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Four Young Filos Share Insights in 2023 YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament Program

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This year, four inspiring Filipinos participated in the prestigious Youth Parliament program organized by YMCA Victoria in 2023. These young leaders, Allyza Catapang, Lorjel Sia, Ineka Leffler, and Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing, brought diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table.

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing, aged 25, took on a significant role representing the Wyndham City Council. Her primary focus was advocating for the Food Waste Awareness and Reduction Bill 2023. This bill is aimed at minimizing food wastage in educational settings, a crucial step towards sustainable practices in schools and early learning centers.

At 18, Lorjel Sia played a pivotal role by representing Hume City Council. She championed the Urban Area Heat Temperature Bill, addressing critical environmental concerns in urban settings.

Ineka Leffler, a 16-year-old student from Hoppers Crossing Secondary College, made a noteworthy contribution to animal welfare. She was instrumental in proposing the Animal Welfare Improvement in Shelters Bill, highlighting her commitment to animal rights and welfare.

Allyza Anne Catapang, also 18, represented Orbost Secondary College with a focus on enhancing educational accessibility. She was dedicated to advocating for the Mandatory Remote Education Bill, aimed at providing better educational resources for regional and rural students. This bill underscores the importance of equal education opportunities regardless of geographical location.

Below are the insightful reflections of four dynamic Filipino youths, as they share their unique perspectives, experiences, and aspirations gained from participating in the program:

Lorjel Sia, Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing, and Allyza Catapang
From left: Lorjel Sia, Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing, and Allyza Catapang. Photo supplied

What was the experience like debating? 

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing

Parliamentary debating is such a sensory experience! I found it quite interesting as I’ve done the Youth Parliament program back in 2022,then did it a second time around 2023. This year my focus was to improve on specific nuances such as pausing in between to take a breath,and being clear with citing sources of my arguments. I did also pick up on observing body language more this year. I observed the experience of watching the other teams’ facial expressions as my chamber counter argued their points,as well as taking in the responses from my chamber as we supported each other’s points. Then there’s also small rushes of adrenaline hearing the 2 minute buzzer go off, picking up on live points that you can rebut on the next open floor, the sounds from the crowd,etc. 

Lorjel Sia

I would describe the experience as thrilling! I expirenced a distinct adrenaline when standing to speak and pressing the microphone’s button. I felt invincible and so passionate about whatever words were about to come out of my mouth. Alternatively, it was great to listen to the opposing side’s point of view and gain a deeper understanding of their logical and well constructed arguments.

Ineka Leffler

Nerve-racking. Having to oppose such great ideas that had been so well thought out gave me so much stress and anxiety, but ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences. I had to learn to think critically and without my own biases and emotions for the better of the bill and for society whilst being in a high-pressure environment. On the other hand, getting to demand change for something I know so much about, and have my voice heard, is so exciting and rewarding. 

Allyza Anne Catapang

I had already done Youth Parliament prior to this year, so there wasn’t anything unfamiliar that I experienced. I wasn’t really nervous or anything, I just wanted to get things done and get my points across.

Ineka Leffler (left) and Lorjel Sia (right) with other Youth Parliamentarians
Ineka Leffler (left) and Lorjel Sia (right) with other Youth Parliamentarians. Photo supplied

What did you learn from being a Youth Parliamentarian? 

Lorjel Sia

I learnt that there is truly beauty in diversity. Participants came from all walks of life with various life experiences, the contributions from each person shaped the incredible nature of the program. A place where values and political views clashed, we still found a way to connect, find compromises and be proud of our place in the program. We were all united in our passion to be heard and raise issues on others’ behalf. 

Ineka Leffler

I learnt that a  career in politics is incredibly stressful, but also incredibly rewarding. Having to constantly be ‘on’ and thinking critically in a room full of passionate and intelligent people is SO stressful and scary. Then again, getting to argue and push for what you’re passionate and informed about in this environment is so unique and incredible. But on top of all this I think the most important thing I learnt throughout this journey as a Youth Parliamentarian is that my opinions, passions, and ideas are valid, important, and deserve to be heard.

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing

Now more than ever, the Youth deserve to be engaged in decision making spaces. There is no shortage of skills,knowledge and life experience that the Youth can contribute to the table. If it’s one thing that I’m privileged to say I witnessed as a Youth Parliamentarian,it’s the potential the current Youth have to lead and influence. I watched 16-25 year olds command a room,engage with their peers, dissect current political topics,advocate passionately for causes close to their heart and go above and beyond to amplify their bills. The Youth are more than capable to contribute, lead and influence. 

Allyza Anne Catapang

I learnt that there should be more efforts done into amplifying the voices of young people, especially those living in regional and rural areas and those belonging to culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing (left) with Allyza Catapang
Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing (left) with Allyza Catapang. Photo supplied

What Were Your Personal Highlights During the Program?

Lorjel Sia

A personal highlight would be hand writing my speeches on a bumpy bus ride heading into parliament house, at a time so early in the morning that I saw the sun rise when glancing up whilst attempting to scribe as neatly and legibly as I possibly could. This is what makes Youth Parliament so unique, real politicans are be chauffeured into Parliament and have access to advisors and an abundance of other staff to draft speeches, rebuttals and statements for them. The lack of glamour was humorous and not what you would think taking part in this program. 

Furthermore, developing connections with other like-minded individuals would be another highlight. On the basis that we were all aware that the program is pretend and for fun, we did not hold back in attacking each other’s argument during debates but being cordial with one another once debates were over. The lack of seriousness demonstrated a sense of sportsmanship and deepened our relationships. A lot of good moments and a lot of laughs! 

Ineka Leffler

My adjournment speech. I got to speak about ethics in the Melbourne Cup and horse-racing to the Minister for Racing, which is something I’m so passionate about and have been educating myself on for quite a while. Getting to present my ‘controversial’ opinion with so many young people and parliamentarians listening, and receive such a positive and uplifting response from the house, was so validating. 

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Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing: My diplomatic relationship with the team debating against my Wyndham City Council team ; Bulokke Loddon Council team. Debates can oftentimes be seen as personal attacks, mentally draining and cynical. In the real world,Political debates are not always diplomatic; they involve cruel insults, raised voices and harsh tones. 

My aim though for this year,was to handle debates with tact and respect. I don’t think the team opposing my team had to be insulted personally. In fact,I befriended this team. Two of their Members,Honourable Member Julia Hunt and Honourable Member Lennon Jablongka spoke to me the night before our opposing debates. I spoke to these two honourable members with a diplomatic aim of 1) establishing that I have nothing but respect for them 2) inquiring on what their points against my team will be for tomorrow’s debates.

With diplomacy in the conversation,they responded with a rough outline of their points against my team’s bill. This not only benefited my individual debate,it also benefited my whole team’s debate. In the Filipino saying ‘bago pa nagumpisa yung laban,tapos na yung laban’. This diplomatic pre debate conversation I initiated, gave me the assurance that my points for the next debate was going to be smooth.

During the delivery of my points, Honourable Member Jablongka and Hunt were congratulating me from afar across our opposite ends. They were giving me thumbs ups ,mouthing good job,and nodding in agreement with me. This is a highlight for me because it reflects a healthy side of debating,supporting others on the opposite side yet genuinely hearing each other out. 

Allyza Anne Catapang

I don’t think I have many highlights, but one I can think of is winning the best speaker award for the legislative council, which was the house assigned to me for debates. I didn’t really expect it, so I was grateful. 

What are you personally passionate about? 

Lorjel Sia

I am personally passionate about funding the arts. From the first cave painting to today’s contemporary masterpieces, art has and will always be detrimental to our society. This relates to various types of art expressions such as performance, music, photography, theatre, literature etc. Often, individuals are told to repress their artistic ability or turn it into a ‘hobby’, in fear of dire employment opportunities. I believe that continuing to fund the arts encourages individuals to persue their passion regardless of economic benefit and foreground that showcasing talent can lead to a fulfilling career.

Ineka Leffler

I am a passionate animal rights advocate. Animal rights was one of the first things I actively researched and took action on (In year 9 I became vegan- being the first in my family and friends!), and is such a big part of who I am today, and why I wanted to participate in Youth Parliament. I will always continue to educate myself on ethics regarding animals and what we as individuals can do to improve, and I believe this passion and determination can really help create a more ethical future, especially for Victoria. 

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing

Education! Particularly, the Early Childhood and Primary sector! There’s lots of improvement in the system that needs to be done for current Educators,parents and students. There are issues around low wages for Teachers,Teacher burnout, the rising cost of quality Education for working class parents & more! It’s a noble profession to be an Educator. You invest in Teachers,you invest in every single other profession too since teaching is the backbone of all jobs – being the job that creates all other jobs! There needs to be structural change around the current Early Childhood and Primary School system. These are advocacies I’m continually learning more about each day and trying to involve myself in where appropriate. – Nicole 

Allyza Anne Catapang

I’m passionate about gender equality and women’s rights, and mostly in things related to STEM and research. 

How does it feel to bring in Filipino representation to the Youth Parliament? 

Lorjel Sia

Proud is an understatement. To be a leader, sometimes you have to be the person you want to see represented. Although I grew up in Melbourne, speak with a broad Australian accent and my Tagalog/Ilonggo is conversational at best, it was a fulfilling knowing that ‘I stand here not as one, but as 95,186 (Victorian) Filipinos.’ 

According to the ABS, Filipinos are in the top 10, specifically number no. 4 of skilled migrants coming onto Australian shores since the year 2000. Yet, this is not reflected in our Federal and State Parliaments as there is currently no politicians of Filipino or part Filipino decent in these positions of power. Whilst I do believe in putting forward the best and most qualified individual for the role,  it’s time to reflect the new Australian identity and highlight the unique diversity of this country, especially in our Parliament.  

There is power in representation. Growing up, seeing prominent Asian personalities such as Jeff from the Wiggles and Kathleen from Hi5 reflected on screen made me feel like I belong to this great land. There’s a real opportunity to inspire a whole new generation in a way that they see themselves represented in a career as intellectual, sophisticated and respected as politics. 

I’d like to end with a quote repeated by newly elected WA Senator, Fatima Payman; ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ 

Ineka Leffler

Empowering and transformative. As someone who grew up feeling like she shouldn’t be  proud of where she was born or the colour of her hair of her family tree, getting to see such intelligent and passionate young Filipinos in the Victorian Parliament, being proud of where we come from, changed me. I felt so validated and seen, and towards the end of the week, I realised that I was now a part of the representation that I needed to see when I was younger, and most importantly- I am proud of it. 

Nicole Yaneza-Bagatsing

Nakakatuwa! Ako yung ate sa grupo ng mga Filipino Youth Parliamentarian etong 2023,dahil ako yung pinakamatanda sa kanila. It warms my heart to know that 1) the younger generation of Filipino youth look up to me and see me as a role model and 2) there is a generation of leaders after me getting involved in areas of leadership. 

The fun moments of waving the Filipino flag at Parliament, wearing our Filipino flag badges on our blazers and code switching between Tagalog and English at Parliament. It’s a beautiful experience,although I’m ageing out of the program being 25…I know there will be plenty more Filipino Youth who will continue Filipino representation in Youth Parliament for many years to come! There is always opportunity in the Youth leadership space,I’m always encouraging younger Filipinos that I meet to get involved! Looking forward to seeing more Filipino leaders after me in Youth Parliament – and in decision making spaces. 

Allyza Anne Catapang

It’s great, and it’s an honour to be able to represent Filipinos in Parliament in any way I can. Although I don’t see myself getting involved in Parliament anytime soon, the experience taught me a few things for the future. 

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