The development of the Livelihood Center in the All Lights Village in Sitio Tamale, in the Philippines' Nueva Ecija province, is part of the eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) Cohort 2 Programme.
Among nine projects implemented across ASEAN during the Covid-19 pandemic as the ASEAN Foundation and Maybank Foundation aim to improve the lives of one million households across the region by 2025, the EYAA Cohort 2 programme is dedicated to youth empowerment.
With youth in the All Lights Village its primary target beneficiaries, the EYAA Cohort 2 Programme differs from other existing initiatives.
The success of the project in teaching the farming of organic mushrooms as an alternative source of income was acknowledged by all the young people who participated.
Filipinos Camille Joyce Lisay and Ronalisa Santiago, both in their twenties, took part, with each having different reasons for doing so.
Struck by the struggle of life in remote areas with limited alternative sources of livelihood for the indigenous community, Camille, 24, wanted to participate in the programme.
In contrast, Ronalisa, a 20-year-old student at the Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology, joined because she wanted to gain skills from the programme to open up better opportunities.
Like many other low-income people in the area, her family, farmers heavily reliant on the growing seasons, had no stable sources of income.
"If it is not the harvesting season, the men in our community work on construction sites or farm other people's land," Ronalisa said.
While the traditional learning path in farming is through the handing down of knowledge from senior family members, learning through youth-friendly programmes can provide intangible benefits, with experts imparting the newest farming methods.
Ronalisa was consequently keen to become a student on the programme.
While the project revolved around providing technical training on organic mushroom production, which improved the local employment rate by 30 per cent, it also helped indigenous youth in Sitio Tamale build entrepreneurial skills.
Camille, a senior communications associate at COMCO Southeast Asia, said she found the entire project a hugely rewarding and immersive experience.
As a project implementer, Camille oversaw the organising of the programme, which taught Sitio Tamale youth how to farm organic mushrooms.
Ronalisa, as a beneficiary of the initiative, said the project had positively impacted the livelihoods of her and many others in the community.
Having taken part, the programme allows Ronalisa to find groups that will help her and youth like her learn skills, and meet with organisations that can provide the resources for improving their living conditions.
But the road to the eventual rewards was not without its obstacles, with both Camille and Ronalisa encountering a number of challenges.
With the role of project controller, Camille said that while she and her colleagues had faced difficulties such as intermittent internet connection, unfavourable weather conditions and Covid-19 restrictions, they had found solutions to the problems
Overcoming such challenges enabled Camille to gain new skills in crisis management, something that cannot necessarily be taught in the classroom. By overcoming such hurdles, she gained invaluable experience that sharpened her problem-solving abilities.
Meanwhile, Ronalisa was able to gain experience outside her usual approach to learning, which set her on the path to becoming more resilient as an individual.
The experiences of both highlight the importance of education, whether vocational, upskilling or reskilling.
For Ronalisa, it was about grasping opportunities and meeting new people to exchange ideas and make friends with.
Given her and many other local youths' socioeconomic background, learning new skills and how best to utilise them to create sources of income is a key to unlocking better opportunities.
Whether an implementer or a beneficiary, all who took part in the EYAA Programme helped close the gap in access to education, with the project changing the lives of hundreds of young people like Ronalisa.
And because of this, the ASEAN Foundation and Maybank Foundation are continuing their commitment and dedication to youth empowerment across the region with the launch of EYAA Cohort 3 later this year.