Youth leader Sittie Asia Mai would have laughed if you told her six years ago that she would lead not one but two projects to insurmountable success, but in four years with Plan International's USAID-funded Marawi Response Project (MRP), she found an advocacy she believes in and a voice to speak out.
When she was adopted as a youth leader, Sittie was more than happy to just be another background character on the sidelines, nodding along to her peers' suggestions, but MRP forced her out of her comfort zone. From group discussions to project pitch meetings, she spoke with trembling hands that steadied with the realization of just how powerful her voice was and the difference getting heard made.
This realization, along with the fact that her heart bled for service, led her to start her own youth group, the Guinaopan Youth Action Group (GYAO), which is made up of other passionately involved youths in their community who want to promote mushroom farming as an alternative way for farmers in Ditsaan Ramain to make a living.
Seeing their mission as well as their commitment to serving the community, MRP gave them a helping hand by providing them with technical skills training along with food processing equipment for their "Mushroom for Change" movement. Producing and selling mushroom patties, mushroom crackers, and chicharon, as well as other mushroom by-products like shortbread, GYAO’s Mushroom for Change has brought employment to both women and out-of-school youth in their community.
Under Sittie’s leadership, they have received grants for a community peace program, Project Peace Harvest, which aims to address food insecurity and malnutrition-related illnesses by enhancing holistic transformation among madrasah and toril students through capacity-building on basic backyard gardening.
In their fight against food insecurity, Project Peace Harvest established a community pantry outside Lanao People’s Parth back in 2021. A little while later, they mobilized the pantry, stopping over at Buayaan in Ditsa-an Ramain town and in Papandayan and Kurmatan-Matampay in Marawi City.
"I didn’t even realize that I would learn to love what I am doing after engaging in different communities, bringing the banner of employment and inspiring young people and putting the thought of positive change and community resiliency," Sittie said during the MRP’s commencement program.
While providing livelihood opportunities and income-generating social enterprises through its agriculture initiatives, GYAO learned how to expand its networks and build its own support system. Together with other youth organizations in the Ranao Provinces, they are making tremendous social impacts in their communities.
"Let us change the perception of many people about youth as just being young people na may gatas pa sa labi [who still have milk on their lips] because we are able to have the agency to speak up and be heard as well as we are not recognized as agents of change." (PJF/PIA-10/Lanao del Sur)