ONCE upon a time, this vibrant city hailed its young women to join a grand affair so it may find one among them who can embody the city's beauty and strength.

With the ability to speak for the people, a kind heart and sharp wits to forward a cause, the city's leaders said the chosen lady would be crowned the “Mutya ng Dabaw.”

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Many young women, princesses in their own right, answered the call. Going through many challenges that tested their intelligence, grace, and confidence, these women dazzled the citizens.

However, with each affair only one was crowned the righteous Mutya, and with each year the crown was passed from one Mutya to another.

Yes, it may sound like a fairy tale, but the Mutya ng Dabaw has indeed evolved into a real life fairy tale, where the pageant brings in not just the fair of looks but those with intelligence to boot. Because this annual search is not just about looks and projection and showing one's body. In fact, since over a decade ago, the swimsuit contest was already scrapped and the most that the girls are required to wear are playsuits.

Most of the time, however, these lovely ladies will be wearing business suits, because they are not just ladies to look and whistle at. They are bequeathed with the responsibility of being the city's ambassadors of goodwill to its visitors.

This month, five lovely ladies were chosen as the best among the many. They are Cherry Mae Maning, Esperanza Odulio, Janelle Tee, Samantha de Leon, and Johanna Monica Yu.

Only one of them will have the crown, but as they said, whoever wins will receive the support of the others. What they aim for is not prestige alone but the chance to serve their people, they said.

In an interview Friday, the five disclosed their thoughts and advocacies. Needless to say, the five evoked the qualities of a true modern Dabawenya.

A registered nurse and former airline cabin crew, Maning, 21 years old, centers her community project on social transformation through women empowerment.

Holding a contest entitled 'Dabawenya Got Talent' would really fuel the cause of empowering women locally. At the same time it can be a fundraiser to replicate efforts or projects for the benefit of women.

"My project is focused on the Silakan Women Center and my aim is to start a candle-making business venture for its members as the name 'silakan' means to shine. This does not only hold a symbolic meaning on empowering women this also provides these women with financial capability," Maning said.

The youngest of the five, Odulio, 18 years old, plans to provide educational aid for public schools.

"Given that children learn more visually, they want things to be shown to them, I focused my project on providing public schools with visual equipments such as televisions or DVD players.

"With this aim I hope to narrow the gap between the private school and the public school. The capability of these school categories to teach is another story but I am aware they differ in terms of equipment. I want to help in improving the local educational system," Odulio said.

Tee, 19 years old, combines the issues on environment and poverty in her community project themed: environmental awareness program for the less fortunate families.

"It's not new to hear projects that touch environmental awareness and financial sustainability in communities but it's rarely heard that they are successful. With my community project I wish to focus on one barangay, Matina Aplaya, in hope that when it becomes a success other communities will adopt it," she said.

"This advocacy is also with the responsibility of telling the people that we are now facing a challenge, especially for communities near coastal areas, that we need to take care of our environment," Tee added.

An industrial engineer, Yu, 22 years old, plans to conduct classes every Saturday for out of school youth in partnership with Rody Sagip Bata Project.

"I believe education is a powerful thing in a person's life. Looking at my own life, I feel lucky to have fought for the course I wanted to take, and attained a good education. With it, I was able to receive a lot of opportunities. That's what education gave to me, which I now want to give as a chance to those who have least.

"“What would be taught for 4 hours every Saturday would be subjects on financial sustainability, reading, writing depending on the progress of the class. I also want to have a subject on value integration. We know that if a person is having difficulties in their life, it’s hard to appreciate values. A class on value integration would build them as good citizens morally also. We would also be giving goods to the children so that their parents would also find benefit from the program," Yu said.

Last but not the least, De Leon, 22 years old, who works as a customer service representative, focuses her advocacy on ensuring the health security and protection for garbage collectors.

"There is an estimate of 350 garbage collectors in the city. They were given one uniform years ago and not all of them have boots, gloves or mask. Given that, they are prone to health problems. Another matter is the people do not segregate their waste. According to law it should be at the barangay level where waste is segregated. Since the people are not segregating their waste, we are also contributing to the reason why they are exposed to the causes of health problems.

"I made my advocacy very specific but affects a significant group of the society. By providing garbage collectors with gloves, boots, uniforms, and masks, I am not only calling for concern of the garbage collector’s health, I am also calling for the community to become responsible of their actions," De Leon said.

These five ladies proved with their causes that a true Dabawenya speaks out, works for a cause while as a person maintains a composite of lovely traits.

Even at their young age they are a cause of inspiration to their fellow constituents. Surely, all of them deserve to be crowned a Mutya ng Dabaw.

(Mutya ng Dabaw Coronation Night was at past presstime last night.)