Thursday, March 09, 2017

2016 Year-In-Review: Sustaining our Gains and Charting New Paths

On our 7th year, Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health (VYLH)-Philippines has gained new members and reached new milestones as it continued to advance the mission of empowering the Filipino youth for health. This year, the network made major strides in volunteer training, social media utilization, and fostering exchange and partnerships.

Training new volunteers

As part of an active effort of involving more youth to the advocacy, VYLH-Philippines introduced the network to youth leaders through local orientation sessions and youth camps. These volunteer training and formation activities were spearheaded by the four VYLH-Philippines clusters as a testament to unwavering commitment of the network to its mission of expanding its membership throughout the country.

Last March 2016, VYLH North and Central Luzon held an orientation on VYLH and its advocacies which was attended by youth leaders and department heads from six universities in Pangasinan. On the other hand, a two-day advocacy and leadership orientation was organized last November by VYLH Mindanao for the officers and members of Pag-asa Youth Association of the Philippines (PYAP)-Davao City Federation.

In addition to youth orientations, youth camps remain to be the major avenue of volunteer recruitment in the network. This year, VYLH was able to organize six youth camps. Briefly, a majority of these camps were regional camps (five out of six), with the most held in the Visayas (three out of six). Regional Youth Camps were held in Western Visayas in April; Central Visayas in August; Eastern Visayas in September; and, Central Luzon and CARAGA in October. Meanwhile, a cluster youth camp was organized by VYLH-Philippines NCR-South Luzon last October and this was participated by youth leaders from NCR, CaLaBaRZon and Bicol Region.

New milestones were achieved by the volunteers in these youth camps with the first regional camp organized in Eastern Visayas, and the successful conduct of youth camps in each of the regions of the Visayas Cluster – the first Cluster to complete a regional series in the network. On the other hand, this is the first time for NCR-South Luzon to hold a cluster youth camp after only having youth orientations in the past years.

In Mindanao, CARAGA volunteer youth leaders (VYLs) remain to be leaders and innovators with the first regional congress of CARAGA VYLs and third regional youth camp for the region. The congress gathered CARAGA volunteers from various VYLH batches since 2009.

This year, VYLH-Philippines was also able to pilot its community youth training program – K4Health, a program aimed to organize and mobilize community youth members towards birth defects prevention and newborn screening promotion. The program title, K4Health or Kabataan for Health strongly underscores the role of the youth in nation building and their mobilization towards health promotion. The four “Ks” or “K4” which stand for “Kabataang Kabalikat ng Komunidad para sa Kalusugan” highlights the need for the youth to effect change and be partners of change in their community. The K4Health program was officially launched last June 7-9, 2016 at Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija through the collaboration of The UPLB Genetics Society (GeneSoc), VYLH-Philippines and the local government of Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija represented by its Municipal Health Officer Dr. Ron Allan Quimado, MD, MPH.

Overall, more than 140 new volunteer youth leaders were affiliated to the network through these youth camps. The new volunteers were also enlisted to the sixth and latest batch of VYLH-Philippines volunteers, Batch Kabilin. Kabilin is the Cebuano word for heritage or legacy.

VYLH-Philippines extends its sincere gratitude to the various Department of Health Regional Offices, and partner Newborn Screening Centers (NSCs) as they have always been instrumental to the conduct of these activities. These include DOH Region I, III, VI, VII, VIII, NCR and CARAGA, as well as Newborn Screening Center Central Luzon, NIH, Southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Utilizing social media in promoting birth defects prevention and care

2016 also marked VYLH-led initiatives on promoting birth defects prevention and care through social media. There were held on top of the existing social media activities held in observance of the National Rare Disease Week and the National Newborn Screening Week.

In 2015, VYLH-Philippines and the Institute of Human Genetics (IHG)-NIH, UP Manila accepted the invitation from the March of Dimes (MOD) and the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Surveillance and Research (ICBDSR) to join and be an international partner organization for the second year of World Birth Defects Day or #WorldBDday. Held every 3rd day of March, World Birth Defects Day (WorldBDday) is a global campaign to raise awareness on birth defects and expand birth defects surveillance, prevention, care, and research worldwide. The event was launched on March 3, 2015 by a consortium of twelve international organizations.

With this, the WorldBDday Philippines Secretariat was convened through the collaboration of IHG, VYLH, the Newborn Screening Reference Center (NSRC) and the various NSCs in the country. Under the auspices of UP Manila Chancellor Dr. Carmencita Padilla, partner organizations were gathered at the Chancellor’s Board Room, UPM-Philippine General Hospital. A website (worldbddayph.weebly.com) and social media pages were also launched by VYLH-Philippines in coordination with the members of the national secretariat. Overall, a total of 40 organizations were able to participate to the #WorldBDday campaign: 4 government agencies, 3 professional societies, 5 civil society and patient support groups, 5 media partners and 23 student organizations.

Included among the activities done by partners for #WorldBDday were posting of website announcements, organizing photo booths and fansign campaigns, and joining the social media day. VYLH-Philippines also promoted the campaign in various activities leading to WorldBDday. With the release of the #WorldBDday 2016 report, the Philippines was recognized with a “Twitting Award” for being one of the countries with the highest number of tweets (12.4% of the #WorldBDday tweets from March 3-4, 2016). The Philippines was the only country recognized in the Asia-Australia-Africa group of the campaign. This recognition is truly remarkable since WorldBDday2016 was the first formal observance of the event in the Philippines.

Aside from WorldBDday, another social media event spearheaded by the network was #FolicAcidPH or the first national social media day for folic acid awareness. #FolicAcidPH was held in observance of National Nutrition Month, National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, and the network’s seventh founding anniversary last July 18. The social media campaign which aims to increase public awareness on folic acid, its sources, and its role in good health and the prevention of birth defects, specifically neural tube defects, was able to gain the support and active participation of 49 partner organizations: 45 university-based organizations, 3 national student alliances/organizations and one non-government organization.

In addition to social media participation, “on the ground” activities such as school-based and room-to-room campaigns were also conducted by participating organizations. One of the participating groups, the VYLH-Philippines Nampicuan Chapter, took part through #FolicAcidPH fansigns with local leaders and separate advocacy discussions to senior high school students and parents. The group also joined the Nutrition Month Celebration of the Municipality of Nampicuan where volunteers had an advocacy display on folic acid at the event. They also gave a lecture on the importance of folic acid supplementation.

In Iloilo, the Asian Medical Students' Association West Visayas State University (AMSA West Visayas State University WVSU), in cooperation with VYLH Philippines-Iloilo Chapter, held a forum entitled “#FolicAcidPH and the Youth” last July 30. The forum aimed to promote folic acid deficiency prevention and awareness through the initiative and commitment of the youth which was actively participated by representatives from the WVSU College of Communication (WVSU-COC).

Another social media event held during the anniversary week of the network was the preconception health tweetchat organized in partnership with HealthxPh. The TweetChat session which focused on Preconception Health (PreCon) for Birth Defects and Disability Prevention was held last July 23, 2016. It explored the possible reasons that preconception health consultation and awareness is not popular and discussed the reforms or potential activities that can be done to improve awareness. The utilization of social media in improving preconception health awareness was also looked at.

Intensifying community involvement

Intensifying involvement has been one of efficient strategies of the network on broadening its reach with community partners. One of the regular activities of the network since 2012 is its involvement to the observance of National Pregnant Women’s Day or Buntis Day organized by the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS). In 2016, VYLs joined POGS in three locations: Manila, Iloilo and Davao.

In addition to the promotional activities conducted by VYLH-Philippines volunteers in their schools and communities, various mass advocacy campaigns were also organized by VYLs, making them more immersed on health promotion work. VYLs took the opportunity of conducting advocacy talks and distributing informational materials as ride-on activities at various activities in their schools and communities.

VYLH Dumaguete volunteers were able to conduct such activities at the Asian College – Dumaguete and the Silliman University Medical Technology Department. Similar initiatives also materialized at the West Visayas State University – Calinog Campus and Central Philippine University Pharmacy Department in Iloilo.

In Region VIII, VYLs participated in the youth formation training of SADE Leyte Chapter, and the Youth Leadership Summit of the 87th Infantry Battalion in Hinabangan, Samar. Themed “Ang kabataan na may malawak na kaalaman, disipilina at pagmamalasakit sa kapwa at lipunan ay tunay na pag-asa ng bayan”, the latter was attended by 105 youth participants aged 15 to 21 years old. VYLs also participated in the 3rd Pambujan Youth Congress in Northern Samar. Region VIII VYLs also held a series of ride-on advocacy talks during the Youth Orientation and Consultation activity in seven remote barangays of Pambujan.

In NCR, VYLH-Philippines NCR-South Luzon Cluster Coordinator Rufus Adducul represented the network through speaking engagements at the Spectrum NGO Forum organized by the Rotaract – UST Faculty of Engineering, and the Volunteer Fair hosted by the Philippine Normal University (PNU) Y-Club. The PNU Volunteer Fair was attended by more than a hundred participants coming from various College-Y clubs in Manila and nearby areas.

The cluster was also invited to the Stakeholder’s forum organized by the National Nutrition Council – NCR. With the theme “Setting the Child’s Future during the First 1000 Days”, more than 300 stakeholders from different LGUs, agencies, and sectors in Metro Manila attended the forum held at the Heritage Hotel, Pasay City. Former NCR-South Luzon Adviser Dr. April Grace Dion-Berboso discussed "Folic Acid and Pregnancy” during the event. VYLH-Philippines was invited to the forum through the #FolicAcidPH campaign spearheaded by the network.

On the other hand, volunteers from the VYLH network of organizations in Los Banos, Laguna conducted an outreach program and seminar on Maternal Health and VYLH-Philippines advocacies at Brgy. San Antonio, Los Banos, Laguna. The local network of volunteers also participated in holding Project #TROPA (Teens are Responsible over Pregnancy Advocacy) spearheaded by UP Manila Masters in Public Health (MPH) students and the Municipal Health Office of Los Banos. The event catered to Grade 7 students of Los Banos National High School.

VYLH-Philippines also sent representatives to the Science Legislative Forum on Folic Acid organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology last June 28, 2016. In the said forum, NAST gathered stakeholders from the health and nutrition sector, representatives from the legislative body and other concerned government agencies, the academe, the private sector, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Aside from presenting evidence on the impact and safety of folic acid intake, the national and global burden of neural tube defects, providing an overview of the proposed legislation on folic acid supplementation and fortification and discussing the role of government agencies, the academe, and the private sector were the objectives of the said forum. True enough, the proposed “Folic Acid Act” or House Bill 3341 was filed into Congress within a month after the forum by Taguig Representative Pia Cayetano.

For the month of October, VYLH-Philippines once again joined the observance of National Newborn Screening Week. VYLs led the #NBSat20 social media campaign which was participated not only by VYLs but also by five partner organizations. The network also supported the Thunderclap organized by the Newborn Screening Reference Center.

In the Cordilleras, VYLs participated in the DOH-CAR Poster and Slogan Making Competition held at the DOH-CAR Regional Office in Baguio City. Meanwhile, VYLH-Philippines Visayas volunteers joined in the second Newborn Screening Fun Run organized by the DOH-Central Visayas Regional Office in Cebu. The fun run is one of the major activities hosted by the regional office in observance of National Newborn Screening Week.

Furthermore, representatives of the network also attended the Philippine Healthcare and Social Media Summit last April; 6thh Asia-Pacific Conference on Public Health and 1st ASEAN Health Promotion Conference in Bangkok, Thailand last August; the 14th National Newborn Screening Convention last October; and the First National Summit on Prematurity and Low Birth Weight organized by the Department of Health last November.

Celebrating the Gift of Life

In addition to health promotion activities, VYLH-Philippines also engages on joining the activities organized by its partners for children with genetic and rare conditions. The network believes that through such activities, volunteers can deepen their interest to the advocacy by interacting with some of its beneficiaries.

Last February, VYLH-Philippines and partner UP Manila organizations participated in the “Fly and Sail with Rare” activity organized by the Philippine Society for Orphan Disorders that was held last February 20, 2016 at the Sangley Point Naval Base in Cavite City. The annual worry-free day for the parents and guardians of children with rare disease is part of the patient and family welfare program of PSOD. Thirty-one children beneficiaries were given by the Philippine Navy Naval Air Group a chance to ride a navy islander aircraft and patrol boat. VYLs, volunteers, and partner organizations entertained the kids and their families through various fun games, arts and crafts activities.

Volunteer youth leaders also participated in the Annual Reunion of Saved Babies (ROSB) organized by the Newborn Screening Centers and DOH Regional Offices. VYLs across the country joined the ROSB in Bohol, Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao, Cebu, National Capital Region, and Tacloban.

Last December, VYLs shared the joy of Christmas with children and families of the PSOD in their Christmas Party held in Makati and Cebu. In Makati, the VYLH-affiliated organization UP Pre-Medical Honor Society was tapped by PSOD as event partner. UP PMHS facilitated fun games and activities for the kids, as well as provided toys and gift packs to the participants. In addition to this, VYLs from Manila and partner UP Manila organizations spent a day of fun and cheers at the Philippine general Hospital for the “I am IHG (I am In for Hope-Giving)” event organized for the patients of the UPM-PGH Pediatric Genetics Clinic.

Fostering exchange and partnership   

Fostering exchange and partnerships has also become the highlight of 2016 for VYLH-Philippines. In fact, two events held on October 2016 have provided new local and international partners for the network.

Last October 15, 2016, UNILAB Foundation, together with Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health (VYLH)-Philippines, hosted the National Capital Region-leg of ISTORYA: Stories of Youth in Action at the National Institutes of Health Conference Room, UP Manila. The event open to youth age 18-30 years old was participated by students and representatives of organizations from UP Manila and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). Representatives of various College-Y Clubs also attended the event as part of the YMCA-Manila delegation.

As envisioned by the UNILAB Foundation, iStorya is a platform and youth-led conversation where Filipino youth leaders can come together and exchange innovative ideas on how to solve different public health issue in their community.

On the same date, VYLH-Philippines volunteer Melorens Dumas (Batch E4, Cebu) was invited to give an inspirational talk on the challenge of building a #HealthierPH. Dumas shared the network’s advocacies to the participants of Istorya in Cebu.

On the other hand, representatives of Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health (VYLH)- Philippines met and shared various youth advocacy activities and best practices of the network with youth leaders from Colombia last October 24, 2016 at the Chancellor's Board Room, Philippine General Hospital - University of the Philippines - Manila.

The Colombian youth delegation all form part of the top winners recognized at the Fourth National Youth Volunteering Award. The awardees were selected from 190 nominees across Colombia and were chosen by a high-level committee composed of representatives from local, international, public and civil society organizations. The national recognition came with an exposure trip to the Philippines aimed on facilitating the exchange of experiences between young people of both countries. The mission is part of the South-South Cooperation Initiative of “Strengthening Youth Organizations” between Colombia and the Philippines. 

Reaching new heights

Aside from meeting and making ties with new partners, 2016 was also a year of recognition for the network. Among the accolades received by the network was the distinction to be one of the “Top Model Youth Leadership Programs of 2016” by the global youth leadership program search, YouthLeadGlobal. YouthLeadGlobal is a collaborative engagement of Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Youth Alliance for Family Planning and Youth Health and Rights Coalition.

In Region VI (Western Visayas), the work of the network and VYLs in the region was recognized "for their invaluable support and assistance towards achieving better child health outcomes in Western Visayas particularly in the advocacy and promotion of the Newborn Screening Program" during the Regional Recognition of Partners and Stakeholder organized by the Department of Health – Regional Office VI last November 29, 2016.

In addition to the recognitions given to the network, the past year had seen productive outputs that entered national level contests namely Unilab Foundation’s Ideas Positive and the Search for Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO).

Now on its seventh year, Ideas Positive, a nationwide youth grant competition and youth formation that enables youth leaders to implement their ideas in their selected community, had received 159 entries from various youth teams across the country. From these, 50 innovative and promising projects qualified to the regional live screening. Two of the projects came from VYLH-Philippines teams “Youth for Preemies” and “Proactive Kabilin”. Both came from VYLH-Philippines NCR-South Luzon Cluster. Team Youth for Preemies, composing mainly of Philippine Association of Nutrition (PAN)-Alpha Epsilon Chapter members and BS Nutrition students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP)-Manila, proposed a pilot project on the surveillance of premature birth in the City of San Juan, and the conduct of an awareness campaign for the prevention of preterm births. On the other hand, Team Proactive Kabilin had members from VYLH NCR-SL camp delegates of Los Banos-based organizations – PAN Alpha Omega, The UPLB Genetics Society, UP Community Broadcasters Society, and Rotaract Los BaƱos. The group focused on the conduct of a community-based preconception health promotion and education program in Barangay Mayondon, Los Banos, Laguna.

In the contest, teams with the best ideas will undergo mentoring at the Ideas Positive Boot Camp and receive up to 100,000 pesos seed money for their projects. Last December, one of the teams, Team Proactive Kabilin, was announced as one of the 15 national finalists of the competition.

Meanwhile, another feat at the national level was made by the network as the collaborative project implemented by the network, the K4Health Community Youth Training Program was recognized through the entry submitted by The UPLB Genetics Society, one of the pioneer member organizations of VYLH-Philippines to the TAYO Awards. The TAYO Awards or the search for the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations aims to recognize, reward, and encourage youth organizations all over the country with programs and projects that help their communities. TAYO hopes to inspire more young people to find innovative solutions and to challenge status quo through the organizations to which they belong.

The K4Health Project was selected as one of the top twenty national finalists and one of the four finalists in the “Health, Nutrition and Well-being” category. Last February 2017, GeneSoc President Merc Emil Matienzo presented the project to the national judging panel of the competition.

Moving Forward 

This 2017, VYLH-Philippines hopes to sustain its gains and charter new paths.

Volunteer training and formation remains a priority for the network. This can be done and supported by strengthening the network’s partnership with the DOH Regional Offices and Newborn Screening Centers, as well as forging new ties with local government units, other national government agencies, professional societies and other non-government organizations.

VYLH-Philippines also welcomes the addition of the newest Newborn Screening Center, NSC-Northern Luzon. The center which is based at Batac, Ilocos Norte will serve the screening needs of Region I and II. On the other hand, newborn screening for Region III and CAR will remain covered by NSC-Central Luzon.

It is also hoped that a National Leadership Congress will be held within the year or the following year. At present, preparations and preliminary event coordination are still underway. VYLH-Philippines last held this event in 2013 in conjunction with the country’s hosting of the International Conference for Birth Defects and Disabilities in the Developing World (ICBDDD) in Mactan, Cebu. Holding the Congress will be avenue on reviewing the progress of the network in preparation for the celebration of its first decade in 2019.

Empowering volunteers for “on the ground” and “online” health promotion activities will also be prioritized this year. Last year, social media activities such as #FolicAcidPH and #NBSat20 did not only provide an avenue for advocacy for VYLs. These activities have also allowed the participation of more youth leaders and youth organizations through youth partner accreditation. Likewise, on-going activities such as the K4Health Community Youth Training Program and the implementation of the Kabilin Kalusugan Project will hopefully provide models for the network’s growth and program implementation.

Seven years ago, the VYLH-Philippines family made a pact of empowering the Filipino youth for health and through everyone's help – VYLs, the secretariat, titos and titas, partner organizations and agencies, VYLH will be able to reach more youth leaders, more schools and more communities in order to advance the network’s mission and strengthen its contribution on building a healthier nation.#

Written by Ryan Pascual with contributions from John Paul Oira and the activity reports of VYLs
Edited by Rochelle Sarmiento and Jerard Monge (UPLB)

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