DLSU student is among WAFF’s 2021 Global Teen Leaders, pushes 'advocacy as a lifestyle' for youth

Published April 29, 2021, 6:51 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

A 19-year-old student from the De La Salle University (DLSU) was chosen by a US-based not-for-profit organization for advocating education and other youth-related initiatives especially for disadvantaged communities.

Photo from Mirus Ponon / Manila Bulletin

Emmanuel Mirus Ponon, 19, a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies student from DLSU, is among the 2021 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders (GTLs) organized by We Are Family Foundation (WAFF).

It’s time. After hiding the biggest news I received so far in life for a month, I can finally share with all that I was…

Posted by Mirus Ponon on Wednesday, April 28, 2021

WAFF is a not-for-profit organization co-founded by legendary three-time grammy-winning musician Nile Rodgers. It is dedicated to the “visions of a global family by creating programs that promote cultural diversity while nurturing and mentoring the vision, talents, and ideas of young people who are positively changing the world.”

On April 28, WAFF formally announced the 2021 GTLs representing 16 countries on six continents.


Ponon was among the 40 teens chosen out of hundreds of applicants for their “social good innovations, organizations, projects and promise for a more just, equitable and peaceful future.”

Filipino pride

In an email interview with the Manila Bulletin on Thursday, April 29, Ponon shared his experience after he chosen for the prestigious award, his projects and advocacies and what else should be done to attain a “sustainable world and future” for everyone.

Photo from Mirus Ponon / Manila Bulletin

Manila Bulletin (MB): How did you become part of it? When did you learn that you won?

Ponon: I was nominated by my professor at De La Salle University and encouraged by my organization members to apply for the prestigious award.

After a rigorous process of multiple screenings, I learned the good news last March but was told not to share it with anyone until its official announcement.

MB: How do you feel about this recognition?

Ponon: Learning about this recognition made me feel that the work in non-profit organizations was valid after being doubted, with some seeing volunteer work as a waste of time. It inspired me to continue the vision that I want for my fellow youth, where growth is inclusive with the mindset that anyone can make a difference.

MB: I read about AYAN, can you tell me more about this? What are the recent projects of the organization?

Ponon: The ASEAN Youth Advocates Network, also known as AYAN, is a youth-led and non-profit volunteer organization that paves the way for the Southeast Asian youth to experience socio-civic involvement while exploring one cultural identity that was expanded in August 2020 after a year of Youth Advocates for the Philippines, the first non-profit that I was able to establish.

All projects are anchored to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provide youth development opportunities such flagship programs such as the SDG Week, ASEAN Youth Week, Sustainablitz, ASEAN Ideathon, ASEAN Youth Voices, ASEAN Youth Cares, Youth Advocates Summit, and many more initiatives.

MB: How did the COVID-19 pandemic change the way your organization operates? What were the major adjustments in your programs to address the disruptions brought by the pandemic?

Ponon: The organization took a risk on just being based in the Philippines but scaled in Southeast Asia, which led us to presently have eight chapters in eight countries that are continuously expanding.

Our operations needed to have continuous strategic planning shifting to inclusive online initiatives while maximizing every opportunity that led to various online engagements.

How we operate and provide as a non-profit moved but was not seen as a disruption, but then again, an opportunity to create positive change in the comfort of everyone’s home.

MB: What do you think is the biggest challenge that the youth, not only in the Philippines but in the world, faces today? What do you think should be done to address this?

Ponon: Witnessing poverty growing up, which led me to take development studies and be involved in advocacy work, has led me to look and answer this question multiple times.

If I were to answer it, it would be because humanity chose to be selfish and self-centered over becoming selfless.

We’re suffering from overpopulation, climate change, and the pandemic and to address all of this is for us to have the lifestyle of becoming one selfless individual.

Culture is slow to change, but that is how we can attain a sustainable world and future.

MB: It was mentioned that you hope to craft a policy that “encourages advocacy as a lifestyle for youth around the world,” kindly elaborate on this.

Ponon: After receiving global recognition and support from all over the globe, AYAN will be scaling global to the Global Youth Advocates Network, set to launch on Aug. 12 to celebrate International Youth Day.

The youth should be given more doors and be foreseen as an integral stakeholder in the Philippines and international policy-making bodies. There are few, but it is not enough, and to break the stigma on what the youth can do is what I envision in making advocacy a lifestyle.

A lot know what a leader is because of its prestige, but not a lot know what an advocate is. For me, it is someone that changes “what is” to what “should be” in changing the cycle.

Ponon will join other remarkable young leaders when 2021 GTLs convene virtually from July 12 to August 18, 2021 for WAFF’s 13th Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit.