Passionate about contributing to the realisation of the SDG 16 - peace, justice and strong institutions, Arthur Nielsen Cabrera spent his days as a volunteer peace-builder and an educator in a remote, conflict-stricken community in the Philippines. He taught English and Science to young armed conflict survivors and empowered his students to not just dream higher but also deeper.
Arthur first discovered the eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) opportunity from the ASEAN Foundation's Facebook page. There, he learnt that EYAA is the ASEAN Foundation initiative that aims to alleviate poverty and improve social and economic well-being of communities across ASEAN through youth volunteerism and social innovation. The programme encourages youth between the ages of 19 to 35 years old from all 10 ASEAN Member states to leverage their experiences, knowledge and put their project ideas into action and create meaningful change for the local community in the Southeast Asian region. Then, they are able to realise their social enterprises with the generous support of the Maybank Foundation. Additionally, the programme aims to build the capacity of youth in ASEAN region to achieve the ASEAN Community building and contribute to the implementation of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025 of becoming a more open and adaptive ASEAN.
After learning about this unique opportunity, Arthur applied for the programme and became one of the ten Filipino youths who was chosen to be part of the EYAA Programme in 2018-2019. He was then placed in a team with 9 other youths from other ASEAN countries and was assigned to tackle the thematic area of ‘Education’ in Indonesia. With team collaboration and using the design thinking process, Arthur and his team figured that if they wanted to elevate literacy outcomes in their target community and create a sustainable solution for the current and future generations, then it would be best to bring the habit of reading right in the homes of their target students. From that, Project Budibaca was established in Ende District, Flores, Indonesia. Project Budibaca aimed to both raise awareness of the importance of reading and encourage regular reading habits among parents and students, hoping to bring the love for reading to their respective homes. As the youth’s team leader of the project, Arthur believed that, “Education begins at home, and parents are often our first teachers, so we did our best to empower selected families in Ende to become reading advocates.”
With a team of 10 youths coming from different countries, Arthur described his experience working in a diverse team to be “insightful, empathetic and fun.” They took advantage of their different cultural backgrounds by welcoming respectful disagreements to affect change and Arthur shared that “unity and familial spirit that we nurtured got us through the challenging times.”
In February 2019, Arthur and his team were deployed to their project sites in Indonesia to implement the two-week volunteer community project. With a grant of USD 20,000, Project Budibaca successfully trained 113 first grade students and their parents, from 4 schools on the Reading Aloud technique and the importance of reading.
When asked about his involvement in the programme, Arthur described it to be a positive one and he is thankful that through this programme, he was able to execute a highly impactful project that can possibly make a difference that will last for generations. He shared that participating in this programme made him more self-aware of who he is and how he can be better. As a team leader, Arthur claims that he had to overcome his personal doubts of his capacity to lead by way of collaborative design thinking and empathetic communication. During the project implementation, the team faced some challenges ranging from meeting others who don’t speak the same language to shortage of materials in the community, however, Arthur was able to think quickly on his feet and came up with solutions to ensure that the project ran smoothly.
Overall, Arthur feels that this experience took him out of his comfort zone and changed him. “I became a deeper person, both in insight and in character. My confidence to lead a cross-cultural team in building and managing a social enterprise increased immeasurably because of EYAA Programme,” he said. He highly encourages youth to also grasp this opportunity because “EYAA Programme will challenge your previously held mindsets. You will be tested while still having fun. The people you will meet and the moments you will share with them will stay with you. You will grow here as a change-maker, and most importantly, as a human being.”
For Arthur, Project Budibaca was just the beginning. Being involved in the project provided him the opportunity to build connections with other people, which widened his worldview of the region’s most pressing problems. He added that, “EYAA provided me with an overview of the victories and social injustices that ASEAN region faces, which I will use to jumpstart his future social entrepreneurship goals.” and he assures us that “future collaborations post-EYAA Programme in various projects are now underway!”