Arizza is Nocum the Co-Founder and President of KRIS, a non-profit organization that utilizes education as a pathway to peace in the Philippines. She is one of five global recipients of Zonta International’s Young Women for Public Affairs Award. Arizza is one of the youngest nominees to the list of 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World. She is also one of ten young leaders hand-picked by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to eradicate violent extremism through the Extremely Together initiative.
[Below are some highlights from the interview that are edited for clarity.]
A daughter of a Catholic father and Muslim mother
My mom is a Muslim, and my dad is Catholic. They both come from the regions in the Philippines that have seen conflict and war over many years. There is a tension between Muslim and Christian groups. It is unique that they got married and built the family that they respect both regions. Even though a lot of people did not agree and understand what kind of family they were trying to build, I grew up seeing that it is possible to have coexistence with two religions. It is possible to have peace at your own home. If we can have peace at our own home with these two religions’ presence, it is only a matter of time. We can bring that peace outside of our home and bring that respect and understanding to other people so that they also can live in peace.
We started KRIS in 2008 by building a library in the community that has both Muslim and Christian. In this library, we want the kids from different backgrounds to learn together, study together and read together, and eventually form a friendship that could be the backbone of peace in those communities. We also started a scholarship program. One of our findings was that a lot of young people join terrorist organizations and violent extremist groups because they have no other choice. They don’t have access to education and employment. They ended up being very vulnerable to violent extremist ideology and to opportunities like that. So, we decided to give scholarships so that young people from a very vulnerable group can have an education and find better opportunities out there. We also distribute books, school supplies, and other educational materials to a lot of schools and public institutions located in conflict areas in the Philippines.
We have a very difficult public education system. It is hard to get [good] quality of education if we don’t have a lot of money. To have a scholarship that would give you education without you having to pay is such a good opportunity that only a few students have. I was able to get that scholarship when I was in high school that was quite prestigious and only admitted a few hundred students. But I feel guilty. Even though I can have a good education, a lot of young people didn’t have an education that I was having. They didn’t have the opportunity that I was having. I started to believe that I need to do something more. I need to go beyond [studying] and think about something in a bigger way to help young people like me. I saw how peace and education was a big factor for my parents and how important it could be to solve the problem in our society. I used that as a foundation for KRIS.
Being a role model
I wanted to build an organization that also empower young leader like me. One of the ways we do that is by leading an example. Whenever I talk to young people like myself, I always told them that being young doesn’t limit your capacity to lead and to succeed. No matter how young you are, you are always in a position that can create significant change.
One of the significant challenges I faced was not knowing what to do. I was in high school, and afterward, I was in university. I didn’t get any training on building a nonprofit. I didn’t know how to get a volunteer. I didn’t know how to get a donation. I didn’t know how to promote my work and my story so that other people can support me. Luckily, I learned that it is important to be scared and to do [it] right away with the fear and to do it anyways. Just do it.
I truly believe that our most important learning comes from doing. Not when we were in the classroom, not when we were just reading a book; or not when we were just listening to a lesson. My whole life has been a testament to not really knowing much, but learning along the way and finding out along the way that your conviction your dedication to learning is more important than how much you actually know.
Message for other young people
I have two main points. The first point is that always take the first step, even though you are scared, you are not really sure about what you are doing, or there might be a lot of challenges. A lot of young people and women included finding that it is hard to start their own organization or go on a volunteer opportunity or take a leadership position because of so much self-doubt. They might feel like they lack a lot of things. But the truth is that, when I met other people who are leaders when I met people who are excellent in their own fields and who have made a name for themselves in so many different fields, they always say that they started it out not really knowing anything and not really who they are now. We all start with nothing. We all started from zero. I think the risk that you did not start anything since the first place is greater than the risk of fail or experiencing defeat when you were trying something. What taught me the most throughout my life are my failures. Even though I feel really bad or disappointed in myself, I use each failure as a steppingstone to remind myself that this is how I made a mistake; this is what I won’t do; this is what I keep doing if it works. This is just me on a journey experiencing challenges, experiencing win, experiencing losses, and it is ok.
My second point is that I hope that every young leader, who embarks advocacy and leadership journey, will try to think of peace as a necessary component in everything that they do. When you are doing advocacy on education, poverty, justice, environment, and other sustainable development goals that the United Nations has been actively promoting in the past years. Each of these goals has peace as a requirement. Without peace, we can’t truly work together as a community, as a nation, and even as a global movement to address our big problem. Without peace, we are not able to talk to each other, share an idea, work as a team, and create a solution toward these problems. Without peace, we can never include everyone in the discussion, and we will have progress that either one-sided or lacking in its coverage of all people.