Following its values of inclusiveness and developmental, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF), in partnership with the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), Fine Arts Department, conceptualized an Umpukan that aimed to survey how NPF can promote youth civic agency and create a cultural park that is youth-centered. 

Hosted by Ateneo Faculty member Laura Cabochan, the Umpukan took place via Zoom last August 15. It was titled “Umpukan sa Nayon: Limning the Future” and was held in two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. 

The first part served as an ideation workshop involving kids from ages 10 to 13 years old. They participated in games and activities that allowed them to express their ideas on Filipino identity. The youth participants brainstormed plans for the Nayong Pilipino Cultural Park’s design—incorporating both their interests as children and their interpretation of Philippine heritage. 

For the afternoon session, the invited speakers were educators, cultural workers, researchers, and representatives of youth-centric organizations. They discussed the meaning of youth-centered and how places like these benefit not only the youth but also the community. 

After an opening activity, each speaker took turns discussing their own definition of youth spaces and how children can safely nurture their agencies in these places. 

Raya School director and co-founder Dr. Ani Rosa Almario emphasized on the importance of trust and freedom. She further explained that members of her faculty must trust the children to know how they can find joy and development through the learning environment provided for them. 

“Sabi ko sa kanila (students), sana makita ninyo ang paaralan natin, anuman ang form nito ngayon, bilang espasyo kung saan malaya kayong maging bata at malaya kayong maging kayo,” said Dr. Almario. She also added that while giving children the freedom to define the use of the spaces given to them, adults must also ensure that the environment surrounding these children allows them to discover their identities as Filipinos. 

This is something that Abigail Billones of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) agreed with. Establishing their identity and purpose are factors that will aid the youth as they transition from being children to adults. She explained through the perspective of PETA that creative expression for children is very valuable as this allows them to “rehearse life.” Doing theater gives the youth the avenue to portray varying characters and enables them to recognize to whom or to what they relate to—establishing both a sense of belonging and purpose. 

“Siguro kung bibigyan ko ng pinakabuod kung ano pa, na pag sinabi natin youth-centered or young people-centered, I think ang pinaka-basic talaga nyan ay nao-honor natin ang karapatan nila bilang kabataan,” added Katherine E. del Rosario, Faculty member of the Department of Human and Family Development Studies in UP Los Baños.

The topic of youth spaces adopting a developmental approach was also brought up. Del Rosario posed the question of whether the physical activities offered to children meet not only their physical needs but also their emotional and cognitive needs as well. ADMU instructor Clarissa Mijares added the importance of using interdisciplinary practices. According to her, this is a better way to actively engage the youth in learning, siting an online children’s dance class as an example. 

“Para maintindihan ng mga bata ‘yong shape of the body, minsan kailangang i-drawing nila. Mas naiintindihan nila better kapag iginuguhit nila kung ano ‘yong sa tingin nila na tamang execution noong step,” she clarified. 

Emphasis was also put on empowerment and allowing the youth to have their own voice. Involving the youth from planning to implementation, up to evaluation promotes their engagement and participation within the community and society. 

This was echoed by Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) Vice President Rojan Talita. “Nag-join po ako [sa YATTA] kasi gusto kong i-express yung sarili ko. ‘Yon po and unang nag-motivate sa akin para maging member ng organisasyon,” he shared. Talita further expounded that through his organization, he was able to find a place where he felt accepted and safe in sharing his thoughts. 

Giving the youth the environment and freedom to think openly not only develops their expression and character but also cultivates their ideas. This sentiment lead to the discussion of the importance of youth engagement and how it benefits society. 

Educator Anna Patricia Carranza explained that actively involving children—whether at school or at home— at an early age develops their life skills. It is important that children exercise their ability to make decisions. This will allow them to better grow within a society that gave them the opportunity to practice their agency early on. 

“Children who participate in school—that translates to participation in society. When they grow up they will practice their agency in democratic institutions,” added Dr. Almario. She explained that earning how to make choices and practicing their democracy must begin at school as schools must act as a microcosm of life. 

Cultural worker Alma Quinto supported these ideas as she talked about how parents must be educated on allowing their children to have voices in the household. Often parents limit their children’s ability to think for themselves. This is why establishing a youth-centered space that encourages children to actively participate in their community is important.

Of course, these advocacies do not come without struggle. The majority of the speakers expressed their concerns over program sustainability and tapping onto children’s interests especially in terms of culture and heritage. 

Some of the solutions posited were to expose the children to Philippine heritage as early as possible. Dr. Almario shared that in her school, the initial activity on the first day of classes is to color the Philippine flag.

A more holistic and family-centered approach was suggested by Del Rosario. She noted the alienation between children and their grandparents. Eliminating this barrier and connecting the generations gives a chance for both to learn from each other. 

Quinto expressed that teaching heritage can be transformed in a way that caters to the youth’s personal interests and experiences in order for them to further develop an appreciation for it. She cited tattoos as an example. Some members of the youth are fascinated by tattoos and so they were introduced to the culture of traditional tattooing in Kalinga (Batok). 

“Culture is evolving and changing or transforming. So we have to allow that to happen as well,” said Billones.To sum up the entire discussion, Cabochan closed off the Umpukan with a quote, saying “Space, be it physical, or abstract, or virtual spaces, as long as they are inclusive of young people, are good places. 

Umpukan sa Nayon is a multi-sectoral consultation session held by NPF as part of its mandate (P.D. 37, 1972) to engage the public for consultation and to enliven conversations.