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VIEW: Two youth vow to fight for Filipino climate justice, but need support

Shaina Agbayani and Sol Diana have a personal connection to climate change. The place many of their family members call home, the Philippines, has recently been ravaged by the deadliest typhoon the country has seen. Though estimates vary, Typhoon Haiyan left 6,201 dead, 1.9 million homeless, and four million displaced.

In the wake of the devastating super storm, a coalition of groups came together to raise money for the two young Filipino Canadians to travel to PowerShift Philippines, a conference at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City where 200 youth leaders will gather to address the urgent climate crisis.

The crowdfunding campaign, which began March 13 and ends tomorrow, March 25, has one more day to reach its goal of $5,000 to send Shaina and Sol to the meeting. The campaign aims to support "a transformative new chapter in the stories of two Filipino-Canadians fighting for climate justice."

What would climate justice look like for the Philippines? Leon Dulce, a core organizer of PowerShift Philippines who will be a host to Shaina and Sol, explains that climate justice is "the obligation of the governments and corporations that contributed the most to historic global greenhouse gas emissions, and to the historic degradation of the world's environment and depletion of natural resources everywhere."

Sol, 19, is a student at the University of British Columbia. Raised in Vancouver, he says he was called to act on the issue of climate justice in the context of the recent Typhoon Haiyan.

"I grew up around poets, activists, people who wanted to make a change in the Filipino community," he explains. "Watching people displaced, cold, hungry, especially because they're Filipino, you feel a sense of connection."

Shaina Sarah Agbayani is a 22-year-old student at McGill University. When she heard about the opportunity to participate in PowerShift Philippines through a Facebook post, she knew she wanted to apply.

"Being someone whose mother came to Canada under what's now called the Live-in Caregiver Program, it makes me want to understand why women need to leave the Philippines and the devaluation of their work here," she says.

Much of Shaina's work in Montreal focuses on justice for migrant workers. She explains that many of the same conditions that force people in the Philippines to leave their homes and come to Canada are those that cause climate change: colonialism and extreme resource extraction that use Filipino resources to benefit industrialized Canadian corporations.

She gives the example of the Marcopper Mining Corporation, formerly owned by Canadian mining company Placer Dome, which left the island province of Marinduque devastated by toxic mine wastes. "The processes of dispossession that are not benefiting [Filipino] people are the same processes that cause environmental destruction," she says. 

Sol and Shaina are not the only ones with this kind of family connection to climate change. There are half a million to 850,000 people of Filipino ancestry in Canada. As evidenced in "The Racialization of Poverty in Canada," immigrants in various Canadian cities are more likely than non-immigrants to live in neighbourhoods with high rates of poverty.

"Mainstream environmental education and organizations, which are often predominantly white, middle-class, create barriers to participation of racialized and lower socio-economic communities, which often intersect," Shaina explains. Her aim is to share some of what she learns abroad with others in the Filipino-Canadian community.

Leon explains that the idea for the exchange first came about at the Global PowerShift conference in Istanbul, where he and others decided to replicate the experience of Sean Devlin, a Vancouver-based comedian and activist who is a Pinoy-Canadian, when he visited his family back in the Philippines and witnessed the situation of communities affected by Typhoon Washi in 2011.

At Global PowerShift, the young people will hear speeches from leading figures, take part in skills-sharing sessions, participate in grassroots campaign planning, and attend a day of action to oppose the construction of a new coal plant.

The pair is set to leave for the Philippines this week, but they have yet to raise the funds they need to cover transport and accommodation. Sol beat his fundraising goal of $600, and raised $923 at a spoken word and musical event, "A Word about Distance," he hosted at the Heartwood Cafe in Vancouver. So far the pair has raised a total of $2,920, over halfway towards their goal of $5,000.

Like the name of the conference, Sulong!, a Tagalog word that means "move forward," these young people are doing just that -- leading the advance towards a climate-safe future, and are inviting us to support them. 

Brigette DePape is a community organizer and writer. Originally from Winnipeg, she now lives in Vancouver where she is the Actions Coordinator with and an organizer with PowerShift Canada.

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