7th APYExPHL: Learning Circle Leaders in the Spotlight

It has been said that the APYE journey does not stop on the last day of the two-week program. The Circle of Leaders, one of the strands of the APYExPHL Fellowship Program, provides an exciting way to experience the program once more in a different perspective - as a Learning Circle Leader (LCL). Last APYE 7, more recent Empowered Champions signed up and took the challenge of being LCL. Part of which is having to attend basic facilitation training and learning the different modules for seven weekends.

For a total of seventeen (17) APYExPHL Empowered Champions were trained and assigned to four (4) local immersion sites namely, (1) Padre Burgos, Quezon, (2) Naga City, Bicol, (3) San Fernando, La Union and (4) Pamawaran, Bulacan.

They have experienced the program using a different lens and it would be interesting to know what they think after taking on their APYE Journey to the next level. Let’s hear them out!

SDG 1. Georgina Onagan

Coming back to another APYE program, not as a delegate but as a Learning Circle Leader or LCL, definitely felt like coming home once again to a place I truly belong. I was often called “Momma” by my delegates (SDG 1: No Poverty), and though I am definitely far from one, this certainly touched my heart because I was able to not only impart learnings and guided them throughout their APYE journey, but also because they have considered me as family too. As APYE 7 came to an end, I told myself “Oh no! I really don’t want to go back to reality, the past 2 weeks have been so good” - but I was wrong, the APYE journey is the reality and it will continuously open countless of opportunities for us in helping make this world a better place, and being an LCL made me realize that I made another step in doing so.

SDG 2. Colleen Arceo

Being an LCL is one of the opportunities an APYE graduate must experience. From fun and mentally draining LCL Trainings to APYE Program stress, you would be able to learn and adapt a lot of skills. No matter how tiring were these days, being an LCL is about the initiative and capability to lead the SDG group you are part of. From helping together with your fellow LCLs to working and influencing the members of your SDG group. Having said that, I want you to know how did I become an LCL.

First thing you need to know is that, I am currently working with APYE Manila Inc. as the Fellowship Program Communications Officer and I handle mostly all of the opportunities outside of APYE to graduates wherein they can involve themselves and have their own initiatives. Aside from that, I look into graduates who have been active on developing their personal projects in achieving the SDGs in order for them to be featured in APYE Philippines’ blog posts, newsletters, and social media. As a matter of fact, I became an LCL three days before the program due to the lack of manpower but this opportunity opened my eyes and made me realize the importance of being a leader which enabled me to take initiative on sharing awareness to the group, in helping the communities the program has chosen for their development and improvement.

To end, being an LCL is putting each delegate your number one priority, last time it made me think that they are my children, and this thought would make you proud of their achievements in terms of what they have contributed for the implementation of their projects. With that, always remember to have an Open Mind, Open Heart, and Open Will anywhere you may go and this mantra will help you in manifest all of what you want to achieve.

SDG 3. JJ Punzalan

Being an #EmpoweredChampion can be manifested in so many ways. In my opinion, one of which would be to serve back to the roots of what opened my eyes about my knowledge with the Sustainable Development Goals and how to actively participate in making them happen. When I was accepted to be part of the volunteering team for an internship at APYE, I was initially doubting myself due to my lack of experience in working with people. I knew that my skills were not enough. Despite this, I believe the APYE team looked at my passion more than the skills that I have. Working with APYE is like a family raising a child. They help you walk towards a direction they see for you. They correct your mistakes for your own improvement, they accept you for what you can offer to the team and most likely, they believe in you more than you can ever believe in yourself.

SDG 4. Christian Espiritu

Becoming an LCL was one of the challenging works I had so far. Being my first time to be a facilitator outside of my school organization, it really brought me out of my comfort zone. We were constantly reminded that as an LCLs, we are the “face” of APYE. “Face” in a sense that the LCLs are the ones who interact with the delegates most of the time. The impressions of the delegates would depend on how we do our jobs. So, for me, I was really pressured, but, at the same time motivated to take the job. Pressured because it was my first time, and APYE is a regional youth program. Motivated because I get to try something new and challenge myself.

My journey as an LCL was filled with excitement and learnings. During our training, Jana and Dionela were always there to guide us throughout the process. My co-LCLs were very supportive and encouraging. The bond that I was able to build with the team helped me ease my anxieties. This APYE 7 experience made me relearn how to trust the process.

SDG 6. Zara Sibulo

The Asia Pacific Youth Exchange Philippines was one of the most valuable experience that I have gained after entering into college. The program has given me the opportunity to grasp my undiscovered capabilities back then such as public speaking and concretizing sustainable projects. Although I have already gained some handful of experience regarding handling projects from my academic organization in the University of Asia and the Pacific, my experience in the APYE program remains to be unique as it has changed my perspective about the untouched capabilities of the youth in adding value to the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. The delegates and learning circle leaders that I have met during my time as a delegate in APYE 6 inspired me to continue my service in the program hence, I volunteered to become a learning circle leader in which I have dedicated a huge part of my time and effort. The highlight of my experience as a learning circle of leaders during the 7th APYE Philippines was primarily focused on the family and relationships that I have gained from all throughout the program. My energetic co-LCL’s and the APYE Fellowship Team were the first ones whom I considered as my family because they have taught me to become an effective leader while remaining true to myself. These amazing people accepted my capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses which made it easier for me to express and relate myself to the foreign delegates. The second family that I have gained was my SDG 6 delegates who were very passionate about their SDG and interested on how they could improve the community of Ilocanos Sur, San Fernando, La Union. Apart from teaching these young people the importance of the sustainable development goals and how they could actualize it in their communities, they in turn have taught me that my strengths as a leader would not only bear fruit within me but also within them as well. Throughout the duration of the APYE 7, I have seen my delegates become leaders themselves which was a sign of achievement for me because as a leader, it is my duty to mold better performing leaders. All in all, my experience as a learning circle leader of the 7th APYE was “one for the books” as they say because it is an overall great experience for a youth like me to grow responsible and accountable for the common good.

SDG 10. Bella Del Rio

My first experience being a learning circle leader was during APYE 5 in January of 2018; the journey started off with doubts and several days of comparing myself to other great APYE graduates who had the potential and experience in leadership or in facilitating. Belittling oneself was a common attribute that I had however, despite this I still chose to pursue the path of an LCL, reasons for this were to give myself a chance to discover my capabilities.

It was day zero of APYE 5 and all of my delegates were either my age or older, the most stressful part was this- I was a 17 year old at the time and these individuals were the definition of smart, this led to me not sharing my age until the very last day. Accepting this reality and moving on from the pressure was needed to be done, I could not quit being an LCL out of nowhere and leave the group I handled stagnant. I taught all the modules from one to five and went through each day with them; I taught them about data gathering and root cause analysis, I used my empathetic self to relate with the community and also guided my delegates when conflict or a dead end came up. Age no longer defined me, my ability to lead or facilitate was purely based on the person that I was and my experience when I was a delegate, it took a lot of confidence to believe in what I was doing.

APYE did not just teach their delegates how to reach out to communities and create development projects, but taught them how to become leaders. They taught me how to contribute to society through facilitating youth from all over the globe, resulting in empowering young people and creating social impact in their lives. I could have easily thought of my age as a burden to achieve the goals I set. If I did not choose to take the risk of becoming an LCL since 2018, I would have not been able to see my potential in leading others to help develop communities.

When you are moving on to becoming a better version of yourself, doubts will always be there at the back of your head and if we allow ourselves to be defined by these thoughts then we will never be our better version. Opportunities like being an LCL challenge you to abandon your doubts and just like me, maybe you will find out that despite what you think you lack, you make it up for in ways no one could even imagine.

SDG 11. Michael Sarabia

My experience as an LCL has always been a fun and challenging journey. Getting to teach and facilitate the modules that i’ve once faced as a delegate, is a challenging yet fun especially the part where you would be seeing your delegates see that spark in their eyes. It’s one way of seeing that makes me feel satisfied because of how I see their learning process and most were saying are new realizations in their life. It’s more than being a teacher or facilitator, but more like a parent/guardian relationship especially in the local immersion. Every APYE has been a fun filled journey getting to know delegates with large diversity and cultural variations. I’ve always believed that it’s not just the delegates that I handle that are learning from me, but i believe I am learning more from there and it’s always like that every APYE.

SDG 12. Christopher Klausner

My experience of being an LCL is like being a facilitator in events but also not like being a facilitator in events. My LCL experience began with trainings, these trainings were meant for us to be able to embody what the different modules are for the APYE’s LDT part of the whole program. The start was more of: “Yeah, I won’t do much right now, I’ll do it later” kinds of attitude. It all changed however when the real trainings began, there was no longer the sense of calm and peace but the feelings anxiety and stress were there. I felt that I must uphold the high standards of the APYE program hence I had to read everything and practice everything over and over again until I get it just right and ultimately I did. My experience took an even more exciting turn on the APYE days, the first meeting I had with my SDG group was nothing short of surreal, I was stuck telling myself: “This is really happening.” I was afraid but when my group warmed up to me then I was able to calm down and start to have personal relationships with them. The LDT was more of the getting to know part where I have to teach them the modules and of course establish a sense of belongingness amongst my group members. I am happy that as the LDT concluded I was able to make my members really close to each other as they would already talk a lot and even go out to eat together.

The Immersion days were probably the best time I’ve had with being an LCL, I was not only able to get to know our immersion site more but I was able to bond with everyone especially my group and some locals. It was also during these days I would have sudden heart to heart talks with each individual delegate I have, and I was able to hear out their stories. A delegate of mine told me it was her first time going to another country and experiencing this immersion and APYE in general, she would tell me that she was used to being in her home country and that most if not all the events she had attended were just in her country. I explained to her that going outside the box is a good thing because she will be able to experience the world and the different cultures, I added that it is okay to be nervous and scared because it is your first time and not everyone would be so confident the first time the venture to a place that is very far from their home, but with it you will be able to experience what so many would only dream of and that is the experience of the world. I ended out conversation with a quote: “Become not a person of just your nation but become a person of the world, don’t just confine yourself where you are comfortable because there are people out there willing to hear your experience and they are just as willing to speak out their own and from their you will not only see from the eyes of you being from a foreign country but you will see in the eyes of being someone that lives in the world.” I was able to build her confidence up and I would do the same to the others but I would suit it to what they were going through and ultimately, I was able to make them proud of what they were doing.

The last days were the presentation days and the levels of stress and anxiety of my members were at an all-time high. I would be with them during their sleepless working nights and try to give the inputs that I can muster without giving them too much because we all had to believe in the process of learning. Their presentation was to me both a secondary rather than a priority, it was here that I was able to form a very personal bond with the ground, I would share in the struggles that they would face and I would always give them encouraging words so that they would always smile and continue to push for a good project proposal. I was and still am very proud of them during their presentation and what they have already achieved thus far. I was told that my members viewed me as an LCL and they told me that they “hated” me because I would always go away and they didn’t want me to go away not because they need me for their project proposal but because the group would always seem incomplete or lacking without me there and it was that idea that brought me to tears that even people that I have met for a mere 13 days was close enough to a point that they would miss me even for just a second and that to me is a touching statement. I would like to end this write up with a quote: “Let’s not take for granted the friendships we make over the time we spend working for it is these friendships that will help us to push ourselves to be better but also do better in what we do both as individuals and as people working together. It is with Friendship that we would help build a better world.”

SDG 13. Regina Mapanao

I am really happy that I was able to be a part of the APYE LCL program. It was helpful in a lot of ways especially in improving my communication skills and how to overcome my shyness. I gained a lot of self confidence and I was able to embrace my sense of leadership while learning to be an effective facilitator through our training. Through this, I was able to meet new friends that was able to influence and inspire me to do better every day. I became a part of a family that I will continue to cherish and be proud of.

SDG 15. Trisha Vargas

During the Cultural Night of APYE 6, I was told by one of the Learning Circle Leaders (LCLs for short) that I had the potential to be an LCL for the next batch APYE and that he hoped he would see me again as an LCL. I gave him a smile and told him, “I hope so,” but in my mind, I did not think I was on the same page as he was. Despite the smiles and bright words that the LCLs shared, I could see how tired they were. My own LCL at the time never failed to be the source of energy for my group, but I witnessed how she lost sleep over her LCL duties, and the multitude of time she sacrificed to be an LCL. Registering what the LCL said to me, I supposed that being an LCL would be fun, but I was not fully convinced that being an LCL would be something enjoyable, or frankly, ‘worthy’ to me due to the sheer amount of effort required to be one.

Come recruitment time for APYE 7 LCLs, I was met with the slight expectation to be an LCL. At first, I was sure that I would not apply. “Good luck,” I thought in my mind as I ignored the incoming messages recruiting me to become an LCL. Over time however, I slowly warmed up to the idea of becoming an LCL. Becoming an LCL was not something I was dying to do, but I decided that perhaps spending my long winter break doing productive activities was better than doing nothing.

Shortly after submitting my LCL application, I received an e-mail congratulating me. I still wasn’t overly excited, especially with how the e-mail mentioned how LCLs have approximately 6-7 weeks of training. Despite my reluctance to join these trainings, I eventually relented under the rationale that it would help me become closer to my fellow LCLs and APYE staff as well as make me a competent LCL.

Training was awkward. At least, in the beginning. Personally, I really like being around people and I get energized being in groups, but I’m naturally not that loud or that talkative. This personality trait of mine painted me as someone shy, reserved, and introverted when in honesty, I’m not. Maybe it’s uncommon but quiet extroverts do exist! But I digress. This quietness served as a barrier in the beginning and didn’t really let me bond with the other LCLs in the beginning.

Over time, we all warmed up to each other. Despite our different personalities and backgrounds, we all grew closer. We were all different people with the same goal – to enjoy our time as LCLs in the 7th APYE. I won’t lie, I felt intimidated by the idea of being in a group of sixteen. Would I be left out? What if I don’t like someone? What if they don’t like me? Eventually, I realized that these concerns weren’t of importance, due to the mere fact that all of us had this prerogative to make everyone feel like they belong. Because of this, our bond as a group grew to become so strong, in a way that has us expressing our fondness for each other in overly energetic ways that sometimes we get chastised for. We make mistakes, we cherish our successes, and ultimately, we were always there for each other.

Then, came my SDG 15 (Life on Land) children. I didn’t have the confidence that I could be a good LCL for them. I feared that my shortcomings would be too overwhelming for them – I can be short-tempered, strict, and intolerant of mistakes. I had so many worries but eventually, all went well. The concerns that I had were concerns that I was able to solve, either by myself or by the help of my fellow LCLs. I turned my shortcomings into advantages – my delegates turned out to become hardworking, consistent, and passionate delegates, and thanks to my guidance and their diligence, SDG 15 is currently working on implementing their project in the community of Pamarawan, in Bulacan.

I can’t say that being an LCL was an easy experience. I was tired. I also caught a sickness on the second day of the program, which followed me throughout the entire program! I sacrificed a lot of sleep. I had a lot of concerns around me that didn’t allow me to relax at times. I encountered several mishaps that set me back. But all these experiences helped me become the LCL that I was. I wasn’t the best LCL, but I learned, and I learned so much.

I learned the importance of commitment. There were many times that I could have dismissed my responsibilities and walked away, but because I have given my word that I would be an LCL, it didn’t become an option. I learned to cherish relationships with other people. Personally, I’m not close to everyone in the APYE team on an individual basis, but I felt the bond as a group, and I felt that every single interaction that I’ve had with others, even as small as complementing one’s shoes, contributed to the camaraderie that I had with the others. I learned the value of perseverance. Like I’ve mentioned, I was tired, I was sick, I was concerned. But I was willing, I was open, and I surely was not going to give up!

During the Cultural Night of APYE 6, I was told that I had the potential to be an LCL. I didn’t believe it then, I didn’t believe it during the trainings, and I didn’t believe it even during the program, but now, I wholeheartedly can say that yes – I’ve met my potential as an LCL and I’m so proud of myself. Now, during the Cultural Night of APYE 7, I was approached by the same LCL who mentioned my potential. “I knew you were going to be an LCL,” he mentioned.

I want to say thank you to that LCL – thank you Denxy for believing in me before. It’s probably a small gesture, but ended up becoming something of huge significance for me. I also want to thank Bella, who was my LCL when I was a delegate and became an inspiration as I became an LCL. Thank you to the rest of the LCLs – Georgina, Colleen, JJ, Christian, Vanessa, Zara, Micha, Alex, Mike, Christopher, Reena, David, and JR – who were the sources of my happiness and the ones who helped me embrace my Filipino heritage more so than I ever had. And certainly, thank you to Dionela, Jana, and the rest of the APYE staff for facilitating my growth as a facilitator.

SDG 16. John Ray Rivera

Playing the role of a Learning Circle Leader (LCL) for the 7th Asia Pacific Youth Exchange (APYE) was such a remarkable experience. This process paved way to impart to the delegates my learnings when I was in their position and exchange insights with them. Assisting them further to transform their creative juices into sensible projects was even moving.

It wasn't easy at first. I had to battle with my fear of failing to perform well or reach their expectations as their facilitator. I even remembered how great and devoted our batch's Tulay Buhangin (immersion site) LCLs, which made me even anxious. This worry made review repeatedly the modules and rehearse them myself.

Thankfully, the APYE Fellowship Staff and my fellow LCLs turned to be my superb support system. We endured the trainings and shared notes in dealing the LCL pressures. Setting all these things, the unexpected were those we experienced during the programs and they turned to be our greatest APYE memories. I made myself be part of a family that i never imagined. I also felt glad knowing that I imparted significant learnings to the delegates. And just like the other LCLs, I hope that the program and their experiences may be their stepping stone and inspiration to the next chapter of their APYE journey.

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