A Young Leader Builds a Group Bridging The Youth and Change
Despite always being ignored as a youth, Ridha leads his fellow young people towards a peaceful, safer, and inclusive future.
Story by Denise Rafaeli Cadorniga
Ridha, at 24 years old, had his bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and was hungry for a chance to serve his community. But Ridha’s vision of an empowered youth seemed to be out of reach as there is not much he could do without the proper training, resources, and network.
He decided to take on the issues that have been plaguing the community and the youth for far too long—violence, unrest, and lack of development. To top it all off, youth voices have been frequently dismissed as a force in society with the potential to solve these problems simply because they are young.
This was when Ridha asked the question, which he always asks himself: “How can we contribute better to addressing the issues experienced by the community?”
Ridha’s thirst for change stemmed from his dissatisfaction on the lack of resources and opportunities available to him and his fellow youths, particularly the lack of training, which then pushed him to pursue his own initiatives. These initiatives eventually led him to the youth training sessions by NP (assisted by the local federation president of the Sangguniang Kabataan at that time).
It was his first encounter with training of that sort. For him, this training was the first step to the thousand-mile journey he is taking now, as the skills that he had learned in the training sessions inspired him to establish a bridge between young people and change through Titayan Youth.
"Titayan" is a Maguindanaon word that stands for "bridge," and has been very active in engaging the youth in local communities, creating a bridge of participation, and promoting a culture of nonviolence. Titayan’s mission is to nurture young people to be organized and resilient.
This engagement of young individuals was a change of pace for the youth in their community, as they were once seen as a group that was not worth listening to, and could contribute nothing to solving the issues of the community.
The group had already conducted several community-building activities in pursuit of this goal: Culture of Peace and Nonviolence trainings, Child Protection, Child Rights, Gender Based Violence (GBV) workshop, Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM), and a feeding project during the Ramadhan season, and the hosting of an Islamic Symposium which promoted the values of brotherhood and knowledge-seeking.
In Ridha’s words,
"In the past, the youth here were afraid to participate in discourse, because they know they’re young. The elders don’t often give them the proper respect that youths deserve. Because of the series of training Plan and NP have done here, they’ve been empowered to participate and truly understand local issues. There’s more awareness now of what's happening in the community."
"Dati kasi, yung youth dito, natatakot silang makibahagi sila sa mga usapin, dahil alam nila bata sila, yung mga matatanda hindi masyadong binibigay yung respeto na dapat sa youth. Dahil sa mga training na ginawa ng Plan at NP, nagkaroon ng empowerment na makasali sila, intindihin nila yung mga problema… Nagkakaroon ng awareness sa mga nangyayari dito sa community."
Titayan Youth has also extended its mission to barangays outside the three municipalities covered by The Bridges Project (Datu Unsay, Datu Salibo, and Datu Saudi). They have been engaging more out-of-school youth as they are planning to expand their program scope. Through Ridha’s leadership and engagement with other active young individuals, they have broadened their network that led them to be invited in a number of events like the 'stakeholder’ policy forum with BARMM CSOs organized by UNFPA, and the Talakayang Bangsamoro CSO facilitated by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD).
Ridha, along with other Titayan Youth, was also featured in an online show organized by the Bangsamoro Youth Commission in two episodes of the Bangsamoro Youth Hours: An Avenue for the Youth to Speak, where he mentioned: "Being an active and [a] youth involved in social issues will not only help us learn, but is also an act of recognizing and supporting the Bangsamoro struggle."
Ridha’s advocacy did not stop there, he has been applying his skills as a peace monitor, where he employs the Early Warning, Early Response principles learned from the trainings given by NP to quickly call for safe evacuation of civilians in areas where violent conflict is deemed to be imminent.
In an interview, however, he mentioned how he was not always like this, that he was easily frightened especially when talking in front of a group:
The biggest change I have seen in myself is that I’m now more comfortable speaking in front of groups. In the past, it's been like this: you have a lot of ideas on a topic, but you lose them all when you’re there in front of everyone, because you’re nervous or out of your comfort zone. Now it’s normal to stand in front of them, to discuss, and sometimes, you don’t want to stop speaking if it’s a topic you’re very familiar with.
“Ang pinakamalaking nakita kong nabago sa akin is confident na ako magsalita sa harap. Yung dati kasi although mayroon kang naiisip na idea sa mga topics, nawawala ‘yun pag ‘dun ka na sa harap, kasi kinakabahan ka, hindi ka doon sa comfort zone mo… Ngayon, normal na tumayo ka sa harap nila, mag-discuss. Parang minsan, ayaw mo nang tumigil kung alam mo masyado yung topic.”
Ridha had the vision and the hunger for change, he just needed the resources and the network to make an impact.
Many thanks to NP and to the Bridges project for their unceasing guidance to us as we try to help our communities, to lessen the problems in our communities through their invitations to different trainings... They’re finding ways for us to be able to do something.
Maraming salamat sa NP at sa Bridges project sa patuloy at walang sawang paggabay sa amin na matulungan namin yung komunidad, na maibsan yung mga problema sa aming community, sa pamamagitan ng pag-invite sa mga training… ginagawa nila ng paraan para may magawa namin.”
Ridha is one of the beneficiaries and training participants of the BRIDGES: Promoting Peace through Community-based Conflict Resolution and Empowerment of Young People is funded by PLAN International through German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) and in partnership with Nonviolent Peaceforce and Magungaya Mindanao Inc. (MMI). BRIDGES is being implemented in Maguindanao to strengthen the local capacity of communities in resolving conflict through nonviolent and people-centered approaches. It also provides socioeconomic empowerment programs for the disengaged and at-risk youth.
The project is aimed to improving the conflict-resolving capacity of local government and empower youth to increase participation in promoting peace and conflict resolution, particularly among disengaged, at-risk, unemployed, and out-of-school youth (OSY) of Maguindanao. The project brought together these like-minded young individuals and inspired the possibility of change altogether.