For the past several months a group of 25 of us planned for a three day Youth Conference for 200 fourteen to seventeen year olds coming from inner city Manila. The theme set was based on the scripture: “Arise and shine forth that thy light may be a standard for the nations”—Doctrine and Covenants 115:5. The goal was not only to just take the youth out of the busy city, but to build their leadership skills, educational skills and spirituality—oh, and to have FUN.
We all boarded 5 large buses at 0600 and headed two hours south to a resort in Batangas, Philippines. Little did I know, that was the last time I would really for the duration of the next three days. Now, let me pause here to add a caveat, as I say it, I want to be perfectly clear that the experience was a really positive and special one (you’ll hear more stories as you read on). The resort was…alright. We had a limited budget for that many youth so we had limited choices. The swimming pool was beautiful and there were plenty of mature trees to shade the area, but the rest of the place was a strong, glaring reminder how different the cultures that these youth are being raised in is compared to my U.S. upbringing. There were no showers so they used two buckets (one large and one small) to wash themselves in the toilet stall. I could not quite do that so I walked down to shower in the swimming pool showers. There was no toilet paper—again those same buckets came in handy (Thankfully I brought my own toilet paper), the water was not working in the girls dorm, and when it rained the inside of the event hall we were all surprised when a waterfall broke through the roof in the middle of the room! BUT despite all that, it was a great place. Safe, away from everything and had plenty of room for activities. The reason I said it was a caveat is because I had to remember although it was not a U.S. standard accommodation, it was still exciting for the youth and that is why we were there in the first place.
For three days we had activities planned. Each activity focused on an aspect of our objectives, so not only were they fun, but they were to teach a lesson as well. Even being a leader, I think I learned just as much as the youth did. They truly are a strong generation. Full of potential and creativity. The first activity was planned by the two youth leaders for the whole conference, one 17 year old girl and one seventeen year old boy. They had split the youth into 6 teams for the entire conference and gave them each a scriptural name. They then challenged the group to design an “Ensign to the nations” of how they are going to Arise and Shine Forth. This is when creativity started to show. Each group colored, painted, and deliberated until 20 minutes later they had some beautiful representations of what it meant to the to be a leader.
|Me giving them all the "RULES"|
Most of the time meals were fixed by some of the mothers that came and volunteered to be cooks. Bless their hearts, feeding that many hungry teenagers is a FULL time job. A few of them took it upon themselves to find something that I REALLY liked to eat. Now this proved to be difficult—not because I was trying to be difficult, but because I have a deathly allergy to shellfish and Filipino food includes quite a bit of oyster sauce, shrimp, or shrimp paste/sauce. I have to be really careful about what I eat. I also don’t eat very much meat any more. When I do it is chicken with all the fat cut off. Any of you that know what Filipino food is like, it is mostly meat and rice and they use as much fat as possible. But to their credit they went out of their way to fix meals with no oyster sauce and even the meat tasted good. At one point I walked in when they were cutting up some vegetables for some recipe and I asked if I could have some. I piled a plate full of green beans, carrots, tomatoes, and some kind of sweet radish that is popular here. One of the ladies came running over to me saying, “NO, NO, NO! You cannot eat that! They are still RAW!” Ahhh….that is the point, right?! I tried to explain that is the way I like it—by now I had an audience all staring at me like I was in a Fear-Factor game going to eat something unbelievably disgusting…HAHAHA. (Remember these are the same people that love chicken feet and balut!) She did not quite understand. Even as I ate some she kept suggesting ways to make my vegetable better, “Do you want me to melt some butter over them?” HAHAHA! Oh Boy!
The youth took a turn to cook during the Cook fest where they all made a version of the famous dish Filipino Chicken Adobo! That was delicious! It was fun watching them all work together to fix food that their mothers make look so easy to do.
Other activities included getting up at 0500 to be ready for 0600 scripture study. I can old be sure that the young men are SO glad they only had three days of me turning on the lights at 0500 and constantly telling them it was time to get up. Nothing is more frustrating than an annoying alarm clock—right! LOL. They also learned to build a cart from scrap materials then raced them. It went really well until one cart completely fell apart on the third lap!
They learned to budget. Actually this activity was another time I realized how different my youth experience was. Each group was split into smaller groups of 5 people. They were each given an different amount of money—one group got 1000PHP ($25USD), another 500PHP ($13USD), another group 300 PHP ($11USD) etc. They were then told to come up with a weekly budget for the five of them. It was interesting to listen to their conversations as they decided how to budget for their group. The 300PHP group was able to cover food and transportation for them all--$11 USD for five people for a week! That is less than fifty USD a DAY per person! As I sat to listen to the 1000PHP group they were struggling to figure out what to do with the money. One girl, obviously out of ideas said, “Man! This is just WAY too much money!”
They learned how to make their beds, to iron correctly, to start a fire, wash dishes, and how to fix small electrical cords in the house. When all the instructions were done they had to go to the different rooms and demonstrate they could do it. In an amazing race fashion, they had to wash the dishes, make the beds, iron a few pieces of clothing, start a fire, fix some wires, and do it all faster than the next group. Their leadership skills and talents once again was evident as they grouped together to get all the activities done.
They did an activity where as a group they had to decide which of 9 booths they would do together. Some booths were spiritual, some were fun, others were distracting them from being spiritual. As leaders, we were assigned to be the “tempters” to lead them away from the spiritual games to go to the other games. I was able to see how easy it is to be tempted away from what you know is right. (I also felt a bit guilty that I was the one tempting them to make bad choices instead of the one helping them to choose right) I showed them the other games were fun. Offered them prizes to stop playing the game they were playing, and tried to divide the team’s unity. Once in a while it worked. Other times, they held strong and stuck as a group. One time there was a game that only part of the group could participate so I went to the other part and fed them lies like, “See they don’t even like you, look those groups over there are having so much fun, you should go join them.” To their credit they stayed and did not join the other activity, but they stood as close as they could get and cheered and clapped with them…nothing like having one hand on the temple and the other in the world! After it was all over the groups were divided into groups by how many tickets they had—either worldly color or spiritual color and then put in areas that reflect which color of tickets they had the most of to show that decisions today affect the rest of their lives. Hopefully they will always make decisions to be on the “good side.”
|The river in from the waterfall!|
|The Waterfall in the room!|
One of the nights we had a dance the other we had a talent show. For the talent show they were given two hours to prepare with newspapers and colored grocery bags to make their props and an assignment of how the main character of their skit can Arise and Shine. One group was assigned a skit on a handicapped kid, another an orphan, another a beggar, another a poor family, and an ugly kid. When the assignments were given out I was a bit worried how the “ugly kid” skit was going to turn out. But as all the skits unfolded their stories I was brought to tears several times to see that the youth understood gospel principles and how to be an example well enough they were able to display them during their skits. Each story was unique and the costumes were awesome—they even made dresses out of newspaper that had pleats! We heard them rap, sing, tell jokes, and all kinds of talents! As we watched, we laughed, we cried, The ugly skit turned out really well as they chose to depict a girl named “Ele Fant” and had all kinds of physical problems. In their own humorous way they showed how this girl struggled with school and friends, but she had one friend that believed in her and told how much she meant to him, how smart she was, and how pretty she was even when others were saying the opposite. The end was her winning a competition for having the most beautiful voice despite all her other “problems.” I was touched to see that they really understand the value of a person; Something that other youth their age don’t quite understand.
|The Dance, the theme was "Black and White"|
The last day, we had a testimony meeting to give them all a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about the conference. It was special to me to see the way they grew and how they learned during the conference. Each of them were touched in a different way. Listening to them made me realize all the hours of preparation for all of us was worth it; all of the sleepless nights, the countless meetings, the stress of getting it just right, the emotions when it doesn’t go right and someone else points it out…it was all worth it. I would do it again, and I am sure the other leaders feel the same way. I enjoyed seeing all the events work out after all the hard work the did to get it ready. I am truly thankful for the chance to go with them. I can honestly say they are an inspiring bunch of leaders—leaders that truly know what it means to ARISE and SHINE FORTH!