MELBOURNE, Australia – For the first time in the history of Filipinos in Australia, the creation of a nationwide student alliance comes closer to reality as student leaders from different states came together on Saturday, July 15, at the First Filipino Australian Student Leaders summit.
The event, hosted by the Filipino Australian Student Council of Victoria (FASTCO) in the University of Melbourne, drew participants from as far as Sydney and Brisbane to discuss the challenges and needs in forming an alliance of the current state and university Filipino student organizations.
Philippine Ambassador to Australia Minda Cruz called the event a “dream unfolding” since creating a nationwide student alliance has been something she had envisioned when she took the helm of the embassy in January 2016.
“As scholars here in Australia, what do you want to do? Just do your schooling? Just be alone? Or do you want to further professional development and do things that might change lives of people?” Cruz, who served as Philippine Ambassador to Singapore prior to Australia, challenged the participants.
She added: “Being a student is great because you can think about so many things yet not worry about other social issues as you carry through with it. But I think going beyond that is great because it also contributes to your development.”
As of June 2014, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reports that Filipinos are the fifth largest migrant community in Australia with 225,110 people. From 2014 to 2015, the same agency issued 5,991 international student visas to Filipino students studying in the country’s universities.
An alliance for students
According to Mike Malicsi, outgoing FASTCO president, most Filipino students have to deal with cultural adjustment as well as homesickness when they arrive in Australia. This is why an alliance that would look out for Filipino students’ welfare across the country is important.
“The student community here in Australia already has a vast potential but it hasn’t really gotten the chance and opportunity to be a solid voice and a unified body. We believe that the alliance will pave the way for that particular potential,” Malicsi, a finishing graduate student at Monash University, told Rappler.
There are currently independent Filipino organizations in key Australian states the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. Cruz noted that some students tried creating a national alliance in the past but it never came to fruition.
FASTCO itself is a fairly new organization created in 2012 by scholars in Victoria. The organization, which spearheaded the creation of the alliance, currently supports and unifies Filipino student groups in different universities across the state.
“This summit intended to break barriers and to unite and gather people together from across Australia. It’s never been done before. Today intended to open dialogue among student leaders across all states in Australia so we can come together, hopefully in the future, as a unified solid and single organization of student,” Malicsi added.
Challenges to the alliance
The challenges to creating a nationwide alliance were highlighted during the summit as student leaders discussed the key features of such an organization.
One of the biggest hurdles was the mobility of Filipino students since most state organizations are run by graduate students who are only in the country for one to two years. This built a problem in creating long-term plans for such an organization.
Student leaders also questioned whether such an alliance would add to the burden of current state and university organization members in the form of events.
“Patience is important and drumming up the issue so it is not forgotten. There are big issues that should never be left out and forgotten. This is your time to practice your negotiating skills among yourselves. How do you want this organization to look like?,” Cruz reminded the students during her speech.
For Malicsi and FASTCO, the summit is just the first step to realizing the dream of many Filipino students in the past.
“Today was a big step towards that great journey ahead of us. I would say that coming together was one trail-blazing feat. We still have a long way to go but today we took that giant leap of faith,” he concluded.
Different state and university organizations are set to assign representatives to a technical working group that will draft the national alliance’s key documents. – Rappler.com
David Lozada is an Australia Awards scholar taking up Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne. Prior to his scholarship, he was a reporter covering development and a community manager for Rappler’s MovePH for 4 years.
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