Passionate about contributing to the realisation of the SDG 16, peace, justice and strong institutions, Arthur Nielsen Cabrera spends his days as a volunteer peace-builder and an educator in a remote, conflict-stricken community in the Philippines. He teaches English and Science to young armed conflict survivors and empowers his students to dream higher.
Arthur first discovered about the eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) opportunity from the ASEAN Foundation's Facebook page. He learnt that EYAA is a partnership programme between the ASEAN Foundation and Maybank Foundation 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 region. 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: Cohort One in 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. Through intense brainstorming, Arthur and his team figured out that if they wanted to elevate literacy outcomes in their target community and created a sustainable solution for the current and future generations, it would be best to bring the habit of reading right in the homes of their target students.
From that thought, Project Budibaca was born in Ende, Flores, Indonesia as an initiative that aimed to raise awareness of the importance of reading and encourage regular reading habits among parents and students. “We wanted to empower families in Ende to become reading advocates as we believe that education begins at home and parents are often our first teachers,” Arthur explained about the importance of bringing the love for reading to their homes.
In February 2019, Arthur and his team were deployed to their project site in Indonesia to implement the two-week community project. Equipped with a grant of USD 20,000 and assisted by Taman Baca Pelangi, Project Budibaca successfully trained 113 first grade students and their parents from 4 schools on the Reading Aloud technique. The journey was not easy as he had to lead a team of 10 youths coming from different countries. Despite the challenges, Arthur managed to bring his to to the finish line. “Unity and familial spirit that we nurtured got us through the challenging times,” he said.
When asked about his involvement in the programme, Arthur described it to be a positive one and is thankful that through this programme, he was able to execute a highly impactful project that can make a lasting difference. As a team leader, Arthur claimed 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. "One of the benefits that I received from this programme is that I'm more self-aware of who I am and how I can be better," he said.
Overall, Arthur felt that the EYAA experience took him out of his comfort zone and changed him for the better. “I became a deeper person, both in insight and in character," he said. My confidence to lead a cross-cultural team in building and managing a social enterprise increases immeasurably because of EYAA.” For these reasons, he highly encourages youth to grab the opportunity to join EYAA. "I guarantee that you will have fun while growing your capabilities as youth," Arthur said. "You will grow 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. “EYAA provided me with an overview of the victories and social injustices that the region is currently facing," he said. "I will use the experience in EYAA to jump start my future social entrepreneurship goals and initiate future collaborations that can bring positive impact to the communities.”