LAST October 28, 2013, a group of 28 individuals was chosen by the National Youth Commission of the Office of the President to represent the Philippines in one of the most enthralling cultural immersion programs in Asia.
The Ship for Southeast Asia Youth Program (SSEAYP), an annual program sponsored by the Japanese government and supported by the member-countries of Asean, brought in together some 300 youths from the Asean region on its 40th year to have the unique opportunity to understand each one's culture in a 51-day journey onboard the luxury cruise ship Nippon Maru.
The trip brought them to Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
The Dugong Dakila batch or the 2013 Philippine Youth Ambassadors of Goodwill was led by its National Leader Ariel S. Arceo, its Youth Leader Randy S. Magdaluyo of Region 9, and Assistant Youth Leader Jemimah C. Landicho of the National Capital Region. Members of the PYAG also include: Erwin C. Llavore of Region I, Erika P. Castillejo of Region 2, Matt D. Alcanzaren and Lisette L. dela Cruz of Region 3, Carl L. Labitagan and Hazel J. Urminita of Region 4, Saturnino L. Macasinag and Airis M. Manaloto of Region 5, Gerald B. Galon and Kristhea P. Palabrica of Region 6, Josephus C. Bumaat and Riezl P. Manatad of Region 7, Brenfred N. Romero and Lovell M. Yu of Region 8, Christian P. Cada and Jessica L. Gamolo of Region XI, Sheldon S. Silva and Sheena P. Onlos of Region 11, John Michael P. Castino and Faith C. Villanueva of Region 13, Erosbon L. Sabedo of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Sherisse B. Saba of the Caraga region, and Cedrick Mastura and Ashia U. Tabao of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
Davao region's Sheldon and Shenna sat down with Sun.Star Davao and took us down to memory lane.
Sheldon said the SSEAYP aims to promote friendship and mutual understanding among the youths of the participating countries, broaden the youths perspective of the world, strengthen the youths spirit of international and practical skills for international collaboration, and cultivate youth who are capable to exercise their leadership skills in various fields in the globalizing society and to contribute to the society in the areas such as youth development.
The activities they had during the 51-day journey includes: pre-departure training and activities, solidarity groups, discussion groups, national presentations, club activities, voluntary activities, institutional visit, homestays, and Project S.H.A.R.E.
Sheldon and Sheena described the 10-day training as physically strenuous and mentally tiring.
"We had very little sleep for seven days but I have to say this was one of the proudest things I have joined in," Sheldon said.
The training included practicing for the cultural night, visiting embassies, language preparation, and team building.
They also had the chance to sleep overnight at the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
One of the objectives of the SSEAYP is to promote friendship and mutual understanding among the delegates despite the barriers in culture and language. The solidarity group allows each member to interact and share ideas with each other. Each group is composed of one representative from each country and has a leader and assistant group leader.
"Your solidarity group is your barakada during the trip," Sheldon said.
Groups were assigned to conduct local programs in different prefectures in Japan.
Sheena's group was assigned at the Kochi while Sheldon's group was assigned at the Nara prefecture.
"Our group was the only group to have a half day dedicated to shopping," she fondly recalled.
While Sheena's group was enjoying the shopping, Sheldon, on the other hand, delved deep into Japan's history as the first capital of Asia.
"There were a lot of temples and world heritage sites. Since we are all young people we kinda have a different definition of fun, so what we did is at night we went out and had karaoke," Sheldon said.
One of the realizations the two Davao delagates had been this: Despite the differences in culture and language, a lot of youths also share the same interests.
There were eight discussion groups tasked to discuss on corporate social responsibility, cross cultural understanding and promotion, climate change, food and nutrition, health education (HIV/Aids Prevention), international relations, school education, and media and information. Here, the delegates were able to collaborate in the formation of programs and projects for their assigned topics.
"After the discussions, each group is required to present the projects that they will implement in relation to what they discussed," Sheldon said.
For his group, they had the T-shirt for Tent which was a project for the victims of Yolanda to buy tents.
With so many cultures in one ship, how did they learn and understand their culture more in the 51-days without looking up in books or Google? Through cultural night.
They said the best way to learn one's culture is through its art. The organizers did exactly that with the National Presentation activity.
Every night, participants recalled that each country had to present their culture through performance arts for one and a half hour.
"Here you will have a grasp of what their culture (pop and traditional) is, their stories, and their perceptions of beauty," Sheldon said.
He said, for example, Thailand featured Doraemon in their performances while Vietnam featured modern dances.
Filipinos as we are, the Philippine delegates were never left behind with their counterparts.
Sheena and Sheldon said the international delegates were elated by their performances.
"I think Philippines has really one of the best cultural presentations. I think we were one of the longest performances at two hours," Sheldon said, adding that they went beyond the allotted time, but the audience and organizers didn't mind anyway.
He and Sheena said Philippine group was commended for performing like a pro.
Sheldon said the cultural night's purpose was also to promote the Philippine tourism; hence, they had the audience joined with them to the tune of "It's More Fun in the Philippines."
Sheldon and Sheena said at the end of each cultural show, they realized that each country had its own taste, interest, and culture that made each country unique.