A glimmer of hope for Ungkaya Pukan youth in Basilan

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


ISABELA CITY, Basilan -- December was the time for celebrations as the month reflects the Yuletide season among the Christian Catholic community in Basilan. For most part, a lot of Christmas parties and festivals were organized by various organizations and groups in Christian-dominated communities or towns.

At this time also, other groups organized activities in which young people can gather and learn life-skills while on vacation because of the Christmas break. Uniquely, this time the gathering was held in the remote municipality of Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan. The town, formerly part of Tipo-Tipo municipality, had been carved out from its mother town via Armm Regional Act and a plebiscite.

The town is prone to conflict and development is really dismal. Peace and security concerns have always become an issue because the town is adjacent to Tipo-Tipo proper and Sumisip town, which has recently become the center of conflict in the island province of Basilan.

It has been around three years when I last visited Ungkaya Pukan and only stayed for about three to four hours for the local peace and order committee meeting and swiftly went back to Isabela City. At that time, there was not much interaction with the locals, except a business meeting with barangay officials.

So, when there was an invitation for a leadership camp for the youth of Ungkaya Pukan, excitement grew within me. There was a mix feeling of jitters, worries, and excitement. An anxiety over security concerns felt in me although road security has been assured.

Meanwhile, there were a number of invitations for Christmas parties and or invitation to judge a Christmas carol contest in other urban towns in Basilan. The schedules were almost simultaneously held with the youth camp. I was tempted to turn down the Ungkaya event and attend parties and Christmas activities instead. But my years of experience as youth coordinator then prodded me to choose the youth over personal satisfaction and merriment.

Peculiar to the situation, the youth of Ungkaya Pukan have long been deprived of youth-oriented activities - mostly due to lack of funds and initiatives - and youth-related services, as non-government groups and government agencies could not reach the area.

I believed I had made a good decision to go for Ungkaya Pukan youth instead of enjoying the parties to celebrate the yuletide season. Yes, there are risks, and the risks are high especially in going to and from the said town.

That fear and anxiety felt over the long, rough road to Ungkaya Pukan was replaced with joy and excitement as over a hundred young people greeted us. It was the second day of their camp. It was my turn to handle the session on Leadership concepts and skills and later the session on climate change. There were a lot of inhibitions from these young minds to fully express themselves, but you could really feel their eagerness and hunger for knowledge and opportunities that they were deprived of.

There was a language barrier. Although, I was born in Basilan I never had the chance to learn the Yakan dialect. In spite of the teasing and laughter every time a youth would talk in Filipino and English, you could feel the sincerity and the genuine aspirations of these young people.

Dreams for their town was inspiring as they shared their hopes that one day the community will have good hospitals with good doctors and nurses, shopping malls and recreation centers, hotels and a well-landscaped town plaza, and even an airport.

I think what was heartwarming for the organizers was when a group of participants shared that they never had been so happy before in their life and that the youth camp experience was their happiest moment of their lives. The cultural and solidarity night was an extant testimony to that joy as they showcased their talents. Music and laughter echoed loudly in the midst of the serenity in the wee hours of that night, forgetting that we are in a conservative Muslim community.

We wound up that night with a short meeting with the organizers, facilitators and the local government authorities and officials for a quick assessment. Each one shared their thoughts and feeling. For most of us, there was a deep sense of satisfaction and inspiration that while we teach the youth to better themselves in the future, the experiences ended up teaching us instead in appreciating individual cultures and value of contributing to the shaping of the hope of tomorrow—the youth.

Kudos to the men and women of the 18th Infantry (Deo Et Patria) Battalion of the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division of the Philippine Army with their commanding officer LTC Tiny Perez for taking the lead and believing in the youth. The support of the Nagdilaab Foundation Inc. headed by Miriam “Dedette” Suacito and the local government of Ungkaya Pukan municipality led by Mayor Jomar T. Maturan and other government line agencies and NGOs were unparalleled.

The feeling was indescribable when we hit the road the next day back to our respective homes. Indescribable, but the feeling was good, knowing that we have accomplished something memorable to the youth. We left a bit sad because for such a short encounter with the youth of Ungkaya, we know they have a lot of potentials that need to be nurtured. But, we see a glint of hope in them, believing that the experience the organizers afforded them would redound to a brighter tomorrow that these young people of Ungkaya Pukan hope to create. (PIA)

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