Written by philippines

Dumaguete City—the first leg out of three stops in the Youth 4 Sustainable Cities program. Dumaguete comes from the Visayan word “daggit” which means “to snatch.” It is a gentle city, fringed by a waterfront Boulevard and populated by 131,400 citizens that speak fondly of its rich cultural heritage. Later, Urich Calumpang of the Siliman University Culture and Arts Council and one of the panelists in the Makesense room organized by the ambassadors will describe Dumaguete as a place that will “always pull him back” just like it’s name-sake. It’s true; within just a few days, the hidden vibrance behind the city’s tranquil veneer makes itself known.

Later, Urich Calumpang of the Siliman University Culture and Arts Council and one of the panelists in the Makesense room will describe Dumaguete as a place that will “always pull him back” just like it’s name-sake.

We hosted the two-day training in Foundation University, which in 2016 was honored as one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly campus by the DENR. Once inside the walls, it’s no riddle to see why; nature coexists seamlessly with its architecture, with blooming bougainvilleas and various species of native trees hedging the walls, proud solar panels sitting atop each roof top. It was here that we trained and engaged with the 19 selected young ambassadors of Dumaguete City.

A beautiful welcome to Foundation University, Dumaguete.


Day 1: January 16

What better way to engage with young change-makers than by connecting two languages they speak fluently: social media and collective action? We asked our ambassadors to come up with their own online campaign hashtag to promote one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals they were to pick at random—in their local dialect!

In the spirit of Greta Thunberg’s campaign #FridaysForFuture, this activity gave the ambassadors insight about the process that goes into creating events that resonate and spur people to action.

One hashtag was #MaKaPa, which stands for Maayong Kalawasan para sa Kagawasan. Another was #AyawCoal, a campaign against coal-powered energy.

In the afternoon, we facilitated an ecosystem mapping session to enable the ambassadors to start their action plans. Context is key in designing and preparing urban solutions, and the ambassadors dug deep and collaborated to map Dumaguete’s ecosystem, identifying the available resources, partners, barriers to action, and other important clues. 

Sticky notes coming together to form a picture

When prompted to describe Dumaguete’s personality, many scribbled on their sticky notes: laidback, hospitable, lazy; one ambassador called it a land of opportunities, while someone said it was a small world (3-in-1, just like instant coffee). Many other dichotomies surfaced—slow/diverse, vibrant/boring—showing the plurality of experiences present in one city. 

The majority of our ambassadors cited the following as main interests: safe and inclusive public spaces, abolishing single-use plastic, political and social literacy, improving quality education, community participation, and the creation of a sanitary landfill that abides by standard regulations.

What do Dumaguete youth consider as barriers to meet ups? Most of them answered: Poverty. Red-tagging. Lack of resources. Lack of interest. An apparent sense of apathy caused by both a lack of education and access to support.

What do Dumaguete youth consider as barriers to meet ups? Most of them answered: Poverty. Red-tagging. Lack of resources. Lack of interest. An apparent sense of apathy caused by both a lack of education and access to support.

While ambassadors of makesense enjoy free training and access to methodologies, networks, multiple platforms, they are also encouraged (and expected) to share the experience. As community developers in their own right, they have the responsibility of opening a path for more people to receive the same resources. To facilitate this, we did a round of pitch training, enabling them to respond to the question, “what is makesense?”

Seizing the opportunity: ambassadors practice their pitch, knowing their next collaborator, participant, or funder can approach them any time for questions.

Finally, we capped off the long day with a crowd favorite—the sensedrink! It’s the perfect opportunity to share stories and connect with fellow participants in a more casual environment.

A few cold beers with great company

Cafe Racer, a cafe by the sea


Day 2: January 17

One main concern the ambassadors had while organizing their events was the timeframe. With less than a week left to launch their event following the 2-day training, there was a lot of work to be done. Most of the ambassadors were students, and they were caught right in the middle of midterms week too.

Still, the energy and excitement was palpable. To bolster their confidence, Day 2 focused on preparations, planning, and facilitation. 

One general rule of thumb we asked them remember is this: prepare for everything. Expect the worst, because everything that can go wrong most likely will. Then, be ready to respond. We simulated practical things that can (and will) happen during their programs. 

Facilitation Pro-tip: “The Power Pose.”

A young participant arrives extra early and starts asking you questions. What do you do?

“It’s Friday night… and it’s raining! There’s no one present in your event but your speakers. What do you do?”


Enough about us

The barcamp is a makesense methodology that enables anyone in the room to show off their expertise. In this session, participants each nominate topics then vote collectively on the top three they want to hear about most. As we’ve been talking non-stop for the past 1 and 1/2 days, we figured it was time for these ambassadors to take the stage. 

Topic # 1: How a group of teenagers in Negros managed to stop a coal-fired plant.

Jaya, 20, shared the incredible story of how she and her friends took a stand to keep Negros coal-free. After a hike in Mt. Mandalagan opened her eyes to the majesty of nature, she kept herself informed on environmental issues, involved herself with local players, and, with her friends, did the amazing work of gathering thousands of people to join a silent protest against a giant corporation adamant on building a coal-fired plant in Negros soil.

“Inhale. Now exhale. That breath? That is a privilege you have because a coal-powered plant hasn’t destroyed your air.”

– Jaya, Dumaguete Ambassador

Barcamp topics

EJ, 22, a political science and history major, shared his insights about how to have a healthy sex life while juggling life’s responsibilities. While a bit more on the cheeky side, EJ’s discussion proved valuable by emphasizing the need to talk about sex in order to normalize it as a regular part of human life—not just for the people in the room, but for other minorities who don’t have the same privilege.

Finally, JB, 20, took the stage with his topic: the perks of being a geology major. He narrated the time he took a swim in Siliman Beach and saw lionfish, vibrant corals, and other rare wildlife he never thought he’d see in the beach. Unfortunately, ocean waste was part of the view.

Of course, another fancy perk: getting to go on “Instagrammable” places during hikes, diving sessions, and beach trips. Just part of the job.

That’s a wrap, everybody! Day 2/2 training – done. The movement has only just started.


Your turn

January 22, Makesense Room

Wednesday, Lawak Kauswagan Room—the MKS room is a modified panel discussion blending performance and talks about social innovation for good.

The Dumaguete ambassadors chose to center their Makesense Room entitled “Dumaguete, Gateway to a Sustainable City” around the theme of urban development and cultural preservation. 

Despite the anxiety of time, the organizers did an incredible job of gathering four amazing thought leaders and cultural workers as their panelists: Onna Rhea Quizo, of the Youth Advocates for Theater Arts (YATA), Urich Calumpang, of Siliman University Culture and Arts Council, Ian Casocot of Silimat Film Open and the Department of English and Literature at Siliman University, and finally, the provincial administrator of Negros Oriental himself. Henry Sojo, Ph.D.

From left to right: Onna Rhea Quizo, Urich Calumpang, Ian Casocot, and Henry Sojo, Ph.D.

Dumaguete ambassador Rengie moderating the discussion.

YATA (Youth Advocates for Theather Arts) doing a special performance to show awareness around single-use plastic

Q: “In your own words and experience, how would you describe Dumaguete?”

In one word? “A home,” Urich Calumpang described. He went on to explain how people from Dumaguete don’t say “When do you come back?” – instead, they say, “When do you come home?”

Ian Casocot drew a picture of Dumaguete in a backdrop of its cultural history. “We have a nose for culture,” he said, citing how Dumaguete has two National Artists (Eddie Romero and Edith Lopez Tiempo) and how indicative this is not just of the city’s roots, but where it’s headed.

Onna Quizo cites that while Dumaguete is a beautiful city, it needs work to bring us closer together. A sense of ownership is missing; she discusses the potential of Dumaguete to be a place that people not just enjoy or stop by for a fleeting, liminal period, but a city its citizens will fight for.

Q: “What are some of the lost culture of Dumaguete?”

Our dance, Onna shared. For Ian, it is little bit of everything—musical styles, dances, film, paintings. “We have become careless with our culture. Why are we not recording our heritage?” He expressed. A binotbot, he cited as an example, is an unrecorded type of musical genre—therefore, unstudied, to this day. “A binotbot. Do you know what a binotbot is?” he repeated, to a giggling audience, unfamiliar with the name. Now, it is just one of the many lost fragments of Dumaguete culture. 

“We have become careless with our culture. Why are we not recording our heritage?”

– Ian Casocot

In the same vein, Ian brought up the importance of cultural mapping to identify what policies are required to enforce preservation. It is indicative how such a culturally rich city like Dumaguete has yet to hold a cultural mapping session (the first will be held in February 28, 2020!)

Onna shares: “We have a culture where we’re so comfortable here, but we always seek greener pastures.” Which begs the question: how do we build a Dumaguete City where people want to stay?

Urich ends the discussion with a challenge. “If you are here, try to make an impact. Try to pass it on.”

Success! Makesense Room team celebrating their first event as organizers and facilitators.
Photo by Francis Pabiania


February 1, Sensefiction

Following the ecosystem mapping session with our Dumaguete ambassadors, waste management was cited as one of Dumaguete’s biggest challenges. To support the creation of social enterprises to solve this issue, the Dumaguete ambassadors centered their sensefiction on this theme, titled ways 4 waste.

They introduced concept creation methodologies and trained participants in pitching in order to produce 3 amazing solutions: 1) Furniture/souvenir shop made by inmates, 2) advertising dissemination that will fund workshops, and 3) single-use plastic converted into souvenirs.

Ambassadors facilitating the concept creation stage.

Participants pitching their waste management solution


Meet the Changemakers of Dumaguete

Throughout our stay, we were able to speak to four young ambassadors of Dumaguete to share their story and perspectives.

Maria Jaya A. Ariola, 20

Jaya, 20, told us how she joined the Youth 4 Sustainable Cities Program after the SK President invited her to apply. Coming from a family of changemakers, Jaya has always been exposed to the reality of social impact workers, more than most of her same-aged peers. Her mother was part of an NGO that enabled her to help farmers, and we were surprised that she has been a vegetarian since she was 6 years old—that’s 14 years of eating clean!

“I want a world where people are climate literate, where there is climate justice, where the people in the marginalized sectors – farmers, fisherfolks, lumads – are at the forefront of the climate fight – because when people are knowledgeable about the environment, they are (knowledgeable about) protecting their livelihood, about protecting their lives.”

But as to what really pushed the needle for her, Jaya cited her first overnight hike in Mt. Mandalagan. “It was the first time I saw firsthand how rich our forests were, how beautiful the birdsong was.” When she found out about how that very same mountain was threatened by an energy corporation, it was an awakening. “When you realize you can give your life for something that beautiful, for something that has protected your life since before…” she shared. “You can’t fight for something you don’t love, or don’t know.”

Currently, Negros has only 4% of its original forest cover. Our mountains are the last frontier.

“I want a world where people are climate literate, where there is climate justice, where the people in the marginalized sectors – farmers, fisherfolkd, lumads – are at the forefront of climate justice – because people when people are knowledgeable about environment, they are (knowledgeable about) protecting their livelihood, protecting their lives.”

In 10 years—our collective deadline to achieving the SDGs—how does Jaya envision Dumaguete City?

“These will be the most important years of my life,” she said with a smile, talking about the next 10 years. “I won’t stop what I’m doing for climate justice. My dream and vision for Dumaguete is that it will be a city running on renewable and responsible energy, a city filled people who are climate literate. That people who protect our oceans and forests, who give us food— are empowered. Government officials are working with the people, working with its constituents to make the city a better place, and corporations will switch to a minimalist approach, because we can’t continue with business as usual, as Greta Thunberg has always said.”

For anyone who wants to fight for something but is afraid to take the first step, Jaya had this to say: “Start with what you know.” In every movement, everything that you do matters, and everything contributes to the bigger picture. “Always remember the 3 P’s: Passion, purpose, and people.”

Of course you need passion, but even passion dies. It wanes, it has its moments. That’s why you need the second thing: purpose. Purpose, according to Jaya, enables you to realize that whatever you’re feeling right now is bigger than yourself and will continue on even when you’re tired.

Last, but definitely not the least: the third P – people.

“You have to rely on people, but I mean not just the movement, but yourself. Stay rested, have fun with your friends, share a few laughs, talk about nothing, because this is how a movement is sustained.”

Jonel Baligasa, 20

Jonel or “JB” is a geologist who just graduated last year in Negros Oriental State University with a degree in Geology. At only 20 years old, he disclosed how often it was that people mistakenly called him “uncle.” While JB did carry himself with a sense of maturity, just like his peers he enjoys a good hike and any immersive trip in nature.

A freelance artist on the side, JB’s primary advocacy is marine conservation. As for when his interest grew in this field, JB cited his membership in the Association of Young Environmental Journalists, a youth-led news network dedicated to engaging the community in environmental sustainability.

It was there that he involved himself in KLIMA: Project 1.5, a campaign that aimed to raise awareness of the global 1.5-degree Celsius increase wrought by climate change. The program engaged creatives and bridged the gap between science in the arts to inspire collective action, showcasing a variety of creative mediums from to poems and digital works. JB hopes to be involved in more projects like these on the ground with his organization.

As a geologist, he’s had precious experiences of snorkelling in the coast of Negros Island. Despite this, JB promised it wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed. He’d seen firsthand the amount of oceanic waste present, even in marine-protected areas. It only spurred him to continue advocating for marine preservation in the area.

EJ Casio, 22

EJ is a 22 year-old political science and history major from Siliman University. Originally from Mindanao, EJ moved here in Dumaguete three years ago in 2017. EJ is many things: an activist, an athlete, a photographer, a filmmaker. He’s part of Akbayan Youth, ISPEC (a non-profit LGBT collective), while also holding the position of the president of The Reel Hub, the Film Society of Siliman University.

“The reason why I joined is to educate myself more—cliche at it sounds—I’m willing to learn from other people,” EJ told us. “I want to open myself up to new ideas. This program really helps be a stepping stone for everyone to be the voice for other youth. A lot of young people are out of school, and they don’t have access to this information.”

“This program really helps be a stepping stone for everyone to be the voice for other youth. A lot of young people are out of school, and they don’t have access to this information.”

A staunch advocate for art education, JB strongly believes in everyone’s innate potential for the arts. It’s the drought of resources and structural support that bars most of his peers from the practice.

“Be the voice of the voiceless, you know,” he said, smiling.

Francis Pabiania, 20

Despite his affection for Dumaguete, Francis was raised in Bacolod. “Pure Negrosyano,” he laughed, going on to narrate the absurd story of how he moved a few years ago. He didn’t ask his parents for explicit permission before he took a ride on an army truck to Dumaguete, where he would go on to enroll in Siliman University after friends spoke highly of the offered curriculum.

As for why he joined the Youth 4 Sustainable Cities program, he shared: “I envision a diverse city composed of rural and urban communities with unique stories to share. A city of hope, dreams and aspirations as strength to fulfill every legacy despite of the rising conflicts or issues. A city that celebrates the abundance of culture, tradition and values which have been part of the human nature that will continue to help build a healthy and sustainable city.”

Though the cost of living surprised him (unfortunately he didn’t do his calculations before moving) he found comfort in the serene environment Dumaguete offered, the rich culture and tourism that was available to him. Even though it was quite far from the fast-paced modernity of Bacolod or Manila, he fell in love with cultural-rootedness of Dumaguete.

And the rest was history.

Drawing from his previous volunteer experience as a teacher, Francis is passionate most about being rooted in the people around him. Naturally, he found his primary advocacies in journalism, tourism, and health.

Francis believes that journalism is the most effective channel to develop empathy in his community. Finding photographs and stories that are worthy to tell, sharing these wonderful pockets of light – this is what the community needs most and what he strives to continue doing as a journalist and member of Gaba-an Youth Lead and Newground Events.


Youth 4 Sustainable Cities is a free program created in partnership with Citi Foundation that aims to inspire and support the Filipino youth in transforming its cities into more sustainable and inclusive places.

This program is the first step of Philippines based, Pathways to Progress initiative that seeks to engage and involve local youth with the Sustainable Development Goals and urban sustainable development. 

Youth 4 Sustainable Cities has 3 phases: 1) the call for youth ambassadors, 2) the roadshow and call for projects, 3) and incubation program of selected startups!

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Instagram: instagram.com/makesenseph⁣⁣
Newsletter: tinyurl.com/MKSnewsletter⁣⁣
GMA RTV: www.gmaregionaltv.com⁣⁣
Pathways to Progress: https://www.citigroup.com/citi/foundation/programs/pathways-to-progress.htm