Volunteer Champion: Pursuing Passion with Sobina Yu, Hiraya Manawari Founder

iVolunteer—in its quest to strengthen volunteerism in the Philippines—annually recognizes youth volunteers who make extraordinary contributions. They are called Volunteer Champions because they exemplify iVolunteer’s core values: Integrity, Professionalism, Inclusivity, Nationalism and Change Leadership. These individuals are young in years but rich in meaningful experience.

The third instalment in the Volunteer Champion series will show us how passion can lead to volunteering. Whatever it is that we are passionate for, we can use it to serve others. We just need to open our eyes to the realities around us, and make contributions in our own diverse ways.

Sobina Yu, a 21-year-old youth leader, was recognized as iVolunteer’s 2021 Volunteer Champion for Inclusivity. She’s currently pursuing a degree in Manufacturing Engineering and Management, with a specialization in Biomedical Engineering. Her ultimate goal is to use her profession to uplift lives and create a better society for everyone. Volunteers, like Sobina, who champion inclusivity create avenues to provide equal access to opportunities. They focus their efforts on the marginalized or excluded sector.

Sobina is the founder of Hiraya Manawari, an organization that helps poor communities gain better access to educational materials. This was established during the pandemic when the educational gap in the Philippines became more problematic. Poor communities without proper infrastructure and resources found it hard to shift to remote learning. They could only rely on scarce learning modules.

“My motivation to keep on going is just simple. If I don’t do it, then who will?”

Hiraya Manawari was born from Sobina’s belief that education is the way to break the cycle of poverty that enslaves people, one generation to another. But apart from education, Sobina is also a staunch advocate of human rights and healthcare. She believes that education, healthcare and human rights are integral to a quality life.

WHERE IT ALL STARTED

Sobina had a young and unique starting point. At a young age, her passion for astronomy and science made her realize how underdeveloped these fields are in the Philippines. Many people don’t understand the contributions of astronomy. Kids generally prefer the humanitarian track than the science track because they find science too nerdy or they don’t understand its importance.  

Compelled to inspire more students to pursue astronomy and science, Sobina established The Cosmic Wonderer and the Judenite’s Astronomical Organization (JAO) when she was in high school. The Cosmic Wonderer is an online platform that features stories of aspiring astronomers and astronauts all over the world. JAO, on the other hand, is the first and only astronomical organization of her high school alma mater. Through JAO, she organized competitions, workshops and stargazing activities.

Being the founder of The Cosmic Wonderer and JAO taught Sobina the importance of raising awareness for things that ordinary people don’t know. It also made her resilient in the face of varied challenges. 

Sobina’s excellent academic and extra-curricular records paved the way for her to become part of the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program. Under this program, she had the opportunity to initiate a service project in the slums of Tondo. This became an important turning point for her. Seeing the conditions of people in Tondo made her realize how huge the economic gap is in the Philippines. From astronomy and science, her advocacy shifted to general education because she saw how education could help in poverty alleviation.

Her IB upbringing was instrumental in shaping her volunteer journey. In fact, Hiraya Manawari is composed of her friends from the IB program. Their first beneficiary was Project Pearls, a non-profit organization that also serves in Tondo.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW

Hiraya Manawari was established to help communities adjust to remote learning. The organization has actively distributed learning materials such as books, modules, art materials and school supplies to poor and indigenous communities in the Philippines, including the T’boli community in Mindanao.

To expand their reach across the country, Hiraya partners with other non-profit organizations who have more established on-ground activities. For their partner beneficiaries, they choose organizations that focus on providing accessible education to the poorest children. Some of their partners are: The Street Classroom, Save our Schools Network, BIDA para sa Dumagat, Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation and a lot more.

Having the burning passion to help support children’s education in this time of need, Hiraya curated and printed around 300 learning modules (more than 50,000 pages) for the benefit of children in Tacloban. They also provided equipment such as computer inks and bond papers to assist different schools in reproducing learning modules.

To date, they continue to support their partners and beneficiaries through the generosity of their donors and through donation drives. Sobina fondly disclosed that colleagues from her astronomy days are among her biggest donors.

WHERE WILL THEY GO FROM HERE

Hiraya Manawari is currently focusing on helping Bohol have better access to learning materials. Sobina shared how Typhoon Odette further left Bohol way behind in terms of educational resources.

To expand their reach and improve their sustainability, Sobina hopes to register Hiraya under the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the near future, she will let go of Hiraya’s daily operations and will oversee the organization in a more consultant role.

Although volunteer work will always be part of Sobina’s life, her main goal is to pursue advanced degrees in science, to become a doctor and a scientist. She wants to use her profession to drive inclusive growth in the Philippines, one where access to basic medical technologies is within everyone’s reach.

SOBINA AS A VOLUNTEER CHAMPION

Armed with grit and passion for her advocacies, Sobina proves that she is indeed a Volunteer Champion. Admittedly, she has encountered some challenges due to lack of funding and, at times, lack of motivation, but these things can’t stop her. For her, challenges are just phases that will pass by. Consistently making progress—however small—is the key.

Aligned with Hiraya Manawari’s mission – Building one dream at a time, she encourages everyone to start small in their advocacies, emphasizing that helping doesn’t have to start in its grandest form. We can start anywhere and anytime, right where our passion lies. A simple act of kindness could help fulfil dreams.


“Kindness in itself is a form of advocacy. Don’t underestimate the power of kindness.” ~ Sobina Yu, 2022


Written by: Liezl Casiquin & Lorraine Rañoa, iVolunteer Philippines

Photos from: Sobina Yu, Hiraya Manawari

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