By the People and For the People: A Young Leader’s Journey to Giving Back to the Community.

The beginning of a leadership journey.

Andrea was only in the first grade when her parents separated. Being the eldest of three children, at a very young age, Andrea experienced the many challenges of life. At ten years old, she already had to work two jobs to support her family which rendered her, at times, unable to attend her classes.

During her teenage years in high school, Andrea had come to discover her talent in acting when she was casted on major roles in various school plays, as well as her talent for broadcasting. Aside from these, she also found her love for writing poems, essays, and blogs, along with being a fan of Eiga Sai, a Japanese Film Festival.

Merits and challenges of being a leader.

Andrea’s leadership skills were often overshadowed by her shyness, but this all changed during her third year in high school when she was nominated and elected as officer of the Interact Club, a part of the Rotary Club, a community organization that did outreach projects and community services. From a shy third-year high school student who only shared her ideas for community and school projects with her best friend, her election as one of the leaders of the Interact Club paved the way for her active involvement in development work.

As a scholar of their local community’s church during her college years, Andrea also served as a volunteer teacher for kids with special needs as a way of giving back to the church for sponsoring her studies. She also became a part of different organizations, one of which is the I Am Making a Difference, allowing her to visit different places in the country and be exposed to the different realities and stories of people from various communities.

As for her influences in pursuing development work, Andrea shared that “Hindi siya mate-trace back sa iisang tao lang. ‘Yung buhay ko, I feel like it’s a big community development project.” This is in recognition of the many people who influenced and encouraged her to excel and pursue the work she does in different stages of her journey – from her grandmother to her best friend, to her school paper adviser, and even the school’s librarian; each played a vital role in her development as a leader.

Her experience as a facilitator of thirty-five out-of-school youth in Muntinlupa for a project sponsored by ADB and DOLE, is both her most notable and challenging experience as a young leader. The project consisted of capacitating the participants to become job-ready – teaching them how to write their CVs, preparing and training them how to present themselves for job interviews, etc. What made this experience her most challenging onr is her exposure to the stories and motivations of each participant during their one-on-one counseling sessions. Andrea shared that through those sessions, many expressed their disinterest to pursue their education and preferred to go straight to work. A few are already young parents, while others felt like it is already too late for them to go to school and finish their education. But despite the challenge of facilitating, handling, and encouraging the participants, Andrea was proud to share that about 80-90% of the participants were able to secure a job. Overall, what was really both challenging and rewarding for her is the process she and the rest of the participants had to go through during the project. “Hindi siya parang isang biglaang session with them tapos nagbago na ‘yung pananaw nila.” This is also when Andrea recognized the importance of following-up and constantly checking with the project’s participants even after its implementation because she believes that fostering a support system for the out-of-school youths she worked with in the past is a big boost to the morale of the youth.

Dealing with burnout and taking care of oneself.

For Andrea, knowing and clarifying her why is the key to continue pursuing the work she does. She is persistently driven by the fact that she has been in the position of those she is helping and working with today as a young leader. “When I say na parang my life is really a big community development project, it means that I wouldn’t be here without these institutions, for example ‘yung simabahan na nagbigay sa akin ng scholarship, or with PUP, or even with the peers – ‘yung social groups that really pushed me to do better every time.”

Andrea still recognizes that there will be days that she will not be as energetic or enthusiastic with their work, especially with the current situation of the country today.

Kasi very reflective ako as a person. So, every time parang iniisip ko na parang pangarap ko lang ‘yung, kunwari, yung posisyon na kung nasaan ako or ‘yung organization na kung nasaan ako. And parang kung susuko ako ngayon, aside from the people na umaasa sa’yo, parang you would also disappoint the person you were five or ten years ago na pinangarap lang ‘to.

Maria Andrea Joshua Riño

Andrea thinks that her leadership journey is intentional – as though the universe has aligned all her experiences. She also shared that it is also important to have people who remind you the importance of the work you do since, as individuals, we tend to discount the things we do and work on.

The journey in the LMNP Fellowship Program.

Her exposure to the Leadership and Management for Non-Profit Professionals established her advocacy for good governance. This was further heightened when she started working for the Partnership for Transparency Asia, where she found herself engaging with local community leaders and being exposed to entrepreneurial women leaders in their locality. These experiences, more than any theories and best practices, are what gave soul to the work Andrea does.

A call to her fellow young leaders.

“Walang experience na sayang,” is what Andrea has to say to her fellow young leaders and, to an extent, even to her younger self. She shared that during her high school and college days, she grabbed every opportunity that was presented to her as she reflects that she is not getting any younger, and that exposure to different opportunities helps one become more prepared and well-advantaged later in life.

She also shared that, “hindi naman kailangan nasa development work ka para may magawa ka para sa iba.” When other development workers start to claim and gate-keep the development work, it isolates those who are working in different industries. Andrea shares that one does not necessarily need to be in the development sector to be able to be of service to others. Each of us has our own roles for the betterment of this country – in whatever industry we may be a part of. The key is to find a way to give back to the community, and this does not necessarily need to be anything grand. “Wala namang standard para maging leader ka.”

Andrea also shared that throughout her leadership journey, her guiding words belong to the former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo: “Later on in life, you will realize that it is neither your successes nor your conquests that will give you satisfaction. It is your contribution that really matters – paying back what you owe the community that nurtured you.” This quote resonates with Andrea’s picture of her life as a big community development project.

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