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Alumni Legacy: From Facilitator to Front-liner, how Joshua is transforming youth roles during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Our Alumni Coordinator Danielle Stephenson interviewed Espiritu Joshua Arsenio III (Joshua), Community Development student, teacher and 2019 #AAYLF delegate about his latest work and how he’s shaping the community response to COVID-19 in the Philippines.

Danielle: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Joshua: I’m a teacher by profession. I work as a Student Affairs Professional for the Student Formation Programs of the Ateneo de Manila University. I’m in my penultimate year in graduate school taking Community Development. I dedicated the last five years in training and leadership development for the youth.

D: What current community project are you involved in regarding COVID-19’s impact on the Philippines?

J: Upon declaration of work-from-home set up in the university where I’m working, I made the leap to go back to my hometown in Bula, Camarines Sur. It’s a lot safer there since Manila is the epicentre of the virus in my country. I have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arriving. I cannot interact nor share meals with my family. I was isolated in my room for 14 long days.

After completing the quarantine period, I asked myself, “What next, Josh?”. For some weird reason, there’s a voice inside of me that says “You can’t afford to see the world crumble in fear of death/contracting the virus. You have to do something.” 

One of my friends who is also a teacher reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of the resource mob being spearheaded by public and private school teachers in our barangay. It didn’t have any second thoughts and knew right then and there that I want to be a part of the initiative.

D: What inspired you to pursue this project? How did it come together?

J: The health crisis in my country necessitates high levels of collaboration between the government and its citizens. Anduyog, a word used in Bicol to mean “selfless or unconditional giving of oneself to others”, encapsulates that idea.

The call for donations was echoed via messaging app. We did it virtually since health protocols are strict.  We sent it to the residents of our barangay whose work is in the academe —from elementary and high school teachers to higher education institution faculty members. 

The resource mob was extra special as I was able to work with my former teachers in elementary. (Shoutout to Ma’am Josie Ibarreta Servillon and Ma’am Elizabeth Baylon Silvestre, my 1st Grade and 3rd Grade teachers, respectively).

In a span of three days, our group was able to raise Php 75,000.00. About 350 grocery packages were procured using the said fund. These were then distributed to indigent residents of Sitio Portico, Tipolo, Sagop, Centro, Okyab and Ibaba. The campaign was replicated by various teachers’ groups in my municipality.

Joshua working to distribute grocery packages to residents.
[Image Description: 1. Joshua carrying a package during a sunny field; 2. Moto and carriage filled with packages; 3. Joshua and colleague packing grocery packages; and 4. Joshua coordinating the distribution with a colleague.]

D:  How has this project assisted the residents of the barangay?

J: The resource mobilization and distribution of relief packs are meant to complement the government’s programs. Most of the residents cannot go to work and it means “no work, no food” for most of them.

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to provide support to more than 350 families and hot meals to the barangay health workers who are on duty 24/7.

D: What unique perspective do you think youth bring to front-line relief efforts? 

J: We may have faced certain limitations during the lockdown, but the power of social media helped us organize people and our group virtually. The use of social media platforms in coming up with campaigns/resource mob initiatives is gaining its momentum in many parts of the country and all over the world. 

When we organize people and involve them in volunteering opportunities, we strive for the realization of a democracy that enables people’s participation and collective action. People’s participation and collective action matter in these tough times.

Joshua engaging in meaningful conversations throughout AAYLF 2019.
[Image Description: 1. Joshua talking to Khin Phyu during an ice-breaker; and 2. Joshua talking to Hana Farhana as delegates change venues]

D: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced working on this project?

J: We have to become front-liners ourselves. We have to secure permits in order to be allowed to go out of our homes and do the packing and distribution of food packs. It’s a bit of a challenge as we have to go out of the confines of our pedagogical roles. As teachers, we just did what we could and needed to do.

D: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for youth interested in supporting their community during these tough times?

J: When basic human needs/rights are not fully implemented by the supposed duty-bearers, the youth should never hesitate to offer solutions. There will be cutting-edge and innovative solutions to this health crisis, and the young people of ASEAN-Australia will be the prime movers of such.

Alumni Legacy is our regular series highlighting the work of AAYSP alumni across the region.

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