Cover Photo By Sherie Bolo
Cover Photo By Sherie Bolo.

Benilde hosts 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awards Youth Forum

“With enough conviction, and enough passion, everyone has the power to make a change.” -Gary Bencheghib, 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leader Awardee

By Nina Delgado | Monday, 5 December 2022

In honor of the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awards, Benilde invited all four awardees to speak in a youth forum organized by the School of New Media Arts (SNMA). The forum was held on Dec. 1 in the Design and Arts Campus Theater.


During the first session of the two-part forum, Mr. Gary Bencheghib, this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Emergent Leader Awardee, talked about his advocacy to eradicate marine plastic pollution. 


Benchenghib was then joined by his fellow 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees—mental health advocate Dr. Sotheara Chhim from Cambodia, sight-saving humanitarian Dr. Tadashi Hattori from Japan, and children's rights crusader Dr. Bernadette J. Madrid from the Philippines—for the second part of the event, to shed light on their respective advocacies and their own stories of triumph over adversity.


Instagram reels bringing real change

To formally open the program, Benilde’s Vice Chancellor for Academics Mr. Angelo Lacson proudly stated that young Benildean students are being recognized internationally through their projects, specifically those that pertain to service learning. He mentioned that learners partner with different foundations and organizations to develop projects that aid those who are either blind or deaf. He hoped that Bencheghib’s sharing about his advocacies and personal experience would help inspire the youth to bring change to the world, despite their age.


Bencheghib then graced the audience with his story about his fight against maritime plastic pollution in Bali, Indonesia, emphasizing how he started at a very young age. He talked about how the overconsumption of plastics and the overdevelopment of cities have affected the world’s waters. 


Driven by the conviction that he can make a difference, he employs the power of video and technology as weapons to combat the environmental crisis. Bencheghib proudly showed the documentary they made about their kayaking adventure in the Citarum, the world’s most polluted river. In the documentary, Gary and his brother used boats made of plastic bottles to traverse the Citarum from Majalaya to the Java Sea. It showcased the highly polluted water that has turned red because of its toxicity and the numerous health issues that could arise after exposure. 


During the making of the documentary, they continuously posted videos on various social media platforms about their experience. These videos gained much traction and started earning the attention of government officials. This caused a massive cleanup movement in which thousands of Indonesian soldiers would clean the river daily. The President of Indonesia, Mr. Joko Wiodo, even appeared in the documentary and pledged, "In [seven] years, the Citarum would be clean.” 


After the documentary viewing, Bencheghib entertained questions from the audience about his advocacies and experience. During this segment, he emphasized the importance of determination, perseverance, and creativity in making a change. “Everybody can really do anything. It just takes a crazy idea,” he said.


To end the first session, Br. Mike Valenzuela FSC expressed his gratitude to Bencheghib for inspiring the youth in attendance and sharing his outstanding adventure. He added that Bencheghib is looking for young volunteers to help make a change and fight against maritime plastic pollution.


In the second session’s opening, Br. Mike Valenzuela FSC talked about previous Ramon Magsaysay awardees and how each one of them had continuously inspired him. He stated that he “has come to appreciate the award in a new light, not just as a recognition of significant achievements, but as a kind of conspiracy of hope for those who believe in the primacy of human dignity and the obligation of all people to serve the common good.” He stressed the importance of truth, compassion, courage, integrity, service, and solidarity in making a just society. He hoped the forum would inspire the youth to collaborate for a better future.


The session moderators, Ms. Mads Avila and Ms. Sam Andrada, introduced all four awardees as they entered the stage. First was Dr. Sotheara Chhim from Cambodia, a psychiatrist, and mental health advocate, recognized for dedicating his life to assisting victims of the Khmer Rouge, a regime that killed roughly a quarter of Cambodia's population in the 1970s through famine, overwork, and mass executions. The second was Dr. Bernadette Madrid, a Filipino pediatrician who has advocated for the right of the Filipino child to protection by building safe places for abused children nationwide. The third was Dr. Tadashi Hattori, a Japanese ophthalmologist and humanitarian who has dedicated his time and resources to providing free eye operations in Vietnam. Lastly, Bencheghib graced the stage again to join his fellow awardees in the forum.


Avila proceeded to ask each of them questions from the audience. During this segment, they recounted their leadership journey, most significant achievements, and greatest obstacles. They emphasized that they continuously learned throughout their experience and are still learning. Dr. Madrid also highlighted the fact that she started being a leader at a young age and was able to hone her skills and talents as the years passed. “I feel that the more that you practice, the more that you do, the more that you develop.”


When asked to give a message to the youth, each awardee stressed the importance of hard work and perseverance to achieve success.  It’s not gonna happen overnight. Sometimes it would take a couple of months, sometimes even years. But trust me it will make a change,” Bencheghib said.


Meanwhile, Dr. Madrid and Dr. Chhim added that people should not compare themselves to others. “There will always be someone who is better and less than you. But you are the only one who can be you," Dr. Madrid said.


To close the program, Ms. Susan B. Afan, the president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, shared her takeaways from each awardee and highlighted the importance of personal effort in bringing change to the world. She reminded the audience of their social responsibility and encouraged them to be courageous in helping those in need.


“If you can share your talent with some other people, for free, and make that person’s life better, why not?” she said.