Make Your Voice Count

Bringing to the Forefront the Voices of Youth from the Marshall Islands: Anfernee Nenol Kaminaga, The Marshall Islands

By Tharindi Devasurendra – Monday, November 30, 2020

Anfernee Nenol Kaminaga, best known as Nenol, from the Marshall Islands (indigenously known as Aelōñ Kein Ad, Jolet jen Anij, and Lolelaplap) is 25 years old and identifies as a pansexual, genderqueer male. Nenol has lived most of his young life in Maine, USA but he has moved back to his home country a couple of years ago. Since he came back, he has struggled to reconnect or “re-root” back into his culture (manit) mainly because of his lack of knowledge of his own culture while living in Maine. He has been somewhat perceived as a radical and outspoken person because he is very vocal and expressive about his views on social issues and human rights. But recently, he has been able to speak on issues regarding human rights in the Marshall Islands and have been able to make positive changes in perspectives and behaviors within his community.

He co-created and led an LGBTIQ youth focused project, called “Brighten the Rainbow”, in the Marshall Islands which is known to be the first openly LGBTIQ initiative. He has been able to represent his country as a UNESCO Youth Ambassador for a UNESCO Youth Summit for Sustainability and as a youth representative of RMI (the Republic of the Marshall islands) for the 1st UN Youth Climate Action Summit. He has had the opportunity of creating young climate leaders while he was working with the International Organization for Migration as well as working on the ‘Do Better’ project showcasing resiliency in the eyes of the youth. Nenol’s work is intersectional, creating solutions and involving other young people in various initiatives to address social issues.

As a climate justice activist, as well, Nenol has written this poem entitled “This Land I call Mama” as an interpretation on climate change in his home, Majuro, Marshall Islands

Presently, Nenol works with the “Youth to Youth in Health” organization (Jodrikdrik nan Jodrikdrik ilo Ejmour), a youth organization which strives to support adolescents by aiming to educate, empower, and guide them to a healthy and safe lifestyle. Some of their programs include a teen pregnancy prevention project and educational initiatives on the prevention of HIV and other STIs.

They also engage with students on Teen Pregnancy Prevention and provide them with some “giveaways”

As waves of people around the globe are testing positive of COVID-19 and many countries are facing an economic and health crisis, Nenol has been working with his organization during this period to provide immediate support to affected communities. Some of the things that they have been working on include securing grants for projects on teen pregnancy prevention and awareness around substance abuse, as these are rising issues in the Marshall Islands. They are also working on other projects with the Ministry of Health of the Marshall Islands to raise awareness and create dialogues on STI/HIV prevention and sexual reproductive awareness. They are also working on a joint project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the National Disaster Management Office of the Marshall Islands to disseminate media and awareness for COVID-19 prevention and protocols.

This is an example of infographics created by Youth to Youth in Health on how to stay safe when spending time with friends outside

Nenol explained that the Marshall Islands had been doing considerably well with regards to their COVID-19 cases. He gives credit to the National Disaster Management Office for taking such swift action and being able to communicate to the public the status of the country. He also commends the closing of the borders preventing entry into the islands of foreigners and non-residents keeping the outbreak at bay. He applauds the public for complying to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, as the public has conformed to the prevention protocol.

Nenol approaches fundraising for his projects in a very intersectional way as he ensures that inclusive programs are implemented and addresses various issues across the board. Their work integrates the spirit of equality and authentic representation by bringing the less privileged and often neglected communities to the forefront of advocacy work and decision making spaces. The work they are doing has impacted the opinions and perceptions of young people about the experiences and lived realities faced by key populations, especially LGBTIQ communities. In his community, youth are seen as too young to be involved in decision making but regardless of several limitations, the youth have stepped up. Nenol and his colleagues are a testament to the growing youth leadership and collective effort in the Marshall Islands. Through this leadership, they were able to organize the first national dialogue which led to a youth declaration demanding a youth seat at the ministerial level of their national government.

Youth to Youth in Health also does some online quizzes on basic HIV and AIDS knowledge with winners being given prizes

The Marshall Islands and the key populations living there, including the LGBTIQ community, are facing the same limitations in accessing sexual health care brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic prevention and quarantine measures. Understanding the pre-existing stigma faced by key populations and LGBTIQ communities, Nenol’s organization is mindful that communities are reluctant to access sexual healthcare due to exposure to COVID-19, risk to their privacy, and discrimination in the healthcare facility. To mitigate these identified issues and to curb additional cases of discrimination, they involved medical professionals to provide safe and confidential testing for HIV and other sexual health related issues.

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JAN GABRIEL CASTAÑEDA

Philippines
He/Him
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.

PATRICK JUANICO

Philippines
He/Them
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.

JAN ELLA BRILLANTES

Philippines
She/They
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.

JE-ANN PALMAIRA

Philippines
She/Her
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.

MARION REA CAMEROS

Philippines
She/Her
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.

ATTY. RONIFELLE L. BARRIOS

Philippines
She/Her
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.

LOUELA MARIE PRADO

Philippines
He/She/They
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.

RONAN JAMES B. PENUELA, RN

Philippines
He/Him
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.

ANFERNEE NENOL KAMINAGA

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.

THARINDI DEVASURENDRA

Sri Lanka
They/Them
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.

JOHNMEL ESTIMAR

Philippines
They/Them
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.

ANTHONY DE VICENTE LOPEZ

Philippines
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.

JUSTIN FRANCIS BIONAT, MA HRD

Philippines
He/His/Him
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.