Be a sailor first: “My generation will create the change our Mindanao needs”

When 20-year old Dana Dawn Ceniza Uy was in third grade, she saw a MILO Little Olympics banner hanging from the facade of a building in her hometown of Ozamiz City in northwestern Mindanao. Depicted on it were two taekwondo athletes in fighting stance preparing to engage. Captivated by this image, she rushed home to beg her mom to try this sport, unbeknown to her before. Her wish was granted, although for a one-month trial period only.

One month turned into a year, and that year eventually turned into more than a decade. With over ten years of taekwondo under her black belt, Dana speaks proudly about ‘her’ Ozamiz Red Dragons, in particular about her instructor.

“My coach, Sir Harold Buscaino, is the ‘Father of Taekwondo’ as far as I’m concerned. He motivates me to train hard because he sees a bright future for me in taekwondo.”

Feeling free

Although she is in fact contemplating a future in sports, Dana doesn’t want to waste her degree in Information Technology from La Salle University either. “I don’t really know yet what I want to be. Maybe a successful programmer or graphic artist, or a well-known taekwondo instructor, or maybe both. The only thing I know for sure, is that no matter what, I want to stay active in sports.”

Dana Dawn Ceniza Uy of Ozamiz City believes that competing in sports “actually brings us closer together as a community. Not only that, it helps build bridges between all regions in Mindanao.” Photo from Dana’s FB page

To the young student-athlete, “sports is like another world where I can escape to.” And in that world, Dana feels like a different person. “When I’m out on the taekwondo mat all thoughts and worries disappear. What’s left, is the feeling of being free, of feeling happy doing what I love to do.”

Good place to live

Having found her passion, Dana considers it a moral obligation to apply the skills and life lessons her sport taught her to being a leader in her hometown. “I train young kids in taekwondo, teach them about discipline and respect. In that way, I hope to make a small contribution to developing great ambassadors for my region. Because to this day, there are people who think Ozamiz City is a dangerous place where drug crime and killings are rampant. The problem is that they don’t see us. To those people I say Ozamiz is beautiful and it’s safe.”

Sports is one of the ways Dana thinks Ozamiz can showcase that it’s a good place to live. “Competing in sports actually brings us closer together as a community. Not only that, it helps build bridges between all regions in Mindanao. We share so much history, and even though times are sometimes hard, we hold on to the Filipino way of being hospitable. People here are amazing, talented, and friendly. This is our Mindanao.”

Peace through sports

The young student-athlete is well aware that fostering mutual understanding in Mindanao requires more than just sports. Without education, any dialogue will be hollow. That’s why Dana puts being a student first.

“Education gives us tools to express our thoughts and ideas and connect in that way. It teaches us problem-solving skills, how to think out of the box. And because we’re not mired in the past like some of the older generation, I believe my generation has the ability to use those skills to create positive change.”

Dana Dawn Ceniza Uy of Ozamiz City at the Mindanao Leadership Summit for Athletes in Butuan City. Photo from Dana’s FB page

Late July this year, Dana had the opportunity to meet, discuss and build relationships with like-minded people from that generation. At the three-day Mindanao Leadership Summit for Athletes in Butuan City, over forty student-athletes from all six regions of Mindanao gathered to develop leadership skills and formulate plans to, through sports, create peace and unity on their island. It left Dana feeling inspired and even more determined to be a leader in her community.

“Yes, I consider myself a leader, because young people should be the ones stepping up and accepting the challenge to make changes that benefit everyone. We are the sailors, but it takes being a sailor first to qualify for captain to determine the course. That time is coming soon.”

[Together with over 40 other women student-athletes from 12 colleges and universities from allsix regions of Mindanao, Dana participated in the second annual Mindanao Leadership Summit forAthletes (MLSA) in Butuan City (July 26-28).

The MLSA is part of the Mindanao Peace Games (MPG), a joint initiative of colleges and universities

from all over Mindanao that aims to develop empowered women who will be inspiring and transformational leaders in initiating better and peaceful communities in Mindanao.

For more information contact the Convener of the Mindanao Peace Games, Mr. Noli Ayo. You canfollow MPG on Twitter (@MPG2018) and Instagram (mindanao_peace_games).

The author, Patrick van Wersch, 32, is a Dutch writer and journalist from the Hague, the Netherlands. Based in Davao City, Patrick writes stories featuring young Mindanaons. In these stories, they share their passions, hopes and challenges as they shape the future of their Mindanao. Other topics Patrick covers in his writing include peace and development, sports, and culture and society. Patrick holds an MA Degree in Journalism from VU University, Amsterdam and a BA in European Studies from Maastricht University. Visit his website at]