By Michael Aaron Gomez

Two students of the Ateneo de Davao University students joined the 10th University Scholars Leadership Symposium 2019 (USLS) held last 1 to 7 August 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. First-year student Ms. Samantha Claire G. Cayona, represented the Environmental Science department; while second-year student Ms. Trixy Marie A. Macaraeg, majoring in American Studies, represented the International Studies department.  They formed part of the Philippine representation to the conference, which is “one of the world’s largest youth gatherings” in 2019, comprising “more than 1,500 budding change-makers from 100 countries.”

At the conference, the students were treated to a weeklong series of experiential learning activities, workshops, and lectures featuring special guest speakers as well as university scholars from all over the world, including those from Australia, Nigeria, and the Maldives, among others. Speakers for the 10th USLS included Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of the National University of Singapore (NUS), Chris Temple, Co-founder of Living on One, an organization recognized along with Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie as part of the 100 Visionary Leaders of 2015 published in the Real Leaders magazine. Cayona and Macaraeg, together with the other student participants, were given the week to network, share, and initiate programs with “like-minded youth and young professionals from over 100 countries who are driven as leaders in their field, proactively driven to pursue humanitarian work, desire to be a change-maker in the wake of pressing global issues and assist communities towards a more equitable future.” According to the organizers, Humanitarian Affairs Asia, the “electrifying atmosphere at the USLS will ignite [the students’] passion for humanity, drive [them] to step out of [their] comfort zone, and set [their] heart on greater causes;” additionally, the symposium “will challenge [them] to live a life as a servant leader with passion, persistence, patience, and purpose.”

Reflecting on her experience at the USLS, Cayona said the conference helped her “understand more the value of service and humanity,” for she realized that “there are people whose determination and passion endure” in spite of “never-ending” challenges whose solutions can seem intractable at times. She also noted her reaction at hearing the different speakers recount their experiences. “All the talks highlight the need of feeling uncomfortable and being disturbed to fuel the urgency to respond and to act,” she said. “Being uncomfortable and disturbed involve embracing the realities no matter how ugly and painful they are.” She also added, “Those are the kind of words I need to hear to realize that I am looking at issues in a wrong angle and that I might have missed the chance to create action because I have chosen to focus more on what is pleasant rather than those that need the most attention… Humanity and service require sacrifice.” Finally, Cayona remembered her interactions with the other student participants fondly. “I was in a room filled with youth leaders from all over the world who carry the same aspiration as I have,” she said. “We sat with diverse people who have different stories to tell.” Despite the differences in advocacies, the participants came together in conversation and hope of taking direct action against the ills of the world. “Every interaction was a learning opportunity and it became a chance for me to understand that I have no excuse [not] to contribute,” she said.

Meanwhile, for Macaraeg, the experience only reminded her of her privilege as a student of the Ateneo de Davao University. “Not everybody gets to pursue a college degree,” she said. “We are very lucky, everyone who were in that room, to have the resources we need in order to chase our dreams and go after the profession we want.” This realization spurred her to give back to her community and the world. “Entailed with that privilege is the responsibility to give back and aid those who are in need,” she said. Reflecting further, Macaraeg realized how she can effect change in the world. “The initiative doesn’t necessarily have to be impressive,” she said. “It needs to be influential and transformative…. We need to start from the grassroots.” The 10th USLS gave Macaraeg the opportunity to reflect on her own capabilities and discover that she, too, can give back to her community. “Because of the 10th USLS, I realized that I could do something despite my limited capabilities, and that is to give back to my nation as much as I could,” she said. “Many injustices are still prevalent and it is up to our generation to change that,” she added.

The 10th USLS was organized by the Humanitarian Affairs Asia organization and the Ministry of Education, Malaysia. The symposium invited “young leaders who are passionate about social change;” “young leaders who are an active global citizen;” and “young leaders who are well-versed in current affairs and appreciate cultural diversity.” According to the organizers, the USLS also “nurtures and grooms emerging leaders to be world-class humanitarian movers.”