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Philippines youth-in-agriculture mentoring program

The Philippines Youth-in-Agriculture Mentoring Program is YPARD Philippines’ first mentoring program. 

Essentially, it is a year-long scheme that aims to bring together students and young professionals in agriculture, to match them with agriculture experts from various subfields that YPARD Philippines focuses on in its youth-in-agriculture agenda: academy, research, extension, business and policy/governance. Throughout the program, mentors will meet with their mentees to share their knowledge and experiences, and to link their mentees to relevant networks in their field of expertise. 

The Mentoring Orientation Workshop was held last January 29 to February 1, 2018 at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). The week-long workshops served as the space for mentoring pairs to prepare for the entire year of the mentoring program. The activities for each day revolved around specific purposes, namely: establishing a sense of trust, sense of belonging, and safety; learning about how to sustain and nurture meaningful relationships; telling one’s story; and, building one’s personal network. 

Eleven mentees from different areas in agriculture have been selected: Audry Llaban and Arnelie Laquidan are in the academe, Shernan Gamol is in government, Arianne Lim is with an NGO, Janelle Dulnuan and Aiz Villarodes are in business, while the rest are graduate students with diverse interests: Carl Ayen in business and entomology, Angelo Karagdag in Urban Planning, and Gracetine Magpantay in biotechnology and using the arts to promote agriculture to young audiences. Mentors come from equally diverse subfields of Agriculture: Victor Ella, Myra David, Irvin Bequillo, and Nestor Garcia are from the academy; Josine Macaspac, Regi Gaza and Rex Navarro are from the private sector. On the other hand, Dennis is a performance artist and director. 

Michelle Kovacevic, YPARD Global Mentoring Coordinator, and Jim Cano, YPARD Philippines Country Representative, facilitated the sessions with me. This is my first “event” as YPARD Philippines Mentoring Coordinator, and I was simply thrilled to meet fellow young professionals who are passionate for agriculture and development!

Meeting new friends

A day before the workshops, we were busy with helping people come to Los Baños. While most of the mentors are from Los Baños and Manila, some mentees had to travel all the way from Eastern Samar, La Union, Cavite. Those who travelled by plane were picked up by YPARD members from the airport. The day’s highlight is the informal welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. Mentees got to chat about their backgrounds and interests, preparing them for a week of learning and playing as a team. 

Going within

Sessions officially started on Day 1. The day’s sessions were focused on giving everyone an introduction of YPARD Philippines, the mentoring program, their role as mentors and mentees, and our role as the program staff. 

We started the day by having everyone to prepare creative nametags using colored paper and markers, while we played a playlist of hip world music (we listened to this for most part of the workshops!). Everyone then got a chance to introduce themselves by sharing their names, where they come from and what they like about the mentoring program, and their expectations for the program and the people they’ll be working with. 

After a quick discussion on the day’s agenda, we then proceeded to crafting a group agreement on how everyone should participate in the workshop. Afterwards, the group had a gallery walk on the program principles. Principles such as “we endeavour to let people step into their own power”, “we encourage giving and receiving constructive feedback”, and “we approach everything with curiosity and willingness to learn”, guided by Michelle, Jim, and I in crafting the workshops’ activities. 

What the group did, then, contextualized and concretized the principles, to see if they feel that such should apply to them as a group. Some principles were rephrased to reflect what the group found to be appropriate; for instance, “we challenge ‘business as usual’ was changed to “we think out of the box”. I personally found this to be a powerful exercise; when the mentors and mentees chose even the way the principles were phrased out and defined, they showed ownership of the program and how it will be facilitated. 

Jim and I then proceeded to introduce YPARD Philippines and the mentoring program. Mentoring pairs also had the chance to have their “empathy walk”, which was their time to get to know one another. Lastly, tools such as the Career Timeline and Purpose Road Map were briefly introduced, so that the mentors and mentees could prepare for the sessions for the next day. 

Building relationships

The sessions for the second day centered on communication and its role in the mentoring relationship. We opened the sessions with a game called “landmines”. Partners would stand across each other, and in between them are “landmines” of crumpled newspaper. One would be blindfolded, while the other will give instructions to help the other cross the distance between them without hitting any of the landmines. 

With pairs doing this all at once, the objective of the game was for the pairs to appreciate the importance of establishing clear and effective communication strategies that will stand despite the noise from the other pairs, and despite other distractions. After having both pairs try being blindfolded, we processed the learning from the game together. 

From this activity, the first session was facilitated by one of the mentors, Dr. Rex Navarro. More than describing communication models, he discussed specific ways that mentoring pairs can take to become active listeners to each other. Jim then ran a session on giving and receiving feedback, which is important in professional relationships. 

With more mentors available later that day, the next sessions were given for the mentees to complete their purpose statements, and for mentors to be coached in terms of how they can best support their mentees. Michelle ran the latter while I ran the session with the mentees. 

Interestingly, some of the mentees had their purpose road maps ready because they have used a similar tool before. For others, however, it was their first time to even think of their purpose statement, and they really appreciated the space and time the workshop offered them to reflect on and discuss their experiences, from which their purpose road map will be drafted. 

Although their purpose statements are varied, they have the same common goal of using their lives to empower others, especially those who are working in agriculture. Finally, time was given for mentoring pairs to draft their mentoring agreement. I explained the tool briefly, and then had the pairs work on theirs. 

We ended the day with the “happygrams”, which is an exercise of giving thanks to people who made our day. My heart was so full just seeing that everyone wanted to thank everyone else in the room. I felt like we were truly building that culture of appreciation and giving thanks.

Telling our stories

The third day sessions revolved on telling your story. The day started with Jim explaining the participatory monitoring and evaluation that the program will employ. Mentees and mentors were then given the chance to give their inputs and insights on the proposed process. This gave the context and purpose for the next session on storytelling. 

While I facilitated the discussions, our resource person for the session was Sir Dennis, who is a storyteller and theater professional. What I found to be most moving from this session is Sir Dennis’ reminder that we all have stories to tell, and that we will be best equipped to tell stories if we immerse in the realities that we want to understand and present. Michelle then shared some tips on creating a pitch. 

After these sessions, mentees were given the chance to share their own stories and create their own pitch. Carl, Aiz, and Shernan then shared their prepared pitch to the group. Everyone had the chance to also give feedback on the pitch delivered by their peers. 

As a closing session, we asked everyone to give their feedback on the workshops through “metacards”. We ended the sessions early to give everyone time to prepare for the dinner, which was the opportunity for us to introduce the participatory monitoring and evaluation team, who will implement the program’s PM&E strategy.

Building networks

The last day was largely devoted to sessions on managing diversity. The first session was on managing diversity in personalities, which I facilitated. Through guide questions, we were able to group ourselves into four personality types, and were able to discuss the preferences on each group. 

Afterwards, mentoring pairs were given the chance to discuss their personality differences and how they can work around such to work together harmoniously. The rest of the morning was devoted to helping the mentors and mentees finish their mentoring agreements. This tool will be used by the mentoring and PME teams to support the mentoring pairs in all their activities. 

The afternoon session, on the other hand, was devoted to managing conflict. A role play of potential conflict scenarios and how they can be solved were done by mentoring pairs. The group was able to process each scenario and give additional inputs on how such can be solved. Finally, in preparation for the culmination night, Jim ran a session on managing one’s networks.

The culmination night wrapped up the workshops. After Jim’s presentation on YPARD Philippines, mentees were given the chance to present their purpose statements. Sir Dennis, Sir Rex, and Shernan and Josine were also able to share about their learnings from the workshops. The performers from Agra and the musical production of YPARD Philippines entertained and lightened the evening.

An inspiring experience

Given that this is my first activity in YPARD, and it really made me feel that this organization is worth investing time and effort in. I am amazed at the energy that everyone commits to our shared vision of agricultural development. All the mentees are very inspiring; YPARD should aim to serve more of these young professionals.

I was also amazed that so many people want to help the youth in the agricultural sector. The mentoring program has become a platform for bringing together all these people, with their knowledge, networks and other resources, to achieve our vision of agricultural development through youth empowerment. The mentoring team would especially like to thank the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) for their support in this endeavor and SEARCA for being a reliable partner.  

The workshops also allowed me to witness that there is power in people being able to share their story. In this workshop, everyone was given the chance to talk about their own life, aspirations and plans. Every story told gave space for people to find their connection with others.

I look forward to the stories of learning and growth from our mentees and mentors. In the coming months, mentees and mentors will share stories from their experiences and activities. These stories will be posted here, so watch out for these!

 

Picture credit: YPARD Philipines