July is Plastic-Free Month. Aside from challenging oneself to avoid plastic in many ways, there is a greater need to push for change on a societal level. The zero waste movement is more than individual action. It is also helping other people to care for the environment with the help of the community. To refuse single-use, we need a supportive community.
In the Philippines, the zero waste movement is growing. There are zero waste stores, zero waste Facebook groups and organizations. One such organization is Lihok Adbokasiya, based in Zamboanga del Norte. They are a youth-led organization focused on empowering Filipino youth to act upon environmental issues and societal ills. In July 18, they ran their maiden event, Refuse Single-Use – a seminar on plastic-free living.
I interviewed their founders, Merl Andrea Daarol, Florence Viol Angela Asentista, and Andrea Gayle Necesario, about their experience in running a plastic-free seminar. Especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Get inspired by their story of spearheading change in their community, with support from their local government leaders. Learn how to inspire and guide people to care for the environment and sociopolitical issues at the same time.
Tell me a little about yourselves.
Merl: I am Merl Andrea Daarol, 18 years old residing at Fatima, Liloy, Zamboanga del Norte. I am an incoming nursing freshman at Silliman University. I am an environmental activist, mental health advocate and human rights advocate. I am currently the Vice-chairperson of the SUSG Environment Committee and a member of the Association of Young Environmentalists. I involve myself in organizations that fight for the things I am passionate about.
Florence: I am Florence Viol Angela S. Asentista po, 19, from Liloy, ZN. Incoming third year BS Pharmacy student and also the current president of SU Junior PH Pharmacists Association. I advocate for the environment, mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and I believe that in the potential of the youth to push for these things as well. I am also the vice chair of the SUSG Advocacy Committee where we serve as a platform for issues in the community and the country.
Andrea: Hello. I’m Andrea Gayle Necesario. 19. Incoming 1st year BS in Nursing student at San Pedro College, Davao City. I am an mental health, environmental sustainability and gender equality advocate.
What is Lihok Adbokasiya?
Florence: Lihok Adbokasiya is a youth-led organization in the third district of Zamboanga del Norte that aims to promote and encourage participation and discussion on pressing issues in the community and society.
At the moment, we are working on bringing seminars from place to place which have an elevator pitching activity in the end so we know what the plans of the youth are and we can help them bring it into reality as well. We aim to make these programs sustainable and not only on paper. So far, we’ve done one seminar and we are planning to conduct one in another municipality in a few weeks or so.
Merl: Its primary goal is to serve as an avenue for the youth in our respective municipalities to grow and be involved in fighting for different advocacies through seminars, camps, and other programs. We don’t only want to capacitate the youth, we also want to empower them to create an action plan to address the issues they are most passionate about.
Andrea: We actually started our organization with the Refuse Single Use Seminar. We aim to give platform to the youth here in Zamboanga del Norte for their advocacies.
Why did you start Lihok Adbokasiya?
Florence: The three of us are students leaders of different groups in Silliman and recently for World Oceans Day, Merl organized a cleanup and we decided: “What if we do something bigger than just cleanups, that we get other youth involved as well”.
Merl: We’ve seen how much power the youth holds to spark change in communities during our time in Silliman University and in the same way, we want to empower, capacitate and engage with our fellow youth in our respective municipalities. We’ve noticed that there is no existing organization that allows them to voice out their advocacies and act for positive change in the community.
Andrea: We did not plan to start an organization actually. At first, we wanted to have a seminar about refusing single-use plastics. That’s it. But, on the middle of our discussion for the event, we think for sustainability purposes we need to make an organization for the youth here in Zamboanga del Norte.
Let’s discuss your first event – Refuse Single-use.
Andrea: We actually aligned this to the Plastic Free July Celebration. Ate Angela and Merl came from the same municipality and I from another. But a 10-15 minute drive away only. At first, we have our Coastal Cleanup from their town: Liloy. Then, after that Ate Angela messaged us: “Why not we will have a seminar about refusing single use in our area?” Then, I’m game with this because from all I know, our Mayor is super supportive when it comes to this. We tapped our Local Government Unit and they have their full support.
Our sponsors are LGU- SALUG, SK FEDERATION OF SALUG and SALUG TOURISM OFFICE. They gave us budget for our food, venue, tokens down to our materials needed. They provided resources such as printing of certificates and the thermal scanner.
Our participants were diverse. Some came from other municipalities here in the 3rd district of Zambo. Norte. Liloy, Godod and Salug. Some were SKs. There were boy scouts and supreme student government officers.
We were happy to see some participants posting and talking about their experience during the event on social media.
Merl: We partnered with Ang Sandigan and Silingan Zanorte Sillimanites as well, two organizations in Silliman. They were kind enough to help us with the publication materials and provide us with two of our esteemed guest speakers, Mr. Adrian Jay Alforque and Shem Japheth Barinaga.
Florence: For the brainstorming of lectures, what we did is think of those that can cater to the youth and is easily digestible and of course, relevant. The topics we thought of are: the effects of plastic on the environment, how to go zero waste and what the youth can do to influence others. Sir Elmer from the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office of Salug also gave an overview of the policies they have.
We discussed the following:
- Effects of Plastic on the Environment
- how single-use adds to plastic pollution
- how big companies contribute to the climate crisis
- its detriments to organisms especially to marine animals
- How to go Zero Waste
- what are simple ways to go zero waste, ones that are affordable and doable by the youth
- What the Youth Can Do
- about empowering oneself and one’s fellow youth to take action, to have passion and purpose
We limited it to 50-60 participants only and asked for confirmation the day before so we could prepare their certificates and all. Aside from certificates, we wanted souvenirs that they can use to get started in a zero waste lifestyle so we bought bamboo straw sets and tote bags from Wasteless PH.
The event actually had a good turn-out. After the event, our participants helped in cleaning up the hall (which was unexpected). Regarding the topics discussed, they were very engaged with the ones they could relate to and we’ve hopefully given them a fresher perspective on things.
What were the struggles involved in organizing and running plastic-free events amidst the pandemic?
Andrea: We weren’t able to meet physically for the planning. And we can’t video call also because we all have slow internet in our areas. So our discussions were all through chats. And for the participants, many were interested to join but unfortunately, we limit our participants for social distancing purposes.
Merl: Thankfully, we had not run into any major roadblock as most of the logistic work was done by Andrea as she’s the one living in Salug. Ate Angela and I helped with the content, organization and other preparations. It was difficult to really organize an event through chatting alone but we were able to deliver nevertheless.
The SK in liloy have already contacted me and said that they are willing to support us when we do have another seminar here in Liloy.
Florence: We had respective roles but then, aside from the struggle with internet, I have classes too and we’re all handling other organizations at the same time.
Based on your recent event, how much success can you find in influencing people to care for the environment?
Merl: Influencing people is a continuous and gradual process. We cannot effectively influence them through a single seminar alone that’s why we encourage them to create their own projects for the environment in order to have that drive and meaning. We are also planning to post materials about single use plastics periodically in order to reinforce the participants to continue.
During the seminar as well, we made them write down their pledges for the planet and take an oath to follow those pledges. Although we cannot really make certain if they are walking the talk, we will be following them up on their progress and all.
Florence: We believe really in the capability of the youth even if some adults don’t believe in us. The youth is very active and willing to participate especially now that they’re educated with this topic, we just need to continuously monitor them and then guide them through their journey towards helping the community and the environment
What other issues are you passionate about, that relate to your environmental advocacy?
Florence: Relating to the environment, we really want to shift the blame from ecofascism to actually holding those in power accountable. For most seminars about the environment we’ve been in, it’s always about “follow the rules of the system, segregate, don’t litter” but never going deeper as to what the truth behind it is that even if we do follow the system, if it is ineffective, then efforts are futile.
At the moment, environment, but we’re also planning one for LGBTQ+ po and mental health. The LGBTQ+ considering how the Philipinnes is only tolerant, not accepting, and has internalized homo-bi-transphobia. Mental health because it’s very trivialized.
We want to stop the generational cycle of just doing things because of tradition and not wanting to change tradition no matter how harmful it is for the sake of culture. I think in a sense, we want to make them see the problem of society as a whole starting from creating a better physical space, and a lot of environmental problems stem from social injustices. These include capitalism, ecofascism, class inequality and the like.
Merl: I strongly demand for the government to issue climate emergency. If only the climate crisis is treated as what it is, a crisis, then we could prevent another yet catastrophic phenomenon from happening. It’s sad to really know that many people are apathetic to climate change because it is a “thing of the future” not realizing that climate change is happening right now and that it’s destroying more lives than ever. We want the government to really take action and listen to the demands of the people.
Not only do we fight for environmental justice, but social justice as well. The effects of climate change and the abuse human kind is doing to the environment affects everyone but the people who suffer from these effects the most are the poor, marginalized sectors. Because during disasters, the poor do not have any means of survival aside from the help of the gov whereas the privileged can move forward.
Andrea: With this, a lot of people or even those in power will always blame Filipinos because of lack of discipline, “mga pinoy kasi walang disiplina.” Instead of blaming the citizens, why not go deeper to the root of the problem? We need to hold those in power accountable.
How will you, in your own life, inspire others to go zero waste?
Florence: One thing that I think I can do is to lead by example. Not only in living environment-friendly but in living a life with an impact. Not necessarily in the sense that i will be remembered, but one that even if they don’t remember my name, they remember how much I love the environment and the youth and how much I fought for what I believed in. Making every action and every moment count is the goal.
Merl: I will continue to walk my talk. I admit that it is really difficult to live a zero waste lifestyle and even I am still transitioning but my unwavering dedication to go zero waste can influence the people around me. Even if it’s difficult and even if many see it as useless, if I continue to persevere and continue with my eco-friendly habits, my habits will eventually be my friends’ habits and so on. I will also continue to serve for the benefit of the environment through the different environmental organizations I am involved with. Alone, environmental justice is difficult to attain, but with people of the same goals beside me, I may stand a chance.
Andrea: believe the more people know about the problem and solutions, the bigger the impact. Little by little, I am sharing my knowledge of the topic and talk about my efforts to reduce my ecological footprint. Also, involving them n my zero-waste lifestyle. For example my friends or cousins, inviting them to supermarket and maybe show how i can avoid plastic packaging. Our goal is to prove that this lifestyle is actually possible and fun and not a sacrifice. And finally, maybe sharing my favorite resources and tips. It will allow them to discover the topic at their own pace and find alternatives that suit their live best.