Young Leader Perspective: Sitti Anieza Darong
Young persons can be powerful change agents in their communities. Disseminating information on the electoral cycle, volunteering in voter registration drives, observing elections to ensure rights are respected, and forming watchdog organizations are some of the many ways youths around the world are making a difference.
Below is a Q&A with Sitti Anieza Darong from Tawi-Tawi, Philippines.
Please tell us about your work around the latest election.
I was a volunteer for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, who monitored election centers during the October 2010 village and youth council elections. Part of my work involved recording the statistics on voter turnout and gathering copies of the election return allocated to election watchdogs.
What motivates you to participate in your country’s democratic process?
I am young and I live in a region with an unflattering reputation of being the “cheating capital” of the country. I want to be part of the process to change bad governance in my region.
The current system of governance in my region inspires me to do something to change things for the better. I believe everyone should be involved and perform his or her role as a responsible citizen, ensuring that democratic institutions in this country work toward the greater good. Issues of corruption and poor governance have beset my region extensively. I have come to realize that one of its causes is the presence of politicians who suddenly have utter disregard for the public’s interest once they are elected into office. If only the voters are wiser and judicious in how they choose their leaders during elections, perhaps we would be able to rectify the situation. Since elections are one of the foundations of democracy, I got interested to be part of the organization called Citizens CARE—a leading domestic voter education and election observation organization that has an existing chapter in my province of Tawi-Tawi. I joined Citizens CARE’s youth organization called Youth Electoral Reform Advocates (YERA) and was elected as one of its officers. Being part of YERA, it has become easier for me to advocate for electoral reforms. I don’t get paid for what I do, but i believe it is my civic duty to engage in volunteer work as my simple contribution to improve the general welfare of my community.
What do youth bring to the table when it comes to encouraging greater citizen participation?
The youth are most vulnerable to exploitation and unprincipled leadership, especially in my region that has been beset with election fraud and violence. However, youth could also be the most creative with regard to encouraging others to participate in the country’s democratic process. I have witnessed youth groups who would communicate their beliefs through song and dance. By being creative without sacrificing their messages, they are able to successfully get their message across to their public.
During the recent voter registration process in our region, Citizens CARE-YERA assisted first-time youth voters from all schools in two municipalities, where I was the coordinator. We mobilized all students who would be qualified to vote in the 2013 midterm elections to register at the local office of the Commission on Elections. We made transportation arrangements and coordinated the registration schedules to ensure that the students get to register during their free time without missing their classes. We were able to successfully mobilize a number of them and they were thankful to the members of Citizens CARE-YERA since we were instrumental in their registration as voters.
How can we all help foster greater youth involvement?
Youth can be tapped to come up with new ways to disseminate information. They could showcase their talent in design and painting, for example, by creating posters, tarpaulins, leaflets or brochures. The youth can also be active mobilizers for seminars, forums and consultative assemblies in villages.
In our town of Bongao, Citizens CARE-YERA members have also been invited to a local radio program to serve as resource speakers on issues concerning the youth sector. During our last radio program we talked about vote-buying. We discussed various ways youth can lessen, if not totally eradicate, vote-buying as one of the commonly reported illegal activities during the voter registration process and elections. We believe in the power of media and how it could influence decision-making, thus, we make it a point to accept invitations to speak on radio programs.
Also, a lot of young people today would resort to new media for information and to communicate with their peers. The youth’s access to the Internet, for instance, has helped raise their aspirations and ideals partly because they are now informed of the plight of their fellow youth in other parts of the country, or even the world. Their access to the new media has also made them more aware of certain issues such as bad governance, for example, and how it directly affects their communities. This is the reason why we decided to put up a Facebook account for Citizens CARE-YERA Tawi-Tawi to encourage additional membership and provide an alternative platform where we could all engage in meaningful and healthy discussions of pressing issues confronting the youth.