Volunteer Champion: Changing Mindsets with Niniay, Muslim Youth Leader

Now on its second year, iVolunteer’s Volunteer Champion Awards aim to recognize young individuals who make extraordinary contributions to the communities that they serve. These champions embody iVolunteer’s 5 core values: Integrity, Professionalism, Inclusivity, Nationalism and Change Leadership. Their stories are a source of inspiration for everyone. They represent hope where there seems to be none.

The last installment in the 2021 Volunteer Champion series will talk about the importance of molding the mindsets of the youth, all in pursuit of a progressive and participative community development. It will be a reminder of how our individual voices can collectively build a society that upholds democracy, justice and integrity.

Nor-ain Mohammad, a 23-year-old Muslim Youth Leader, was recognized as iVolunteer’s 2021 Volunteer Champion for Change Leadership. Volunteers who champion change leadership take the initiative to help others around them, identify opportunities for improvement and make recommendations for the overall growth and development of the group that they serve.

To this end, Niniay—as people fondly call her—uses education to encourage the youth to participate in political discourses, policy-making and peace talks. She believes that having empowered youths who understand and care for their community is the foundation of a progressive and peaceful society.

“Iba ang power ng kabataan kapag nagsimula na silang mag-move forward sa gusto nilang makita.”

Niniay is a licensed elementary school teacher who currently works as the Local Youth Development Officer (LYDO) in the local government unit of Maguing, Lanao del Sur. She is also the President of the First Ranaw Youth Parliament (RYP), the President of Kabataan Kontra Droga and Terorismo (KKDAT), and the President and Co-Founder of Movement of Progressive Youth Leaders (MPYL). Apart from all these, she is also involved in other organizations, initiatives and speaking engagements, mostly focused on women and youth empowerment.

WHERE IT ALL STARTED

With so much pride, Niniay shared that her belief in positive activism stemmed from the influence of her family. Unlike many parents who would discourage their children from being politically engaged, her parents—especially her father—consistently urged her to become socially and politically aware. For instance, it was her father who encouraged her to understand what the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is and how it affects their community. At a young age, her father ingrained in her the belief that actively participating in policy-making and government activities is an important part of peace.

Apart from her parents, her alma mater also emphasized the importance of knowledge, service and integrity. Her school and religious mentors would always remind her that, as Muslims, volunteerism should be an integral part of their lives. Their profession should be used not just for personal gains but also to serve their community.

As early as high school, Niniay was already active in conflict resolutions and other extracurricular activities. These involvements shaped her leadership style and made her more aware of social issues. It was also in high school when Niniay utilized a free area in one of their town’s schools to provide literacy lessons to her less-privileged neighbors. As an aspiring teacher, she used her passion to teach literacy to illegal settlers, out of school youths and even elders within the community. In retrospect, she considers this as her first volunteer experience, although at that time, she had no idea that she was already doing volunteer work.   

With hard work and outpouring support of those around her, Niniay eventually achieved her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Initially, she was working as a teacher in a private school but the Marawi siege became an important turning point for her. In 2017, her hometown became the battleground of the fight between ISIS-inspired Maute Group and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This experience made her want to focus her efforts on advocacy works—to use education to empower the youth in upholding peace and justice.

Getting emotional as she talks about martial law and the Marawi siege impact on mothers and children.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW

Below are some of Niniay’s recent involvements that showcase her dedication towards youth empowerment.

  • Local Youth Development Officer (LYDO), LGU Maguing

When Niniay started working in Maguing, she introduced different youth empowerment programs in this remote area in Lanao del Sur. As LYDO, she launched the first celebration of the International Youth Day and the Linggo ng Kabataan with over 300 youth participants. Other initiatives include introducing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to the community, encouraging the youth to participate in current events and conducting peace-building workshops. Her ultimate goal as LYDO is to inspire the youth to be active participants in community development by establishing trust between the people and the government.  

  • President, Kabataan Kontra Droga at Terorismo (KKDAT)

KKDAT is a project of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that aims to deter youths from violent extremism and drug abuse. Being a teacher by profession, Niniay’s most memorable contribution to this initiative was in improving the peace education curriculum, by making it more humane and culturally sensitive. She visited 39 different municipalities to talk about the ill-effects of terrorism and drugs especially on youth. More recently, the KKDAT Summit has expanded their audience to include parents, recognizing the active participation of guardians in shaping the mindset of youths.

  • Speaker & President, First Ranaw Youth Parliament (RYP)

On March 2020, the RYP was created as an avenue for the youth to provide policy recommendations and solutions to urgent local issues. The parliament is now on its third batch, with Niniay being part of the pioneer batch in 2020. During her time, Niniay was involved in drafting the Ranaw Youth Code, Children’s Code and God Code of Lanao del Sur. She also helped lobby for resolutions to help students who had no access to basic necessities during the pandemic. The goal of this initiative is to institutionalize the love for policy-making and to ensure that the local government will hear the battle cry of the youth.   

  • President & Co-Founder, Movement for Progressive Youth Leaders

MPYL is a socio-political organization that aims to develop second line leaders who embody the values of a servant leader. The goal is to instill the idea that leaders—especially those in the government—should be held to the highest standards. The organization focuses on personality and professional development projects. Their projects include educating young people on human rights, culture and politics. Niniay believes that a truly sustainable change is one where aspiring leaders uphold the values of a servant leader, and where citizens know how to elect leaders who embody such values.


“With the transformative leadership of Board Member Jeff Adiong, we created MPYL for the young people to be enlightened and encouraged na kailangan natin na ang leader na nilalagay natin diyan ay marunong, may qualification, may platform, may plano, may agenda. We have to inculcate in them na bigyan natin ng standard ang pag-elect ng mga leaders.”


WHERE WILL THEY GO FROM HERE

Niniay intends to continue working for LGU Maguing as a youth development officer, taking advantage of limited face-to-face activities to continue empowering the youth.  

Admittedly, Niniay sometimes find it challenging to make a difference in a relatively conservative culture where parents sometimes become hindrance to their children’s empowerment. However, as community restrictions lessen, she hopes for more direct and personal dialogues even with guardians and parents. This way, they could be part of their children’s transformation, just as her parents were a huge part of her character formation.

Apart from all her involvement in youth empowerment, Niniay also has a personal project which she calls “Beautiful Souls”. It’s a charity project during Ramadhan that organizes donation drives and visits to orphans, persons-with-disability (PWDs) and other less-privileged people. She intends to continue with this project which has been going on for four years now. 

NINIAY AS A VOLUNTEER CHAMPION

Without a doubt, Niniay is a volunteer champion whose passion for youth empowerment hurdled major disturbances such as the Marawi siege and the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing the impact she creates—however small they seem, at first—inspires her to keep pushing on.

In all that she is doing, Niniay fervently hopes that more young people will have a change in mindset. The youth can truly be the catalyst for a positive social transformation. But the change has to come internally, as each person cultivates a mindset geared towards empowerment and sincerity. As a proud youth leader, Niniay will continue to be at the forefront of helping the youth develop that mindset.  


“For me, to believe is to see…Kailangan lang talaga natin maniwala na kaya natin ‘to. May power tayo to contribute kasi we’re achieving meaningful participation.” Niniay Mohammad, 2022


Written by: Lorraine Rañoa, iVolunteer Philippines

Photos from: Niniay Mohammad, MPYL

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