Benjie Lelis’ speech at Anna Halpine’s Visit to Manila (December 12, 2009)

Earlier this month Anna Halpine, founder of the World Youth Alliance, paid a visit to Manila. On the 12th of December 2009, we held “Anna Halpine Live in Manila”, a talk and meet and greet for the World Youth Alliance’s local friends. The following is a speech given by member and former WYAAP intern Benjie Lelis during that event.

I came to know of World Youth Alliance through a high school friend whose elder sister interned with WYA Asia Pacific a couple of years back. Last March, I was searching for an organization for which I could volunteer after feeling I had too much time on my hands after the project I was working for under an international organization had ended. By then, I was already back in school for my second bachelor’s degree in international studies which made looking for another full-time job out of the question since I knew that would I need more time for school. Nonetheless, I felt that more than simply focusing on my studies, I needed an extra avenue where I could channel the excess time and energy that I still had.

So I sat down in front of my computer and searched for local organizations which I contemplated on joining. I found several, got their phone numbers, addresses, called them up, sent out letters informing them of my intent and asking if they would be able to accommodate me. While searching, I had on my mind a list of qualities that the organization I’d be joining should have.

1.  First, the organization must promote the ideals and values that I myself believe in and would like to uphold. This way, it would be easier for me to clearly see its vision with my own eyes and also for me to effortlessly imbibe the organization’s mission personally as my own.  
2.  Second, I wanted action. I did not want to simply sit in front of a desk all day and complete clerical tasks for the organization that I would be working for. I wanted to go out on the field. Explore.
3.  Third, in connection with the previous criterion, I wanted to meet lots of people. With my previous work, I got the chance to earn a lot of contacts, make new friends, and I made sure that all my succeeding occupations would also have this component.
4.  Fourth, I wanted to be able to learn new things. Learning is very important for me. Don’t you just love the feeling of having just learned something new? It’s one of the things that I really miss about being a kid, when you encounter a lot new stuff, new ideas, that you have had no previous knowledge about whatsoever. 
5.  Lastly, I wanted to have fun. No point in immersing yourself anywhere if you disdain what you are doing. The nature of the work has to be fun. The overall environment has to be fun. The people I have to work with need to be “funny.” I knew I will be spending considerable time and effort in this new undertaking and I had to make sure that I will enjoy every bit of it.

     So I literally had a list on my hand, of all the NGOs and other volunteer groups that I had found on the internet and the list included WYA as referred to me by Christine Usi, the high school classmate that I mentioned. But out of all the organizations that I had contacted, it was only Ren Tan that invited me over to their office to talk about what her organization was doing. That, really impressed me. One point for WYA.

So Ren and I exchanged more emails before our scheduled meet-up. It was interesting for me to learn that their office is located in Katipunan. The first time I visited WYAAP’s office, Ren greeted me with a bright smile and a very warm handshake. She asked me to sit down and offered me something to drink and lots of snacks. They also had a lot of Stik-O, a personal favorite, so another point for WYA!

I learned that for our meeting, Ren had a powerpoint presentation and a video ready on her laptop. She shared the history of WYA, how it came to be, pretty much very similar to what you have all heard earlier. Honestly, aside from being invited into the office and having lots of Stik-O, it was the story of Anna and her pink flyers that appealed to me the most. It was her modest attempt to influence those in the conference to steer the proceedings to another direction. It was the spirit of initiative that she exhibited and the temerity to stand up for what she believed in amidst contrasting views that really got me interested.

Apart from this story, Ren also shared with me a schedule of WYAAP’s activities for the rest of the year. I guess that brief meeting really had an impact on me as I tried to attend each and every activity on that list except for a couple or three. After that meeting, the first one that I attended was their second quarterly general assembly. It was also then that I brought a friend for the first time, Daryll Saclag, who himself has become an active member. And then I guess it just snowballed from there. I have attended all of the events I could possibly join, each time bringing friends whom I knew would be enjoying the activities that have been prepared. I have attended a couple of Ubuchindami film nights, a couple more assemblies. Last month I joined an activity which was a tie-up with Kythe Ateneo, I am Hope, where we spent a day making masks for young cancer patients. It was a really fun and inspiring experience. Together with some friends, Ren had also asked us to take charge of WYAAP’s booth that was set up in La Salle as part of an NGO fair where groups were invited to share with the Lasallian community their various causes. It wasn’t long before Daryll and I started organizing a project of our own. As we wanted to launch a WYA chapter in our university, we thought it would be helpful if we invite Ren and Des to give an introductory talk, this just happened last December 3. I also started the Track A Training Program and began attending the discussion group led by Des and my other groupmates Mansy, Daryll, Pauline, Christian, Gift and Ira.

Why am I telling you all of this? I guess I would simply like to emphasize the importance of choices. Choosing to actively promote human dignity and to impact policy and culture can be as simple as being an active WYA member. You can choose to read and understand the WYA Charter and choose to agree with it. You can also choose to live a life consistent with the ideals of WYA, making your life a personal testament to how a life lived promoting human dignity is a life more fulfilling than being apathetic. As free individuals, one of our greatest strengths is the power to make choices. It is up to you to make choices that would bear good things for others, to edify their lives and make a difference. It is up to you.

On that hot and humid afternoon when Ren and I was supposed to meet, I could have chosen to stay at home and check status updates on Facebook. Or on all those training group discussion nights, I could have just chosen to go straight home from my classes. But I chose to learn more about WYA and how I can contribute more to the cause. I chose to take a stand and I chose to believe that I can make a difference. To date, I know that what I have achieved and done in WYA are small and seemingly insignificant, but from what I have learned from Anna’s experience is that to effect change you don’t need a grand strategy, you don’t need a lot of resources, a lot of people, to uphold the ideals that you believe in. You can a make a difference by simply choosing to believe that you could and then to act on it.

Right now I would like to pose a challenge to all of you—to start making choices that you know will not only benefit yourself but others as well. It may not even be about choosing to become an active member of WYA. My experience with the World Youth Alliance is my own personal quest to do something more and to be someone who is more than just a student who goes to school every day. I wanted to make a difference and I found that WYA can help me achieve that. WYA provided me with the platform. You can have other channels by which you could do this. I challenge you to choose it and to stick with it. You don’t even need to join an organization to do this. You can simply choose to live a life that looks at all individuals with respect and dignity. It may be as simple as connecting with the street children that you meet every day. Or going out of your way to be a sincere friend to that boy or girl at the back of the room that is always being laughed at by your other classmates. Even through these small and simple choices, you can have an impact on the lives of others.

     Advice for other volunteers.

     All you need is heart, the pure willingness to help out, make yourself available, from there, opportunities will be opened unto you—to be able to share with the others what you know, and in return, you will gain experiences that will enrich you both personally and professionally.

Capitalize on what you already know or have. WYA doesn’t require a specific skill that its members should have. You are free to pick which of your many talents you can share in order to contribute to the cause.  

Just have fun! As volunteers, all we aim for is a good and inspiring experience and that only be achieved if we enjoy what we’re doing. Join projects that you feel really comfortable with. Bring your close friends with you to activities that you know all of you will have fun doing. Start your own projects that you and others will really enjoy. From there pretty much everything will simply fall into place.

Benjie Lelis
Member, World Youth Alliace Asia Pacific

More To Explore