Young Southeast Asian Leaders meet Missoula, Montana

Posted by: Clarissa Ruzol, Philippines

The YSEALI 2015 Fall Program starts this week hosted by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, University of Montana. The program kicks off with the presentation of environmental issues from the Young Southeast Asian leaders’ home countries. The activity encourages the 20 young leaders to concisely present key issues that they would want to be heard by policymakers. After which each of us was given time to tell the group about the topic they are most interested in and passionate about. Young leaders from different countries were then grouped together according to their interests to discuss opportunities on how to integrate their experiences and skills to develop innovative solutions.

Some of the most compelling issues in Southeast Asia today include solid waste mismanagement, water pollution, climate change impacts, mining, unsustainable tourism, and food insecurity. Several potential solutions to these environmental issues were also mentioned such as the investment in renewable resources, environmental education, law reinforcement and policy enhancement, farmer empowerment, and collaboration among the ASEAN countries. The discussion emphasized that these key environmental issues cut across other problems in the environment and in the society as a whole, and thus challenge Young Southeast Asian Leaders to think critically and innovatively. Great ideas were heard from brainstorming and discussions showing how knowledgeable, involved, and motivated the young leaders are in their communities. By the end of this program, a project proposal from the different thematic groups will be drafted. The whole YSEALI Fall 2015 program is designed to guide participants to develop the proposal through shared learning with the people from the academe, the government, the business sector, and the civil society in the U.S..

After the morning’s brain exercise and a big lunch at the Food Zoo in the university, the group headed to the Missoula Parks & Recreation to participate in a team building activity on the rope course and climbing wall. It was a fun-filled adventure under the summer sun in Montana. For most of us, it was the first time to try climbing a wall and walking across ropes 60 feet above the ground. During the time I was high up balancing on the rope, I tried to relax myself and get a view of the scenic mountains and valley of Missoula—an open space with few standing trees and buildings carefully distributed on a gridded landscape. I am truly liking how laidback this place is and I can imagine how people came to value the environment by learning through experiencing and living it. Besides the body exercise from climbing, balancing, and occasional screaming, the activity taught us how to communicate with one another. We tried several ideas to solve a problem and at several times all together failed, but kept our spirits high and tried a new strategy until we succeeded. Most importantly, I learned to trust my groupmates and enjoyed how they try to get complicated and tiring tasks done while remaining energetic until the end. We said farewell to our three awesome instructors at the Missoula Parks and Recreation and went to the Downtown ToNight in Caras Park.

YSEALI 2015 participants at the rope course team building activity

Downtown ToNight is a weekly event happening on Thursdays of summer in Missoula. It showcases local food vendors and music where families and friends can enjoy the night spending time with each other. It was a great experience listening, watching, hearing, and feeling what Missoula is. We grabbed our dinner and laid on the grass on a slope while watching people danced to the live music and drew on the concrete with colorful chalks. The park was along the Clark Fork River and we went down the river bank to enjoy the cold water.

This was just the second day of our 5-week stay in this program and I am really enjoying the experience. I am excited to know more of Missoula and my new found friends from Southeast Asia and the university.

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