Written by JV Colili, intern for NTFP-EP Asia
More than 30 participants (14 male and 18 female) from five different countries participated in interactive discussions and learning sessions during the Youth Engagement and Empowerment Hive in Asia (YEEHA) – 2nd Regional Youth Camp held last 13-19 March, 2023, in the Lomunu Training Center of PACOS Trust in Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia.
In total, six participants were from the Philippines, three from Indonesia, two from Vietnam, and one from Cambodia, with the rest of the majority coming from different Malaysian states.
The regional youth camp provided a platform to foster youth engagement, amplify youth voices, strengthen regional Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) youth solidarity, and support regional youth actions for forest conservation in Southeast Asia.
The youth engagement was made possible through a collaboration between the PACOS Trust and NTFP-EP Asia, with support from the NTFP-EP Philippines, NTFP-EP Malaysia, Green Livelihood Alliance, Pastor Rice Small Grants Fund, and Southeast Asia ICCA Consortium.
The seven-day event began with opening speeches from Madam Anne Lasimbang, executive director of PACOS Trust, and Dr. Andrew Aeria of NTFP-EP Malaysia. Both emphasized the importance of empowering youth leaders from Indigenous and Local Communities to address current and future challenges in their respective communities.
The rest of the first day revolved around individual, community, and organizational introductions followed by sharing of key issues and challenges that the participants faced in their native landscape. The first day ended with an energetic and fun solidarity event wherein participants got to know more about each other’s cultures, talents, and interests.
Some YEEHA participants posed as government/corporate agents during a roleplay in relation to the community organizing lecture. Photo: I Putu Rio Wedayana
The second and third days were filled with learning sessions hosted by NTFP-EP, PACOS staff, and selected guests. Ricklend Christopher, one of PACOS Trust’s community organizers trainers, shared the significance of community organizing. As part of that learning session, the participants were divided into two groups and roleplayed opposing sides in a hypothetical scenario wherein a dam project is proposed to be built in ancestral land.
In these learning sessions spanning two days, the youth participants actively engaged in open, wide-ranging, and in-depth discussions highlighting unique youth perspectives on complex societal and environmental issues being faced by their communities. Among the critical topics that were discussed are gender-just climate solutions, the right to a healthy environment, ASEAN guidelines on customary tenure recognition in forested landscapes, and the importance of Indigenous knowledge in forest conservation.
“The participants were participative and contributed their ideas in every group work. Generally, it was fun and every topic in the YEEHA Regional Youth Camp was informative,” said Syreel Sayo, one of the participants from the Philippines.
Group picture of YEEHA participants with TONIBUNG staff during the visit to the NGO’s workshop in Penampang. Photo: JV Colili.
On the fourth day of the YEEHA Camp, participants visited TONIBUNG’s workshop. TONIBUNG (Tobpinai Ningkokoton Koburuon Kampung or “Friends of Village Development”) is a non-profit organization led by indigenous people that creates sustainable options for electrifying rural areas. They also champion the rights of native communities and provide assistance to local entrepreneurs and innovators.
After the visit to the TONIBUNG workshop, the participants visited the office of PACOS Trust at Taman Flash Gordon in Penampang. Here the participants toured the Kivatu Nature Farm adjacent to the PACOS Trust office and attended another learning session about gender empowerment and community-based enterprise by Anjelen Daransun of PACOS Trust. Later in the afternoon, a short workshop about Advocacy Planning by Gaby Alegre of NTFP-EP Philippines, followed by a mini-hackathon hosted by Kate Galido of NTFP-EP Asia, took place.
“I am impressed and amazed at the skills and potential of the IPLC youth. The youth camp provided a venue for youth to learn and share experiences, understanding other countries’ context and provide support and solidarity,” said Kate Galido, PMEL coordinator of NTFP-EP Asia and lead organizer for YEEHA.
One of the most significant parts of the youth camp is the excursion activity to a partner community of PACOS Trust, located beyond the Crocker Mountain Range in Kg. Tiga, Bundu, Apin-Apin, Keningau. During this field visit, the youth participants had the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Galus Ahtoi, a former coordinator of the Land Rights Program at PACOS Trust and a prominent member of the community, the challenges the locals face in protecting and preserving their land.
The participants were also able to interact with other community members and experience indigenous/wild foods, such as ayam hutan masak polod (wild fowl soup), ginarut sangop or pickled wild cucumber, and pinasakan pelian (steamed Malaysian Mahseer) throughout the visit. The local women also demonstrated the steps on how to make their ginger powder which PACOS Trust helps in marketing as a community product.
On the second day at Kg. Tiga, Bundu, Apin-Apin, Keningau, the participants took a short hike at the slopes around the community’s operations center, visited the community’s vegetable gardens, and watched an interactive demonstration of local weaving techniques where the youth participants were able to try to practice by themselves.
On the camp’s final day, the youth participants joined in a short reflection and evaluation session facilitated by the NTFP-EP staff. The participants shared their learnings throughout the youth camp and their aspirations for future YEEHA activities. An inspiring message by Gordon John Thomas, programme coordinator of PACOS Trust and one of the lead organizers for YEEHA, officially ended the youth camp.
“This is advice for everyone, just do what you want to do, be whatever you want to be. As a youth, you have to decide [for] yourself,” said Thomas in his thoughtful closing message.
Currently, seven volunteer youth representatives from the five participating countries are coordinating future engagements and capacity development activities alongside NTFP-EP and PACOS Trust staff. The youth participants and organizers alike are optimistic about future IPLC youth engagements and empowerment programs.
Dazzle Labapis, Kate Galido, Robin Bustamante (NTFP-EP Asia), and Amanda Mojilip (PACOS Trust) contributed to this article.