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23 June 2015

WASHINGTON, DC—A delegation of ten Filipino students and young professionals traveled to the United States for a once in a lifetime experience which allowed them to meet United States President Barack Obama and learn about social and environmental issues from experts on in the field.

The following individuals were part of the delegation:

  1. Jom Bagulaya
  2. Joanne Flestado
  3. Mac Florendo
  4. Christian Gino
  5. Cathrene Lagare
  6. Ferth Manaysay
  7. Almira Menson
  8. Sheina Marie Onrubia
  9. Niema Regoso
  10. Jose Augustus Villano

The students, who came from different universities throughout the Philippines, were Academic Fellows to the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a six-week program hosted by the White House aimed at strengthening leadership development and networking in the Southeast Asian region. The fellowship program took place from 3 May to 28 June 2015.

As part of the initiative, the students participated in the Academic Fellows Institute on Environmental Issues hosted by the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and traveled to Boulder, Colorado to learn firsthand about pressing and pervasive environmental issues. The fellows then traveled to Washington, DC to meet President Obama and pay a courtesy call to Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

During a dinner hosted by the Ambassador, the envoy congratulated the fellows and wished them luck on the rest of their journey.

“Congratulations to the ten Filipinos who were chosen as YSEALI Academic Fellows. I am impressed by not only their academic achievements but also the work they have done in their chosen advocacies. I wish them luck for the rest of the program. I know they will do the country proud,” said Ambassador Cuisia.

According to YSEALI Fellows, there was much value in the coming together of young leaders from the region.

“This journey has demonstrated quite remarkably the importance of gathering emerging leaders of different cultural, academic, and socio-economic backgrounds to gain a more comprehensive view of the environmental opportunities and challenges confronting the region,” said Ferth Manaysay, a Political Science major at the University of the Philippines Diliman Manaysay.

“The non-identical but connected stories of people made me see things from different perspectives which I believe is essential in my growth as a leader and to make a big difference,” said Jom Bagulaya, a Member of the Tacloban City Council.

For many of the fellows, meeting the President of the United States was one of the highlights of the trip.

“The most memorable part of the fellowship, of course, was the White House event with President Barack Obama. I was really struck by President Obama's combination of a sharp mind and a warm heart. His strategic thinking and calculation is balanced with a warm and caring presence. It was very inspiring to be in the presence of such a leader,” said Manaysay.

The fellows also met with other dignitaries who provided them a deeper understanding of diplomatic relations and international development.

“Meeting both the Ambassador Cuisia and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Lourdes Yparraguirre inspired me to deepen my knowledge and understanding on diplomatic relations. I would like to lobby a permanent youth delegate in the UN specially on the 70th Assembly to take part in the development of Sustainable Development Goals of the UN,” said Jose Augustus Villano, a Population Commission Planning Officer

After weeks of learning, meeting new friends, and exploring US cities, the participants left the program inspired to take on leadership roles and work toward a better and more environmentally sustainable Philippines.

“The program trainings, meetings, professional development, cultural excursions, and collaboration opportunities have truly empowered and ignited my willingness to take action on environmental issues. My position as a budding leader entails a capacity to inform others on considering the prospective implications of their actions and I am committed to echo what I have learned from the program to my community,” said Manaysay.

“The Philippines is beautiful and blessed with natural resources. It is one of the ‘mega diverse’ countries yet ‘hottest of the hotspots.’ It is the pride as well as the responsibility of every Filipinos to be good stewards of the environment. As a Fellow, I will exert all my efforts to continue being catalyst of change. I will do my best to maintain the pride by staying as a humble servant of my countrymen and our Creator, and most especially to aspire continuous learning to improve and become better individual each time,” said Joanne Flestado, an Environmental Management Specialist at the Batangas City Environment and Natural Resources Office.

“After the YSEALI program, I plan to continue joining and supporting different activities in my community and hopefully establish projects that would definitely provide great impact especially in environmental protection,” said Catherine Lagare, an Environmental Science student at the Ateneo de Davao University.

For others, the fellowship program allowed them to dream bigger than they had done before.

“The YSEALI-ACYPL Professional Fellows Program gave me new big, hairy, audacious goals. It made me dream much bigger for myself, my family, my country. It made me realize that I was born with so much potentials and I could help immensely in building and uplifting the lives of my countrymen. I could make a difference. I could even serve at the national level and international level and could mobilize support for my advocacies - health, education, good governance, godly leadership,” said Sheina Onrubia, Member of the Tabaco City Council.

Launched in 2013, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is President Obama’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of programs and engagements, including U.S. educational and cultural exchanges, regional exchanges, and seed funding, YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEAN community. YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region: civic engagement, environment and natural resources management, and entrepreneurship and economic development. ###