.facebook.com/LEADASEANYouthSummit)

Towards ASEAN 2015

The ASEAN integration was definitely an underlying theme of the big gathering. As we approach the year 2015, we brace ourselves to anticipate and respond to the changes that will affect us and our borders in due course.

The integration will definitely espouse both opportunities and constraints. With this, youth members will continue to rise to the challenge of working on their advocacies and finding allies to collaborate with.

2015 is not a finish line. It is a starting point for everyone. Whether or not we are ready for this inevitable outcome, the integration will surely be a chance for the members of the ASEAN youth to prove its relevant purpose.

Whether or not we are at an advantageous point for integration, members of the ASEAN youth must always be hopeful, yet critical, and watchful, yet engaged.

As the summit drew to a close, we find ourselves in significant shades of inspiration and opportunities. As what one of our mentors, Joseph Anthony Quesada, would say, “Don’t just go back to reality. Go back to change reality.” –JOHN PATRICK ALLANEGUI, Rappler

The LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit was organized by the Ayala Foundation and the US Embassy in Manila. Rappler was one of its partners.