Being a public servant was not in the plans of then 21-year-old Miles Tejada. She used to lead and serve in private, being a student leader since she was in elementary, and up until high school. But never did it cross her mind to run for public office.
One morning, Miles received a call from her mother; she was then in Zamboanga City studying as a college student. She recalled her mother telling her “Miles, mayor went to our house this morning. He wants you to run as a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Officer.”
Her immediate answer then was no. A few days passed and still, she had no intention of running for the position.
But on the last day of filing the certificate of candidacy, a whisper in her heart pushed her to go home in Labason, Zamboanga del Norte to file her candidacy.
“I did not plan on running for SK. But what’s meant to be, it will be. No matter what you do, if it’s not God’s will, it will not be yours. And if it’s for you, no matter how hard you evade it, even though you do not expect it, it will be yours. No other person or situation can stop it.”
“I have decided to run as SK Officer because I have realizations and reflections,” Tejada said. “I really have a purpose. And God entails me to be one of his instruments to lead, to inspire, to help others who are in need, to lift others, and to serve.”
Miles Tejada won the Sangguniang Kabataan elections last May 2018. In her span of time as serving as the SK Provincial Federation President of Zamboanga del Norte, one of the observed issues and concerns of the province was the large number of out-of-school youth.
There are a lot of reasons behind this number, Tejada said, based on her conversations with the out-of-school youth. Some drop out of school because of financial problems, some marry at an early age, some are forced to work to sustain their family, and some experience bullying in school.
Tejada said these are just some of the different reasons why they stopped schooling, “madaming rason, hindi sa basta tambay lang (there are a lot reason why, more than just being “bystanders”).”
In May 2019, a year after she won the elections, she was introduced to the Power for Youth Project through SUGPAT, a program of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU), the implementing partner of UNICEF Philippines and ING.
The Power for Youth project aimed to establish a youth development alliance in Zamboanga del Norte that will link the youth to opportunities for education, employment, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement through improving the referral mechanisms between government and private entities.
“When I heard about the project’s objectives, I knew they had good intentions. I told myself ‘this is a good program for the youth here in Zamboanga del Norte, so we should push this!’” Tejada said.
Miles Tejada, together with the Provincial Youth Development Officer Carl Rubia, with the help of AdZU SUGPAT, lobbied the alliance since then.
They went to the Zamboanga del Norte Provincial Governor Roberto Uy for his support and input to the proposed youth development alliance, visited one government office to another to inform them of the alliance, conducted several inceptions meetings, and did all the preparations to establish the alliance.
After almost a year of working to establish the alliance, and amidst the Covid-19 global pandemic, the executive order constituting the very first provincial-wide youth development alliance in the Philippines was signed on March 30, 2020.
The Zamboanga del Norte Youth Development Alliance (ZNYDA) will reach the youth specifically the completers of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education, and the out-of-school youth. Furthermore, its role is to facilitate referral and information exchange so that ALS completers and other youth have opportunities for post-training activities like job fairs, immersion, scholarships for continuing education and training, and ultimately employment or self-enterprise development, all focused on helping address the issues of the out-of-school youth in the province.
“My vision for ZNYDA is that its foundation will be stronger so it can stand alone in the future. In 3 to 5 years, it’s a ‘one-stop-shop’ of the youth. So, whenever they have issues or concerns, they can go to ZNYDA and then, we can refer them to help solve their concern.”
“I am so blessed and thankful to the Power for Youth project and to the SUGPAT team. Without it, there will be no youth development alliance. Thank you for being part of my journey as an SK President.”
Looking back to two years ago, Miles Tejada was reluctant to answer her calling. But today, she faces the future committed to serve the youth and provide opportunities for them to grow.