We could be heroes

THE Japanese has a word for scattered sunlight shining through trees and leaves: “komorebi.” Walking through silhouettes and shadows, the ambiance of komorebi in a forest evokes the feeling of being hopeful despite struggles. Our life on Earth – relative to geologic time and cosmic space – may be considered fleeting, but like the ephemeral beauty of komorebi, it can be meaningful.

Last Friday, it was like witnessing komorebi when I was listening to the presentations of 13 contestants for Kabataan: Bayani ng Kalikasan (Youth: Heroes of the Environment) at the Department of Education’s Regional YES-O Camp held in Victorias City, Negros Occidental. These students were representing their divisions in Western Visayas and each of them were rays of light, of joy and faith for the future.

Mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing our waste, allowing biodiversity to recover and thrive – in the past, these “environmentalist” causes seemed to be romantic pursuits while there are more pragmatic concerns like poverty, economic growth and access to education and employment.

Now we know that ecological issues are key to human survival, and caring for the Earth is not exclusive to activists or treehuggers. We all have no choice but to care and act, as we need air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.

The Kabataan: Bayani ng Kalikasan program of DepEd’s Youth for the Environment Students’ Organization (YES-O) reminds us that we could be heroes in simple ways in our everyday lives. We can and we will make a difference – from each single-use plastic we avoid, to every tree we grow, and further to our careers and industries where we can affect change and make the future sustainable.

Two of the millennials I met last week – Mariane Gabrielle Crespo Cagalawan and Arnould Jann Bernada – placed second and fourth in the regional search for Bayani ng Kalikasan, and I am eager to share what inspired me the most about them.

I will write about the first and third placers in my next column, also noting that all of the candidates were heroes. Awards and recognitions do not really equal passion and compassion for the planet, but hearing stories of these young brilliant student leaders may just brighten up our outlooks of sustainability for the Philippines.

Mariane or Gab is from Antique National School in San Jose, Antique. She is a leader of their school’s YES-O Club – active in cleanup drives, tree planting, and making solid waste management fun and educational with “Pera sa Basura: Stop, Look and Shoot!”, Gab’s school is part of the growing community who have been incorporating rainwater harvesting designs as well. Gab and her family, engaged with their local government, have also been passionate about safe water and sanitation, bringing education and facilities to Sitio Igcapayas in Patnongon, Antique.

What really got my attention is Gab’s high school research study on bioplastic enhanced with organic waste. So much promise is with this young girl of science. While she was discussing her research, I was smiling with the image of Black Panther’s scientist of a sister in my mind (review of that amazing movie deserves a whole lot of space soon in this column for another issue).”

There are two things here I’d like to point out for us to be ecstatic about: Bioplastic (and other alternatives to non-biodegradable materials) to be pursued as emergent needs for Filipino society, and opportunities to be sought for Filipino women in the fields of science and engineering.

Hailing from Roxas is the Boy Scout of the Philippines awardee and national executive board member, Arnould Jann. His passion for the outdoors must have inspired him to initiate and spearhead environment-related programs and activities as YES-O president in Capiz National High School, and his community – in projects like adopting Culasi Lighthouse for responsible tourism. Arnould has also led the release of their official YES-O publication, Verdant Voices.

Arnould’s achievements were in a very thick portfolio submitted to us, the panel evaluating for Bayani ng Kalikasan. I didn’t have a doubt that he was an excellent young man full of potential as a leader and advocate for the environment. He has the eloquence needed for our movement to continue – and this is what truly matters.

In his words, Arnould is “ready to light the torch, and ignite the flame of passion in the hearts of many”. We know this to be important: The continuity of the efforts we put so much energy on – environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, waste reduction, climate change mitigation, sustainable development – will depend on how we train or select not just a few “heroes” but how we engage entire generations.

And for this generation that follows music like that of Alesso – you know the tune that goes with “Me and you… We could be heroes!”
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