Poverty pushes young Filipino to fight for the environment
MANILA, Philippines – Arnel Alipao is proof that poverty is no excuse for failure. In fact, he considers living a life of poverty as one of his greatest blessings.
“You have to know how it is to have less, because it inspires you to do more and be more for others,” he said.
The 23-year-old electrical engineer already has a lot on his plate. He is a leader, an environmentalist, and a game changer of sorts. And all this he owes to his poverty.
“Having experienced the bitter side of life allowed me to appreciate things and not take them for granted. The downfalls really pushed me to pursue better things,” he said.
And he did pursue not just success, but also his happiness.
Alipao is a son to farmers in Surigao Del Norte. It was hard for his parents to send their 6 children to school. They only had a meager income of P 5,000 monthly, which was barely enough to cover their basic needs.
What made things worse was poverty also deprived them of their basic rights.
“When you are poor, you become a victim of injustices in the community. Some people will treat you so bad and not respect you,” Alipao said.
Alipao’s family was buried in debt for quite some time. He said the criticism and rude statements from their neighbors were often hard to bear.
“I ran and was ridiculed in the Sangguniang Kabataan elections in 2011 because of my poor status. I really thought life was unfair then,” he said.
Seeds of education
But there’s always hope. Alipao and his parents worked hard and fought for his good education, and their efforts paid off. They got by with a lot of help from other people.
“I was a sponsored child of World Vision for around 10 years, and it was the best 10 consecutive years ever,” he added.
Alipao was then a very shy child, but he was an achiever. He graduated valedictorian in elementary and high school.
“I was given a lot of opportunities for me to speak up and be heard. I never knew I would be able to lead the youth in our school and our community,” Alipao said.
More than being a passionate leader, Alipao is a passionate servant. So much so that he spent his college life juggling a 5-year electrical engineering course as a DOST [Department of Science and Technology] scholar, and engaging in extracurricular activities.
Alipao almost lost his scholarship because of his commitment to the student government of the Caraga State University Cabadbaran Campus in Agusan del Norte.
Still, he persevered and was able to finish school with flying colors.
Children in the fight vs climate change
One of the things he is most passionate about is being a champion for the environment. He knows how it feels like to be a victim of various typhoons at an early age.
In 2011, torrential rains hit his home province for days, and communities were devastated. They were never prepared for rains or flooding of that magnitude.
“Our parents were not able to harvest anything, the floodwaters destroyed rice fields, homes, and schools. I had to risk crossing a provincial road that was overrun by strong currents just to get home,” he shared.
His experiences moved him to see the need for intervention, especially for children and their families.
Alipao believes that more than being vulnerable in times of disasters, children are capable of helping society minimize the effects of climate change.
“The simple act of making children aware and practice the dos and don’ts before, during, and after any storm can spell the difference between life and death,” he shared.
He founded UPGREEN – a group of Filipino youth dedicated to involving children in eco-friendly activities to make environments sustainable. They have been planting trees, conducting regular clean-up drives and eco-bike promotions, and encouraging peers in their community to participate in programs to save the environment.
He has also been going around the country and abroad to be the voice for children.
Alipao brought his story, and his advocacy for child-focused disaster risk reduction, during a climate change panel at the UN headquarters in New York City in 2011.
Man for others
Alipao is not content – he wants to use his time wisely by doing more for others.
He is inspired by how World Vision and his sponsor were kind enough to help a stranger like him. So he is doing the same through his AIDucation for Underprivileged Children.
“I asked myself what is life like for someone who can’t write and read? I would not want anyone to experience that,” he said.
He started the group in 2013 with a number of youth volunteers from his school. They started teaching out of school youths how to read, write, pray, and take care of themselves.
They brought the campaign online and it drew massive support that by 2014, the Cabadbaran City council was involved. They gave school supplies and helped in the processing of the children’s birth certificates and other papers so they could enroll in school.
At a young age, Alipao is surely a man who wears many hats. Now, he is busy giving back by teaching in his school under the College of Engineering and Information Technology.
But he does not want to stop there. He wishes to pursue a master’s degree, in hopes of becoming a university president someday. He is currently applying for the New Zealand ASEAN scholar awards at the University of Auckland. In a month’s time, he’ll know if he is set for another adventure there.
“It’s not about being the most successful man; it’s about being able to help a lot of people. It’s about making them see that dreams turn into reality despite the difficulties,” he said. – Rappler.com
Fatima Reyes is the media engagement specialist of World Vision, an international Christian humanitarian, relief, and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to help them reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.