Cotabato youth leader sparks hope in her community

Vacation from school year 2021-2022 has just begun, but a youth leader from Cotabato City commits herself to promote the importance of education to children in her hometown amidst the challenges of quality education and learning continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Somaiya “Maya” Padilla stands in front of the White House during a trip when she participated in the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP) funded by the United States Department of State in collaboration with Northern Illinois University United States of America from May 23 to June 17, 2022.

Somaiya “Maya” Padilla founder and president of ADHIKA or Association of Daring and Hospitable Individuals of Kutawato for the Poverty Affected sector of society, a youth organization that aims to harness a community of young individuals in pursuit of transformative change in Cotabato, will start teaching street children literacy skills. 

“I used to believe that I could only generate change whenever I’m already a professional, but I came to realize that as early and as young as now, I could impact my community in a beneficial way through starting the initiative even in small steps and taking up leadership roles,” said Maya.

An incoming Grade 12 student at the Philippine Science High School – SOCCKSARGEN Region Campus, Maya hopes to address Sustainable Development Goals 4 – Quality Education and 10 – Reduced Inequalities through Project Hope: “Kinabukasan para sa Batang Lansangan”.

“We are currently crafting the modules and relevant content to teach the 40 street children. We will conduct the sessions in a public school in Cotabato in a 2-day program,” Maya said.

According to Maya, her passion remains consistent because her organization’s steps and directions are guided with concrete purpose of why they are doing service to the community and by beginning at grassroots levels and making change with her fellow youth.

Project HOPE is an immersion program that aims to equip the street children of Cotabato City with knowledge of basic literacy skills centralized on major components of reading, writing, speaking. It also targets to help young children become agents of change and justice in society through knowledge on children’s rights.

“One of the biggest struggles is highlighting the essence of doing community service and helping others understand the value of these movements. Making others understand the severity of the situation such as the pertinence of poverty and getting them to empathize and join the advocacy is one of the biggest challenges in carrying out these kinds of initiatives,” said Maya. 

Members of ADHIKA collaborate to pack and distribute food in Cotabato 
to help the needy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2021, ADHIKA has reached out to communities in Cotabato through outreach activities, orphanage visits, tree-planting, clean-up drives, and donating to marginalized communities.

“The sense of helplessness I feel whenever I witness the situation of poverty in my community and the inability to access education for the street children is a fuel for me to keep pursuing my advocacy and to take action regarding these critical issues,” said Maya when asked what motivates her to pursue her advocacy.


According to Maya, the US State Department is a partial sponsor of the community project implementation, and members of ADHIKA have volunteered to help implement Project Hope.

“However, the funding is insufficient because the needs to support projects like ours is quite big, so we solicit from Members of the Parliament in BARMM,” said Maya.

For its sustainability aspect, the long-term plan for Project HOPE is to lobby a proposal to the Sangguniang Kabataan of different Barangays for them to adopt the program and make the implementation continuous in their respective areas. 

Additionally, through the beginning of this initiative, a collaboration will be done with the local government along with the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE) in the BARMM region in order for them to recognize the essence of street children literacy and find ways to provide scholarships for them.

Youth leadership

Maya participated in the Philippine Youth Leadership Program (PYLP) funded by the United States Department of State in collaboration with Northern Illinois University United States of America from May 23 to June 17, 2022. Student leaders from diverse communities around the island of Mindanao, specifically from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) underwent a screening process to be able to participate.

“Other PYLP participants came from varying areas of Mindanao to represent minorities and their various communities such as Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Lanao Del Sur, among others. I am the only representative coming from Cotabato City,” said Maya.

As a youth leader and participant in the PYLP, she is expected to implement a self-led project that promotes some aspect of community development in her region that will be sponsored by the US State Department.

Maya poses for a photo with Consul General Iric C. Arribas of the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. 
during the courtesy visit of PYPL delegates.
PYLP participants had a mini-conference on US Alumni Exchange Students and had a cultural dance presentation. 
The officers of the Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs had a discussion on global issues, 
including peace promotion and international relations at US State Department. 

The PYLP is a leadership development exchange program that offers Philippine secondary students ages 15-17 years old and adult mentors a one-month training in the United States. It is a youth exchange program that aims to empower young people and establish long-lasting ties between the Philippines and the U.S. This year’s theme is about “Engaging Young Advocates in Environmental Preservation, Peacebuilding and Asset Based Community Development.

“The overarching vision of the PYLP program is to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, leadership abilities, and confidence so that they can engage the world around them more deeply, and have impact that reverberates far beyond the four-weeks in the United States,” Maya said.

More specifically, PYLP envisions to prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens and contributing members of their communities; empower participants to be actively engaged in addressing issues of concern in their schools and communities upon their return home; build mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect through shared culture and values; and foster relationships among youth from different ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups.  


“One of my most prominent realization is the importance of courageous youth leaders who will step up and take the initiative to spark social changes in their community. However, it takes a lot of setbacks and sacrifices for us to realize that we all have our own capabilities to contribute something efficient in our society,” said Maya when asked about the lessons she learned from PYLP.

As a youth leader, Maya feels challenged to be proactive enough in order to unite the people through a mission that will benefit not just them, but also the marginalized and the less fortunate than those of us who are already attaining certain privileges that are inaccessible for others. 

“It is now our job to be a bridge of ease for those who are deprived of it,” Maya said.

Maya revealed that the duration of the program has been a chapter of epiphany for her to realize that it is her prime responsibility to be a philanthropist of her community.

“When we are able to reach that point of discovery within ourselves, we will be able to feel more empowered, and it will be our job to uplift others as well, Maya said.

All Photos are courtesy of Somaiya “Maya” Padilla.

About the Author

Aries Oliveros  currently works as executive assistant to the Executive Director of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) System. He taught English and Literature for 15 years at Paco Catholic School, Philippine Normal University (PNU), and PSHS – Central Luzon Campus. He wrote textbooks on grammar and creative nonfiction. He was formerly Chief of the Curriculum and Instruction Division at PSHS-CLC and adviser of the school papers, The PCS Gazette and The Central Scholar.

He studied Bachelor of Secondary Education, Major in English at PNU, Manila where he graduated cum laude. In 2015, the Department of Education awarded him as Outstanding School Publication Adviser of the Philippines during the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) in Taguig City.


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