Passionate about youth empowerment and international development initiatives, Joshua Dale Santos was keenly involved in volunteering activities during his studies at Chulalongkorn University.
While studying at university, Joshua heard about eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) Programme through a friend. From her, Joshua learnt that EYAA is a partnership programme by the ASEAN Foundation and the Maybank Foundation that aims to alleviate poverty and improve social and economic well-being of ASEAN people 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 experience, knowledge and put their project ideas into action and create meaningful change for the local community in the Southeast Asia region. Furthermore, the programme aims to build the capacity of youth in ASEAN region to achieve the goals of ASEAN Community 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 it, he realised that there was limited outreach for the programme in the Thailand region, so he decided to share it with other friends and applied for EYAAP himself. As a result, Joshua was selected as the representative of Thailand together with the other nine Thai youths chosen to take part in the programme. He was then placed in a team with 9 other ASEAN youths, tackling the thematic area of ‘Arts and Culture’ in Indonesia. Together, the youth team created Project RETACXTORAJA, an initiative that aims to invigorate and promote the local arts and culture of the Toraja region in South Sulawesi. The programme focuses on preserving and rejuvenating Torajanese arts and culture via community-based tourism and Suloara community empowerment initiatives. “Our team valued creativity and wanted to make an impact in this space. We believe that the celebration of the arts such as music, design, dance and drama is an important part of facilitating culture and identity,” Joshua said.
Joshua described his team mates to be very highly engaged and motivated individuals. Working with a group youth from various backgrounds had its perks. “The fact that my team mates came from different countries with different values and ways of thinking actually stimulated my creativity. In the end, we learnt a lot from each other.” Joshua further advised that future participants "should come with an open-mind and really take the time to go out of your comfort zone to really meet people halfway.”
In February 2019, Joshua and his team traveled to their project site in Indonesia to implement their social enterprise for two weeks. With the help of Torajamelo, a civil society organisation, and a grant of USD 20,000, RETACXTORAJA was able to be executed successfully. The project's major objective was to facilitate improvements to Suloara’s local economy. During the two-week project implementation period, this objective was achieved through the soft launch of the Bamboo Forest Market as an official tourist destination in Toraja. The project launch was attended by over 300 visitors, that included 20 VIPs and 17 media personnel. In addition, the project team successfully taught English lessons to 4 children in the Suloara and Batutomonga villages. The lessons are part of the project's learning plan to help the children to become confident in engaging with other people in English language. Moreover, the youth were able to transform the Sesean Suloara Tourist Information Centre into a mini-museum. This museum showcases sample textile swatches and products which are available for purchase in the museum-souvenir shop. Additionally, the Torajan handicrafts, culinary tradition, and performance arts workshops were conducted and successfully showcase for cultural appreciation, tourism and commerce purposes.
Overall, Joshua strongly recommends youth to join EYAA. “Being a participant in EYAA has done great wonders for me both personally and professionally,” he admitted. "Since undertaking the programme, I understand better about how ASEAN works and the role I can play with contributing to the peace and prosperity of the region. The experience also allows me to understand the significant of other countries in the ASEAN region and has positioned meto better prioritise the social issues I want to address via social entrepreneurship in the context of ASEAN. Furthermore, the EYAA has provided me with many life and leadership skills that often cannot be taught in a typical university setting.”
For Joshua, joining EYAA has motivated him to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship, particularly in international development in the context of peacebuilding. "My participation in EYAAP has allowed me to get to know other youth from ASEAN while also learning new skills," he said. “It has helped me build meaningful friendships across the regionand provided me with many useful insights such as design thinking, cross-cultural sensitivity, and many more things that are important considerations for when I implement my own social enterprise.”