Volunteer Champion: Empowering The Youth with Mirus Ponon, Youth Advocates for the Philippines’ Founder

Since 2020, iVolunteer has been recognizing Volunteer Champions who exemplify the organization’s core values: Integrity, Professionalism, Inclusivity, Nationalism, and Change Leadership. These volunteer champions are reminders that even in the worst of circumstances, there is always a reason to be positive. 

The 2020 iVolunteer Volunteer Champion for Change Leadership is Emmanuel Mirus Ponon, a 21-year-old youth leader with a degree in Development Studies. Mirus’ goal is to use his voice to improve lives and forge a more just society for everyone. Volunteers who Champion Change Leadership are those who inspire people with their vision and passion. They empower and influence others to build a robust platform for change. 

Mirus is the founder and chairperson of the Youth Advocates for the Philippines (YAP). This organization was established in 2019 with the goal of opening the door for young people to engage in socio-civic activities through advocacy-based projects and programs. YAP hopes to instill a passion for service and a sense of initiative in future youth leaders. To achieve their goal, they push for the development of action-oriented solutions through various outreach projects that address current needs. 

Following the success of YAP, Mirus established the ASEAN Youth Advocates Network (AYAN) in 2020 with the goal of providing more opportunities for the youth by involving them in ASEAN socio-civic matters. By 2021, Mirus established the Global Youth Advocates Network (GYAN), a youth-led non-profit organization with active volunteers across the world. Their goal is to promote volunteerism as a lifestyle and develop solutions to global issues that hamper sustainable development across the world.

In 2020, AYAN led a two-week conference educating the youth about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and assisting Filipino families affected by Typhoon Ulysses. YAP, AYAN, and GYAN bagged the CSR National Youth Award from the Benita & Catalina Yap Foundation, Deloitte Philippines, and the Management Association of the Philippines. 

Mirus started volunteering at the age of 9. He had two very intriguing motivations that led him to start his journey as a volunteer leader.

First, he grew up in an environment surrounded by poverty. He lived in an area with a lot of illegal settlers and frequent fire accidents. Helping his neighbors by providing basic necessities became a way of life for him. It was also something that his parents ingrained in him since childhood. They taught him to always help even if they don’t necessarily have so much to offer.

Second, he was motivated to volunteer because he wanted leadership opportunities. He knew he was a born leader but he didn’t have the opportunity to lead in school. When he was 10, he decided to use his leadership skills to organize a Christmas Drive for children with the help of his family. Being a follower for 10 years, even when he wanted to be a leader, motivated him to inspire the youth to use volunteerism to develop the leaders in them. 

Mirus was named one of the We Are Family Foundation’s 40 under 20 Global Teen Leaders of 2021, co-founded and chaired by Grammy Award Winning Artist Nile Rodgers. De La Salle University’s Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader and Outstanding Student Leader in Social Engagement for 2021, a Common Purpose 25 under 25 Legacy Awardee, a We Are Family Foundation Global Teen Leaders in 2021 honoree, the youngest Young Global Changemakers Awardee, the Jose Rizal Outstanding Model Student of the Philippines, one of the ten Outstanding Scholars of the Philippines, and the Philippine Government’s Youth Service Awardee in 2021. 

Since YAP was only established in 2019, they were a young organization when the pandemic hit. Like everyone else, it threw them off course. But despite their challenges, Mirus still decided to continue empowering the youth.  When they went digital in response to the pandemic restrictions, their social media platform reached 100,000 likes in a month and immediately attracted more than 60,000 advocates who wanted to join their organization. 

Given how the pandemic affected them, Mirus believes that there is always something positive amidst difficulties. The pandemic did not deter him; instead, it served as a watershed moment in the organization, allowing it to become stable and to scale to ASEAN and Global reach. 

Mirus envisions to inspire more and more young people to become leaders. He plans to establish chapters in universities, communities, and schools. He is determined to use his leadership skills and his platform to empower the youth to take the same journey as he did. 

As a Volunteer Champion, Mirus showed us how passionate he is for youth empowerment despite the challenges he faced when he was starting. He didn’t allow the pandemic to stop him, instead, he saw it as an opportunity to expand. 

Mirus hopes that his story will encourage more people to volunteer. He wants to tell the youth that before they can become leaders, they have to start first as volunteers. He emphasizes on the idea that volunteering exposes people to what true service is, and what it means to do something bigger than ourselves. For him, volunteering is the foundation of leadership.

Written by: Ayanna Plaza, iVolunteer Philippines

Photos from: Mirus PinonYouth Advocates for the Philippines

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