Make Your Voice Count

Perseverance amidst COVID-19: IGNITE! Grantees Supporting Local LGBTIQ Communities

By YVC Secretariat – Friday, July 23, 2020

Despite COVID-19 and the lockdown measures, the first round grantees of our IGNITE! Empowerment Grants programme supported by COC Nederlands did not let the pandemic stop them from implementing their projects for LGBTIQ adolescents and youth in the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. The grantees were asked to revise their project, as needed, to adapt to the current situation in their localities and countries with the on-going pandemic. 

The process was a learning opportunity for both Youth Voices Count (YVC) and partners to adapt to the changing times. Many of the grantees utilized the opportunity to support local communities in coping with COVID-19. Most importantly, health and safety measures were applied to all implementation activities to protect the partners and participants. 

This week, we check in on the five grantees of our IGNITE! Empowerment Grants program, featuring some of the work they have done since April 2020. 

After successfully doing their online campaigns for IDAHOT 2020, here’s what Équité Sri Lanka has to say about their ongoing work with Youth Voices Count:

“IGNITE Empowerment Grant helped Equite Sri Lanka in two ways. Firstly, this grant helps [us] collect information on Stigma and Discrimination faced by the LGBTIQ community, which leads us to policy development and future advocacy plans. Secondly, through this grant we helped 14 LGBTIQ community persons who faced financial difficulties during the lockdown period. We helped those community members by providing essential grocery items and parcels. We believe this could be small contributions, but [they are] really valuable considering the time and difficulties that LGBTIQ community people facing right now.”

The next team we featured was UniGEN – Leave No One Behind from Vietnam.

Launching their website alongside implementing awareness activities for their fellow queer youth, UniGEN continues its projects under the IGNITE! Empowerment Grants program amidst the pandemic situation.

“As a grassroots organization in Vietnam, we appreciate having this privileged opportunity to create a safe space for the queer youth community. This space aims to accompany and support them to reflect on their values to promote the love of self, inclusion, & tolerance.

Besides, to UniGEN, the IGNITE! Empowerment Grant has indeed empowered the young and marginalized communities. This project has brought [together] individuals of unrepresented communities [and] let them work together with the hope of bringing [better self-love] for all queer youth in Vietnam.”

The IGNITE! Empowerment Grants programme also supported the work of Ya_All from India.

Despite lockdown and quarantine measures, our grantees continue to find ways. Ya_All provides comprehensive sexuality education and awareness and services on SRHR, mental health and well being of the young population through available platforms alongside online psychosocial support and telecounseling services.

“In the last two months, the project has been able to reach 200 young populations from the LGBTQ communities and provided [them] with hygiene kit support. Psychosocial support has also been provided through tele-counselling services.

We have been able to conduct case studies for 22 youths from LGBTQ communities. Their common issues and challenges regarding their gender, sexual orientation, health and livelihood were documented to better understand their realities [to help us] provide support better.

Struggles of the youth in LGBTQ communities are intersected at many points. There is often lack of family support, cases of HIV, discrimination from society, non-gender-inclusive infrastructures (toilets) and rules of schools (strict school uniform) and colleges that not only cause immense discomfort but also [are] a huge hindrance in their mental wellbeing and education. This eventually limits their skills and knowledge to engage in various ranges of livelihood activities. During the lockdown, their small businesses like beauty salons had to stop running, [resulting] in financial instability.”

Inclusive Bangladesh was our fourth IGNITE! Empowerment Grants organization to be featured.

The employability skill development book by Inclusive Bangladesh is in the works and their organization hopes to deliver these soon to LGBTIQ individuals to provide them technical support on finance.

“Beyond the potential health issue, COVID-19 became an overwhelming threat to our societies, economy and people of diverse gender which needs to be acknowledged and with this acknowledgement we amplify the stories of rural Bangladeshi LGBTIQ+ who have lost their parents, siblings, scope of education and only ways of livelihood. In these circumstances, Inclusive Bangladesh was glad to promptly initiate its dynamic employment skill development project with the Ignite Empowerment Grant to make sure that those affected LGBTIQ+ people can survive this pandemic by getting an initial earning source through obtaining technical and financial support and make the community stronger.”

Last but not the least of our IGNITE! Empowerment Grantees, Bahaghari Center from Philippines started with their campaign #CantStopPride that discussed the fight for LGBTIQ rights amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.Their next activity will be to develop brochures on localized SOGIESC and LGBTQ terminologies.

“It is understandable that the whole world’s focus shifted to Covid-19 when the pandemic hit us all. But as we are now establishing a “new normal”, we are seeing that many of the intersectional issues have been neglected; and part of this is the promotion of LGBTQIA human rights, whose situations were already bad but in many instances, were worsened by Covid-19. For us, by recognizing that Covid-19 is but one facet of a much bigger concern regarding access to services, IGNITE! has been helpful to us as we continue to reach a sector that remains underserved.

We know that there are LGBTQIA couples not given the same benefits as heterosexual couples because their relationships are not legally recognized. And there are LGBTQIA youths who experience abuses at home as they are forced to stay there because of the lockdowns. Many LGBTQIA people working in informal sectors lost their means of living. These are but some of the people who need help with or without Covid-19; and when funds are made available to service them, then at least somehow, we reach them in a time of dire need.”

All this and more information can be found on our Facebook page and the official Youth Voices Count website. Over the next few months, they will continue their project implementation under the auspices of the Youth Voices Count regional secretariat. To learn more about our IGNITE! Empowerment Grants programme, you can contact YVC via email at

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Board Member

Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.


Graphic Designer

Currently, Nico is a college student studying in the Philippines and is simultaneously working for Youth Voices Count as one of the graphic designers for the organization. He lists producing the brand logo and look of HRPlus Asia as one of his significant achievements. His interests in literature and creating films have also honed and continued to improve his skills in graphic designing.


Social Media Officer

Jan Ella is currently taking up her undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas and has been a consistent academic awardee since 2019. She is involved in various organizations such as the Catalyst UPV as the Volunteer Director in 2021, former Publications Committee Head for UP Lipad and former member of Iloilo Pride Team.


Project Finance Officer

Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.


Accounting Associate

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.


Legal Counsel

She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.


Admin Officer

An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.


Project Officer

Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.


Marshall Islands
He/Him, They/Them
Project Officer for IGNITE! Empowerment Grants Program

Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.


Sri Lanka
Project Manager

Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.


Finance Manager

Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.


He/Him, They/Them
Deputy Executive Director

Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.


Executive Director

A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.