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Thirty-one student ambassadors from 13 Metro Manila high schools gathered in an eco-camp last November 24 to 26 organized by SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (SM Prime) and WWF-Philippines (WWF-PH). Participating schools include Assumption College, FEU Manila High School, La Salle Greenhills, National University of Nazareth, Las Pinas Science High School, Manila Science High School, Muntinlupa Science High School, School, Paranaque Science High School, PAREF Southridge, Pasay Science High School, Pasig Science High School, Philippine Science High School, and Quezon City Science High School.

Held at the Pico De Loro Beach and Country Club, the three-day eco camp marks the second leg of YOUth are the Future–a joint environmental leadership program by SM Prime and WWF-PH aiming to empower environmental stewards among the youth sector. By enhancing their understanding of biodiversity conservation and sustainability, the program aims to instill a strong sense of responsibility and commitment towards the protection of the environment.

The immersive weekend kicked off with a fireside chat on climate action where leaders Jessica Sy, Assistant Vice President of SM Development Corporation, WWF-PH Executive Director Katherine Custodio, and marine biologist and WWF-Philippines National Youth Council member Romina Lim engaged in a discussion on facing the climate crisis, inspiring the attendees to take proactive steps towards preserving our planet and promoting the advocacy towards a sustainable future.

“Climate change affects our daily lives and the youth have the most at stake being the ones who will face greater and greater impacts in the years to come. It is important that our young people find and use their voices, and be given opportunities such as the YOUth are the future program, to learn more about what needs to be done, and to discover where those intersect with their own individual talents and passions. It was also a strategic choice to focus the program on high school students, who would need to think about what further studies or careers they might pursue. I hope they understand that there is space for environmental advocacy whatever career or degree they choose.”, shared Custodio.

Veteran broadcaster Ces Drilon moderated a panel discussion on climate change with WWF-Philippines Executive Director Katherine Custodio, SM Development Corporation Assistant Vice President Jessica Sy and WWF-Philippines National Youth Council member Romina Lim.

Campers attended learning sessions that tackled the most pressing environmental conservation and sustainability issues, specifically on water, energy, and biodiversity. Antoinette Taus, UN Goodwill Ambassador and founder of Project CORA, also graced the camp to share insights on waste management.

Apart from the talks, the campers immersed themselves in nature by hiking Pico De Loro’s Santelmo Eco-Trail and taking a guided walking tour of its vast mangrove forests.

Camp participants explore the vast Mangrove Forest situated in Pico de Loro
Student ambassadors pose for a photo at the view deck of Santelmo Cove in Hamilo Coast

As a symbol of their commitment towards the environment, the student ambassadors produced social media videos sharing their vision for the future and a call to action for their fellow youth. They also created a storybook based on lessons from their experiences at the camp. Xia Vigor, WWF-Philippines ambassador, gave tips on how the students can create good videos and share impactful messages.

The camp participants worked on a storybook, incorporating the lessons they learned from the sessions at the camp.

“Mother Nature implanted a seed planted deep inside my mind—that I need to protect her. And I know that we are all implanted with that same seed that brought us all here together. We cannot lose hope,” shared Vigor in a message delivered to encourage her fellow youth to do their part for nature.

The camp concluded with a closing keynote by SM Engineering Design and Development Corporation (SMEDD) President and sustainability champion Hans “Chico” Sy, Jr., where campers were given a chance to ask questions and tips on sustainability and environmental leadership.

SM Engineering Design and Development Corporation President Hans “Chico” Sy, Jr. answers questions from the participants about SM’s sustainability initiatives.

“Study, ideate, plan, and experiment. Use your creativity and experiment some more until you find the right solutions. You might fail, you might need to start from scratch again, but the most important thing you have to remember is to learn from your mistakes and try again. That, my young participants, is the only way for us to move forward to creating a better world”, shared Sy.

As part of its third and final leg, the YOUth are the Future program will culminate on January 2024 through a series of mall and school tours throughout Metro Manila to further boost youth engagement and student ambassador recruitment.

There is an undeniable surge in the number of young individuals dedicated to facing the current challenges that will impact the future. Their unwavering commitment is a powerful reminder that it is within our collective power to create lasting change and reimagine a sustainable future for all. Through programs like YOUth are the Future, SM Prime and WWF-PH hope to empower the youth further to become powerful agents of change, inspiring others to #ChangeTheEnding for the planet.