‘Live the purpose, love the people’
For 38 students from public and private universities, the third ARC Young Leaders Camp in Baras town, Rizal province, started with a challenge from 2009 CNN Hero of the Year Efren Peñaflorida.
“What’s your purpose?” the man who was honored for promoting the education of street children through a kariton (pushcart) asked participants of the ARC camp, an annual project of ARC Refreshments Corp., exclusive licensee of RC Cola products.
The camp aimed to empower the Filipino youth to define new limits, break barriers and lead the change.
When the shy but cheerful Peñaflorida talked about leadership and the story behind his world-renowned kariton that carried books and school supplies for teaching the basics of language and mathematics, everyone had pens and notebooks ready to take down his inspiring words.
He told his rapt audience that leaders should “live the purpose, love the people.”
When he asked, “Now what is your purpose?” the room became quiet and the note-taking abruptly stopped.
The question needed much thought and seemed quite overwhelming for students who were just starting to get the hang of university life.
“Leaders find purpose in the needs around them. When the needs are already right there, in your face and you can no longer escape from them, that’s when the burden comes and you start to move, to organize, to create and to think about a solution,” he said. “And then the leader in you comes out.”
Peñaflorida said he was ready to quit school because of constant bullying but he was “taught how to unleash the hero in my heart.”
He said he did not believe he was capable of heroism until his mentor made him realize certain things.
Anybody can be a hero
Club 8586’s Bonn Manalaysay, mentor to Peñaflorida, International Children’s Peace Prize winner Kesz Valdez and finalist Emmanuel Bagual said no one was too poor or too young to be “the” change and that one’s driving purpose did not have to be grand.
It could be as simple as giving candy to street children, which was how Valdez started his advocacy, or driving a pedicab to bring relief to disaster victims and provide much needed transportation, like Bagual’s My Ride.
“It all starts with the aspiration to lead,” Manalaysay said. This desire should then be followed by thorough research to create a solution and bring about change.
A former student activist who joined protest rallies and fought for the rights of the poor, Manalaysay said he realized something more concrete had to be done.
“Even as I protested and marched down the streets, I continued to see street children who had nothing to eat,” he lamented.
So he decided to go the extra mile and reach out to them. He fed them, taught them their ABCs, read them the Bible, talked to them and listened to their stories.
From those hungry kids he fed, the bullied students he comforted and the street children he mentored, at least three modern-day heroes emerged—Peñaflorida, Valdez and Bagual.
For participants, the camp and the inspiring words of the speakers could have been just what they needed to take the first step to becoming heroes themselves. As they were reminded in one of their sharing sessions, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
Before the camp, community development sophomore Racquel Correa of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman did not know how and where to start her advocacy, though she knew where her heart was.
“I have always wanted to do something for our indigenous peoples… as I have seen their woes on exposure trips,” she said. “I have seen how their culture is being wiped out by modernization and how discrimination remains prevalent … I want to work on a project on empowerment and cultural appreciation for them so others will realize how valuable they are to society.”
Correa said she learned from the camp that leadership was about working with people and communities with passion and unwavering commitment.
“Leadership is doing something to serve the people out of love,” she said. “And that is how you find purpose.”
The camp helped some participants refine their goals and advocacies. Joshua Tagayuna of Technological Institute of the Philippines, for example, resolved to make the roads safer for pedestrians by starting an information drive.
“I was inspired by the speakers to do something about the things that bother me. And so, being a victim of a road accident, I want to work with my organization (Global Peace Youth Corps) to advocate road safety by launching an information drive or lobbying for new ordinances,” Tagayuna said.
After hearing how Manalaysay, Peñaflorida, Bagual and Valdez made the lives of many people better one project at a time, the participants were left wondering: “How do we start?”
A student asked the speakers a practical question: “How do you raise funds? Being students, we do not have enough resources.”
Manalaysay replied: “Nobody is too poor to give. God will always make channels.”
He told the students how he joined game shows and gave math tutorials to his friends and classmates when he was in college for P20 per session—all for the children he was taking care of.
Manalaysay said that in giving, no amount was too small. Valdez, for instance, started out giving candy to his friends on the streets when he turned 7. It was his birthday wish.
“Kesz said he just wanted his friends to be happy, too, so he wanted to give them slippers and candies. And we did,” Manalaysay said. “We spent less than P500 and started Gifts of Hope because I believed in this young boy’s idea.”
And having someone believe in them was what made the three award-winning leaders blessed, said a student of Jose Rizal University, who asked Manalaysay: “What if someone who doesn’t have a mentor also wants to share love and help people? How does he or she start from scratch?”
Manalaysay replied that anybody could be a mentor. “He could be your teacher, your mother, your father, a friend, anybody.”
“Just find someone who believes in you,” he said. “And if you find that no one does, believe in yourself. Believe that you can do something. You make a choice to be the change.”
Started in 2012 and patterned after a young leaders congress organized by the Young Men’s Christian Association decades back, the ARC Young Leaders camp chooses the best young role models in Manila and tries to mold them into a different kind of leader, said Gerry Garcia, executive vice president and chief operations officer of ARC Refreshments Corp.
“We see a lot of potential in these youths and we don’t want these students to become epal leaders someday, those who just want to be on top and boss people around. We want them to [really] do something to help the less privileged,” Garcia said. “That is why we make it a point to invite speakers who have selflessly made a change in society, those who have uplifted the lives of poor people.”
Good governance advocate Janine Joyce Ledesma, an 18-year-old UP student majoring in political science and a former ARC camp participant, said the workshops and seminars had shown them a different brand of leadership.
“What I learned from ARC was servant leadership, ” she said. “You shouldn’t be selfish, you don’t have to jeopardize the interest of the people to do what you think is right.”
Ledesma served as a moderator for this year’s event as part of the ARC camp’s protocol. Former participants become marshals of the following year’s gathering to ensure continuous learning.
ARC screens applications from freshmen and sophomore college students and gives preference to those who have been student leaders in high school and those who are in state colleges and universities.
“ARC Young Leaders Camp… gets more structured every year, with a more defined focus,” Garcia said.
For this year, the three-day camp was divided into three areas: leadership assessment, interpersonal leadership and community leadership.
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