Youth converge to re-imagine safe spaces in Zamboanga

Armed with nothing but a handful of art materials, their creative spirits, and the hope for a safer Zamboanga, almost a hundred youth came together to re-imagine safe spaces in Asia’s Latin City last August 17 at Palacio del Sur, Zamboanga City.

In line with the National Youth Commission’s celebration of International Youth Day with the theme “Safe Spaces for the Youth,” miniature models of the ideal safe community were built by the youth as an output during “SUGPAT Youth Talks #2: Creating Safe Spaces for the Youth.”

This is the second iteration of the SUGPAT Youth Talks, a series of fora uniquely designed to discuss timely issues and programs, identify areas of convergence, and leverage resources for better outcomes for Filipino children and adolescents.

Inputs about safe spaces from a Youth Champion

Seventeen-year-old guest speaker Joshua Rommel Vargas enlightened the participants about the concept of safe spaces following his recent trip to Surabaya, Indonesia as a youth representative of the Philippines for the UNICEF meeting of mayors in the “Growing Up Urban” Summit.

The international meeting of government leaders and urban decision makers was a conversation and sharing of best practices on making cities safe and sustainable for every child.

Vargas promptly started his talk by asking participants if Zamboanga was safe in general: “Is Zamboanga safe as a place for you to express yourself? For you to be who you want to be? Are there physical, social, or structural barriers? Do you feel accepted? Do you feel accommodated?”

He then enumerated the conditions that make a space truly safe. These include protection from physical harm, from discrimination, from violence and abuse, and the protection of free speech and expression, and the right to live and be a part of society in spite of what would normally be considered as barriers or hindrances (persons with disability, out-of-school youth).

“The youth deserve to be totally safe and to grow up in an environment that will protect not only their physical safety, but also their total human dignity,” Vargas said.

A creative workshop to redesign safer communities

In the afternoon, participants were grouped together and tasked to build a “box village” that would portray the ideal safe space covering four different areas: a residential area/barangay, a school, a recreational area/park, and downtown/pueblo.

Prior to this, a pre-workshop activity was had where participants wrote answers to the questions of what makes the four established areas unsafe. The presence of pickpockets, improper waste segregation, school bullying, and the perpetuation of drugs and vices, were the most common “unsafe factors” that surfaced from the activity.

These inputs became the foundation of how the youth participants would design and build their assigned area.

Based on the 12 “box villages” that were created, there was a common clamor for renewable sources of energy as seen in the use of solar panels in their city design. Various environmental sustainability efforts across all areas which included waste segregation and eco-friendly transport systems also appeared.

All-gender restrooms, community disaster and evacuation facilities, rehabilitation centers, CCTV camera set-ups, and more progressive recreational facilities across different areas of a city were key highlights that were drawn out from the city designs.

SUGPAT-ADAP Program Director Kiko Miranda concluded that the attempt of creating a safe space was not only about building infrastructure but most importantly about policy.


“We need policies to ensure that the children and youth are safe even in the availability and access to these safe spaces,” he continued, “and we make sure that our ‘crazy’ ideas go into the hands and tables of the right people who can affect real change.”

Participation from across different youth sectors

To ensure an inclusive environment where all sectors of youth are represented, different youth organizations, Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials, and especially the out-of-school youth were present in the creative workshop.

In attendance were the SUGPAT Batch 2 fellows representing the out-of-school youth sector, Mujer LGBT Organization, Out-of-school Youth Development Alliance, WMSU-Muslim Student’s Association, Las Bellas Zamboanga, Peace Advocates Zamboanga, Archdiocesan Youth Apostolate, PAPDG Inc., I CAN Make a Difference, Mariposa de Zamboanga Organization, Ignite Volunteering Group Zamboanga, Youth Solidarity for Peace, MyDEV, and La Tierra Y Agua.

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