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Five days in SoKor for the environment

Ramil dela Cruz*

Day 1. It was 4 A.M. in the morning, July 23, and we were already at the airport, waiting for our 6:50 am flight to South Korea, where we will attend the Asia-Pacific Youth Water Forum. We were received at Incheon International Airport by Julie, one of the Korean staffs and now a dear friend, who was holding a placard with our names on it when we arrived.

The official start of the program was on Tuesday, July 24, but there was a special event for foreign students. The program was about the culture of the Korean people; we learned some of their rituals and even wore their traditional clothes. We didn’t feel the passing of time in Korea because during summer in their country, the sun is still up even if it’s already 7 PM.

Day 2. At the opening ceremony the next day, the mayor of Suwon city showed us the city’s different water treatment facilities. The participants were also introduced, especially the ones from other countries. There were intermission numbers from the students of the university and after the ceremony we went to our respective groups together with our staff members to discuss the topic given to each group.

As a member of Group 5 under the leadership of Mr. Seung Don Kim, we discussed Water and Climate Change. It was really hard trying to share our ideas with some of our group mates because of the language barrier. Our group was composed of Filipino, Japanese and Korean students. Luckily, Julie served as an interpreter and facilitated the discussion in English. To make us understand each other better, our team leader organized a get together later that evening where he hoped the students could break the ice and get closer.



Day 3. As the program continued the next day, country representatives shared water-related problems their country faced through a PowerPoint presentation. My partner Resty presented the issues and problems of Manila Bay. There was also a mock trial, where I acted the role of the plaintiff’s lawyer. In this mock trial, a rich and powerful water bottling company sued the farmers in a fictional community for allegedly damaging the company’s property. During the trial, it was proven that the company actually did more damage to the people—the company siphoned the water supply of the residents, making it difficult for the farmers to irrigate their lands. Also, it was revealed that the plaintiff did not conduct sufficient consultation with the residents before building the bottling plant. Though I was appointed legal counsel of the plaintiff company, I was glad the jury sided with the farmers in the end.

After an early dinner we finally had a chance take a tour around Suwon. We went to the Hwaseong fortress, one of the historical sites in South Korea which is acknowledged by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. We also had a walk around the Suwon River to inspect the problems and the improvements done by the government of Suwon. It was pleasant to see a healthy river in the middle of the city, which was a stark contrast to the state of the rivers here in Metro Manila.

Day 4. After days filled with so many activities, the participants prepared for the closing ceremony on Friday. Country representatives wrote a declaration that will be shared with everyone at the program the next day. In the evening, the Koreans hosted a cultural program for us, where we saw K-Pop dance numbers, traditional dances and listened to songs from various countries.

Day 5. On the final day, all of the countries, through their youth representative, committed to actions for water preservation and conservation through a declaration that detailed the specific actions they would make to help minimize the problems in water. As the Philippine representative, I pledged to intensify efforts in education and advocacy to involve more youths in environmental work.

After the short closing ceremony, everyone had mixed emotions. They were happy because the forum was a success but they were also sad to say goodbye to their new friends.

Before the foreign participants left for the airport, the mayor of Suwon City treated us and the forum organizers to lunch. The Philippine team had the latest flight, so Julie and some of the forum staffs stayed at Incheon to accompany us while we waited. Finally, when Julie and the others were about to leave, we had one last group hug and I almost cried.

The forum was long and tiring but fun. We made new friends and learned new things in life. It taught me that young people have the power to create a new world, and that we can contribute to protecting the welfare of the planet and its natural resources.

*Ramil dela Cruz is a senior student at the Isabela State University-Laboratory Science High School. He is also a volunteer for Kalikasan Partylist, a political party that aims to genuinely address the country's ecological problems and work towards building a pro-environment, patriotic, clean, honest and pro-people government.