Rotary Youth Leadership Awards: Why it’s significant

Last 28 March, I was invited by the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards chairman Jayr Villaruel of District 3850 to be the opening plenary speaker of RYLA, which was held on Boracay Island from 28-39 March at the Pinnacle Hotel.

Upon receiving the invitation, I immediately confirmed my attendance as I am a great supporter and mentor of the Rotaractors.

When I arrived in Boracay, Jayr met me at the airport and we rode a tricycle to the wharf to reach the mainland. We proceeded to the Pinnacle Hotel, where we were served with a glass of cool fruit juice — a perfect foil to the relentless summer heat.

During this convention, I was able to interact, discuss and observe the many Rotaractors from three Districts, namely 3850, 3810, and 3820. I was impressed by their commitment, dedication, and dreams for their Rotaract Clubs that create and transform the communities they live in and work within their various activities. These youth, with ages ranging from 14-30, prepared a challenging program of leadership training, forums, and social interaction. The program was designed to enhance their personal development, leadership skills, communication, and good citizenship.

Photograph Courtesy of BING CARRION | These young people, aged 14-30, prepared a challenging program of leadership training, forums, and social interaction.

The RYLA program started in Australia in 1959 when young people throughout the state of Queensland were selected to meet with Princess Alexandra, the young cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth II. The Brisbane Rotarians who hosted the participants were so impressed with the young people and decided to bring youth leaders together each year for a week of social, cultural, and educational activities.

In 1971, the Rotary International Board adopted RYLA to be part of the official Rotary program during the Rotary International Convention — their program was scheduled a day before the official opening.

What is particularly significant about my interaction with the Rotaractors in Boracay was their honest sharings of their dreams, aspirations, and angst with me. One particular Rotaractor from Kalibo, named Mark Anthony Dolinog from the indigenous tribe of Libacao, strongly expressed his appreciation and thanks for the speech I delivered because he said it inspired him to do even more than what he has achieved so far in his life. My challenge of “Yes we can change the world” resonated with him and all the Rotaractors in the ballroom as they broke into thunderous applause to my great joy.

What a most uplifting weekend it was. My interaction with the young Rotaractors validates my belief that there is HOPE in the world because the youth affirm “yes they can” change their mindsets and their willingness to serve the marginalized — thus creating a kinder, peaceful, safe, loving, happy, and better world for us all.