SAMAR, Philippines — Can you trust the Filipino youth?
Some may have doubts. But in Western Samar, a group of high schoolers are determined to reverse the misconceptions cast upon today’s Gen Z teenagers.
Those belonging to Generation Z are born between the mid-1990s and early-2000s. They are the successors of the infamous millennials.
These Gen Z youngsters have never known a world without the Internet, smart phones, and social media. And they are using this to their advantage — making sure their advocacies create bigger impact and attract more audience both online and offline.
In Catbalogan City, we met young filmmakers huddling over a laptop. They showed us a short film they made using cellphones and a digital camera.
Their movie was about teenage pregnancy, HIV and AIDS, and menstruation. These are pretty big topics for students under 18 years old.
“We made this movie so more young people can learn,” Cesar said in Waray. “We need to remove the stigma on these issues; otherwise, we’ll never learn. We have to talk about it.”
Cesar, a 16-year-old Youth Peer Educator (YPE), co-directed the short film.
YPEs support, comfort, and counsel students on various topics relevant to the youth, such as gender equality, youth economic empowerment, self-confidence, and self-expression.
They also help their peers seek assistance from trusted adults, as needed, linking them to guidance counselors, teachers, and social workers.
Cesar and his fellow YPEs will show their film to girls and boys in their high school, complementing it with discussions on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Youth Peer Educators
“We chose this topic for our film because of the high teenage pregnancy rates in our region,” explained Karylle, a 15-year-old YPE.
Karylle stars in the short film, where she plays the role of a girl who had just gotten her period for the first time. When she’s not in front of the camera, Karylle conducts YPE learning sessions on adolescent health— with particular focus on body confidence and girls’ rights.
In the Philippines, around 500 teenage girls give birth every day, the Commission on Population (POPCOM) reported during the 2019 World Population Day celebration.
This means 196,000 Filipino girls ages 15 to 19 get pregnant each year, the POPCOM stressed.
“Teenage mothers are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes and to be constrained in their ability to pursue educational opportunities than young women who delay childbearing,” according to the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey.
In fact, among the most common reasons for girls dropping out of school is early pregnancy.
This is one of the things YPEs are trying to change.
“Even if you’re a teenage parent, you can still continue your education,” said Karylle. “That’s why we’re promoting flexible learning options like the open high school program.”
“We’re also teaching the youth to not discriminate others,” she added. “If students are discriminated, they will be discouraged from going to school.”
YPEs conduct face-to-face education sessions to teach the youth about their rights and responsibilities.
We train YPEs across different high schools as part of our RAISE Above Project, which empowers the youth by making them better realize their rights to education and skills development.
We want girls and boys to raise their hands, raise their voices, and for them to rise above the many challenges their communities face.
The project covers selected schools in Western Samar, a province in Eastern Visayas. Our partner communities are Sta. Margarita, Gandara, Tarangnan, and Catbalogan City.
However, we cannot do this alone. We work together with teachers, parents, local governments, and national government agencies such as the Department of Education.
This is to ensure that our activities and advocacy efforts are sustained — creating behavioral change and influencing local policies.
The RAISE Above Project is initiated by Plan International, an independent development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls.
Plan International has been working in the Philippines since 1961, and we continue to do so today.
In the coming weeks and months, YPEs like Karylle and Cesar will be training more students.
Their goal is to train more young women and young men so they, too, can become YPEs. And in turn, they could also educate others — creating a ripple effect among their schools and communities.
The RAISE Above Project is funded by Dubai Cares, part of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. It has been working towards providing children and young people in developing countries with access to quality education. For more information on the RAISE Above Project, you may reach us at plan-international.org/philippines or through our accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@planphilippines).