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  • I was born and raised on this tiny island of Bongao (pronounced Bung-gao), Province of Tawi-Tawi in the southernmost part of the Philippines. We have no constant electricity and our only source of drinking water has always been the rain. It is the only gift of nature that has always been constant in our lives as a coastal community.

    "In 2010, the United Nations declared safe and clean drinking water a human right "essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights." The Philippines, in the age of wifi connection, does not even target 100 percent access to safe water – the commitment is merely to halve the number of those without access by 2015, aiming for an access rate of 86.5%." (http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/267109/news/specialreports)

    The United Nations has declared over the recent years that internet is a basic human right, but in this part of the world, electricity in most island municipalities is still a dream, and computers are luxuries not many can afford.

    Tawi-Tawi is a province of 11 island municipalities in the southernmost frontier of the Philippines, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The National Anti-Poverty Commission tagged these island municipalities “waterless”. It is also considered one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.

    It may be such an irony to say at the very least that for a "water world" community, we are "waterless".

    However, Tawi-Tawi is very rich in natural resources. It is one of the top producers of carrageenan in the country including the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is also one of the centers of marine biodiversity in the world and is currently one of the focus areas of the Coral Triangle intervention in Southeast Asia.

    Like any other communities around the globe, Tawi-Tawi faces degradation of its natural resources by the rising market for live seafood products and byproducts and exotic seafoods that endanger the coral reefs; illegal fishing practices; inappropriate solid-waste management practices; climate change and lack of education of the people in the community brought about by poverty, thus putting our lifeblood at risk.

    As a community development team-player and environmental education advocate, I have reached the far flung areas in Tawi-Tawi, working for a non-governmental-non-profit organization and as the Information and Education Campaigns Officer of that Project, I have realized the importance of Information and Education Campaigns on Environmental Conservation.

    Information and Education are twin key aspects of conservation that are both practical and doable in addressing issues on environmental concerns. Strengthened information and education campaigns can raise awareness and help locals prepare an adaptation plan for climate change and its adverse effects to coastal communities. Information and Education will aid us in reviewing how we see the world and my best bet is not in actually changing it but in changing eventually.

    This is the inspiration for the birth of Youth4Nature.

    At ZERO budget and relying only on donations and support from concerned movers in the community to make this Project a reality, we hope to inspire, more and more people particularly the youth, to volunteer their time, skills, talents and efforts toward achieving one goal, that is to increase awareness on environmental conservation.

    One of the biggest apprehensions one could ever have in starting a project is how to fund it. I guess I was bold enough to think that things can be done at zero-budget. I wanted to prove that zero creates possibilities and that people can come together to do a common goal without counting the costs, and all I had to do was ask for help. We did not receive monetary donations but we did receive contributions in kind and pooled together our time, skills, and expertise to realizing this project. Where a former schoolmate donated t-shirts, another one donated pens and papers. Where my former organization allowed me to use their office space and supplies, the radio station I serve as a volunteer with, allowed me to use their facilities for recording and Y4N's airtime is free of charge. Contributions just kept coming in, and all I had to spend was for my tricycle fare.

    Now, after our successful trainings and workshops for the Tawi-Tawi core group of volunteers in 3 different schools, we have 3 radio programs in 3 different community radio stations we have tied up with. Some of our Y4N members and officers have volunteered to serve as watchdogs in the upcoming elections. Some of them have volunteered in assisting the coral restoration project of the community together with other sectors and stakeholders. We also initiated the biggest celebration of Earth Hour in Tawi-Tawi. We are currently producing radio plugs, stingers and mini radio drama with the youth volunteers themselves as talents to promote our cause over the airwaves to be able to reach more people. We are looking forward to getting registered as an official community-based environmental volunteer group for coastal communities with the Securities and Exchange Commission and eventually tie up with other recognized youth groups within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and maybe other provinces in the Visayas.

    With these posibilities, Tawi-Tawi is no longer the only concentration of Youth4Nature but our pilot community at zero budget, proving true that things can definitely be done without costs, relying only in the spirit of "Bayanihan", of working together and helping one another. We envision to have more people participate in small environmental-related projects in different communities all over the Philippines, thus creating that ripple that would surely create those waves of change eventually, giving hope to a better future for our coastal communities and for people to actually care for nature.

    Since returning home from United States to participate in the Community Solutions Program to implement my follow on project, I have realized that when you come up with a community solution, you just have to act as if what you are doing makes a difference, because it does, no matter how small it is.
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