Padayon: The Life and Works of Filipino Trailblazer Dun Oliver Abiera

by Mary Lou Cunanan

Dun Oliver Abiera of YABONG Philippines | Facebook

Dun Oliver Abiera is a 23-year old advocate and nation-builder who has been volunteering and working for the development sector for 8 years. I was so excited to e-meet him and talk about his extraordinary journey and advocacies.

PDM: Tell us about your journey so far.

Dun Oliver Abiera: My name is Oli. I’m a graduate of the International Studies Program at Ateneo de Davao University. I also studied Environmental Preservation and Peacebuilding under the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP) at Northern Illinois University. In 2017, I joined the ASEAN Youth Workshop on Media Literacy that changed how I look at the digital world and solve problems within it. A year later, I founded YABONG, an organization built to give opportunities and create a network of youth advocates to promote youth participation in governance and media and information literacy (MIL) in the Philippines.

Dun Oliver Abiera | Facebook

In 2020, I became the incumbent Youth Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific for UNESCO-led Media and Information Literacy Alliance Youth Committee. I coordinated activities with UNESCO such as the Global MIL Week and MIL Clicks Fete, joined by 139 countries worldwide. My speaking engagements brought me to different parts of the globe, including Europe, North America, and Asia, and the Pacific. Currently, I am based in Mindanao to educate and empower youth leaders with social media and create sustainable development projects to resolve pressing issues in the country.

Those are amazing feats for someone so young. What motivated you to work hard for the things you’re passionate about?

I am deeply passionate about media and information literacy (MIL), specifically on responsible social media usage. As the world’s social media capital, with over 76 million active users on Facebook alone, the Philippines has been plagued with information disorders (mis-, dis-, and mal- information), which resulted in cultural division, political polarization, and religious segregation. We rely so much on social media to know the latest news and events, false data and information can be easily shared without checkpoints.

Oli at one of the workshops he facilitated. | Contributed Photo

MIL is a two-way street. One street is crossed by the information givers, which is the usual path to resolve disinformation and misinformation. Writers, bloggers, and journalists must practice self-regulation. But this is not enough. We can direct the message we try to convey, but we still have no control over how the public reacts and interprets. We often overlook the duality of the problem and forget about the people on the other side of the street – information consumers. Consumers belong to a big part of the population dominated by the youth in social media platforms. Sadly, it is in the same demographic that allows the structured proliferation of fake news and false headlines. It is our shared responsibility to give the right information and know-how to assess its credibility. But, as much as we are part of the problem, the youth has the capacity to be change-makers and game-changers of media and information literacy.

Poster of Youth Advocates Building Opportunities and Network in Governance (YABONG) Philippines is an organization that aims to promote youth participation in nation-building and governance established in 2019.

That’s one of the reasons why Yabong’s flagship project for 2021 is Promoting MIL (ProMIL) in different parts of the Philippines. The project has three (3) components, each corresponding to the audience of youth leaders. First, the ProMIL Camp focuses on partnership with local government units to be participated by leaders from Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) and youth-led organizations. Next is the ProMIL in Schools which will hone student leaders from different schools across the Philippines in partnership with the Department of Education. Finally, the ProMIL in Asia and the Pacific will run a series of workshops from different MIL youth organizations from all parts of Asia and Pacific in partnership with UNESCO to be implemented during the Global MIL Week in October.

The whole project aims to (1) equip young leaders with the necessary digital and critical thinking skills, (2) address the issues on the proper and responsible use of cyberspace and platforms, and (3) empower the young leaders to create digital projects that can help build a safer and better Philippines.

All of these projects are very Filipino-centric. Can you tell us a memory that stands out for you that is tied to your Filipino identity?

I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to give a speech in an international community. I remember feeling most empowered when I wore a Filipino-made textile and design when I gave my speech at the UNESCO Global Media and Information Literacy Week in Gothenburg, Sweden, last September 2019. With the rich culture of the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, where I was born and raised, I wanted to show a piece of our beautiful country and the richness of its culture. I seized that moment with what I have said and how I presented myself and represented my country.

Oli with fellow speakers at a workshop. | Contributed Photo

What do you think is your greatest achievement so far?

As the founder and executive director of YABONG Philippines, I spearheaded the partnerships and collaborations with local, national, and international organizations and provided leadership training and capacity-building programs that empowered over 10,000 people in 13 countries worldwide. I believe that every young person we empowered and developed in our organization will positively and long-lasting impact our society, which I consider my greatest contribution. It’s not about awards or recognitions for me; it’s able to touch the lives of other people.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

In 2014, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Vitiligo, wherein my body attacks its own tissues, which causes depigmentation, and as a result, I have struggled to accept myself. Unlike others whose Vitiligo manifested in the least visible areas, I could not easily conceal mine as the disease manifested on the left side of my face. It immensely affected my leadership career and advocacy when I started to reject speaking engagements and leadership positions because public speaking became a daunting task. For a while, I focused on my academics and, although I excelled, I wasn’t happy. At this point, I thought I was failing myself and the person I am meant to be.

I then realized that Vitiligo is just a part of me, and it’s not entirely who I am. That’s when the process of self-acceptance began, and now it shaped me into a caring, confident, and strong public speaker and leader. We may have struggles that society may not fully accept and understand, but it’s up to us to write our narratives. We are the authors of our lives, and we cannot afford to sit idly by, hoping for the best. We have to exert an active effort to define ourselves on our own terms. In my case, I didn’t let my condition define me.

What inspires you the most?

My inspiration comes from the people around me. I draw the biggest inspiration from my mother, who bears all the duties of being a single parent while being the breadwinner and providing for our extended family. Also, I get inspired by the people I work with in Yabong Philippines, knowing that we extend our helping hands to those who need it the most with each project. Yes, nothing inspires you the most than your loved ones, but it is also inspirational to share what you know and have with other people.

Students receiving their Certificate of Participation in a workshop conducted by YABONG. | Facebook

What makes you proud as a Filipino?

Being a Filipino means having an optimistic mindset. It is no secret that Filipinos always see the light at the end of the tunnel. In Bisaya, we have this beautiful word, padayon, which means moving forward despite being marred with challenges and detours in our lives. This word best describes who we are as a Filipino, which I am most proud of being one.

What is your mantra?

I always aspire to be known as someone persistent in his goals despite the odds. However, as I follow my heart and its desires, I also know that everything starts by simply trying – not winning, just simply trying. This is why when I lack courage and am faced with a sea of doubts, I always go back to this powerful quote by Theodore Roosevelt to give me courage, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

What Filipino values do you think the world needs to know about?

Filipinos being resilient and hospitable are what we are known for. But I think the best value that the world needs to know about is our compassion shown through the spirit of Bayanihan. Whenever I travel to speak or organize a workshop program anywhere in the world, there will always be a kababayan who will help me in one way or another. When I arrived in Spain, two Filipinos approached and led me in the right direction to my hotel because they saw that I had struggled for over an hour navigating through Google Maps. I think that one moment best describes the compassion of helping other kababayans. It seems like when a Filipino knows that you are a Filipino, there is an automatic reaction and willingness to show compassion to reach out and help.

Oli with some of the people he works with at YABONG. | Contributed Photo

Finally, what is your message to Filipinos (and Non-Filipinos) all over the world?

Social media has changed many things in our lives because it works like having the world downsized in our pockets. But, it only takes one wrong thing to change everything. It only takes one misleading headline to affect thousands of audiences. It only takes one wrong statistic to manipulate the masses’ perspective. It only takes a collection of propagandized data to turn humans against other humans. It only takes one mean comment to instill fear, resulting in violence. We’ve seen all of these heightened, especially when the pandemic started.

But, with our collective effort to achieve media and information literacy, one truth can also change, validate, and save a life. Together, imagine the power we can hold if only we were dedicated to know the truth, abide by our obligations as social media users, and apply this to our respective communities – we would live in nations built on unity. Perhaps it is idealistic, but still a wonderful concept to ponder on nevertheless.

Yabong Philippines is open to any collaboration to promote media and information literacy and social media for social good in every region of the country. You can support them by sending a proposal to fund, partner, or donate to their flagship project, Promoting MIL in youth audiences like Sangguniang Kabataan, youth-led organizations, and student leaders. If you are also a youth leader interested to know more about MIL, join their Facebook group Youth for MIL,

Oli hopes to work together to empower the Filipino youth to think before they click, embark MIL on one community to another, and create dialogue in a media-saturated society.

Contact Oli at:

Twitter/Instagram/Clubhouse: @dunolivr

Yabong Philippines:

Twitter and Instagram: @yabongph

Mary Lou Cunanan is a regular Lifestyle columnist of the Philippine Daily Mirror. She is a writer, world traveler, and a Filipina who is very proud of her identity, whose life mission is always searching for covering stories of amazing Filipinos, events, organizations, and businesses globally to celebrate and champion what makes Filipinos amazing wherever they may be.

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