Interview by Anika Mukker
For our first ever interview we have the amazing Dani Antonio from the Philippines! Dani is a student at UC Davis passionate about education, social justice, and gender equality. She serves as the chief executive officer of Landas PH, the visionary director of AKO, and the community engagement intern at She’s the First while being involved in musical theater and performance.
Landas PH is a youth organization based in the Philippines that focuses on quality education and Filipino youth in poverty. with the core mission of paving new paths for Filipino youth in poverty through education. As Dani says, “education is something that should be a right to everyone, but it has become more of a privilege. At Landas, we work to work let fo of that privilege.”
AKO is also a youth led organization based in the Philippines, working on children’s welfare (in terms of education) and social justice. AKO’s mission is to “provide partners with sustainable resources and to create a community invested in social change.”
She’s the First is an international non profit that strives for a world in which every girl is educated, respected, and heard. In addition to an extensive campus network, they collaborate with community based organizations around the world, taking a holistic approach to gender equality and centering girls’ voices in all of their programming.
With your involvement in service and your community, what drove you to take the steps you have taken to give back?
With Landas, I was part of a delegation at my school that went to Fiji over the summer for a service program. After that experience, we were like “let’s start an organization.” At first, our mission was to help our partner back in Fiji. As our organization was growing, we thought, “why are we reaching so far out when our own country is in need of help too.” We slowly started restructuring our organization to focus more on the Philippines. Looking back, it was a big thing that drove us to start the organization, but because of my school and how involved in social action I was, I had a drive in the first place to help people. Fiji just got me to step up and go the extra mile.
You focus a lot on the impact these organizations (AKO and Landas) have on your local community. Is there a reason behind that?
Both of the organizations were established when I was in high school, and, at the beginning, it was hard. We were a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds starting these projects, but, since then they’ve grown so much, which is exciting. It’s still so important for me to share the impact.
We are actually trying to help people.
What’s hard about being a young person while doing these things is that older generations and adults question why you’re doing it. They’ll ask you why — why you care. But we do care; we just want to help. That’s why we put a lot of effort into showing the impact and where it’s going.
Is there anything the pandemic has changed about what you’re doing as well as how you’re doing it?
For sure! The online setting changes everything. I’m the type of leader who wants to connect with people personally. When doing a fundraiser or outreach program, I want to go to the event and see the people, and actually talk to them. But, we can’t. We literally can’t. It has also changed the dynamic of internal organization systems. Actually planning projects can’t happen in person either. Like with care packages: who’s going to pack the care packages? Only one or two people can. So, we have to sort out those logistics.
Another thing is that a lot more people need support now. For one, it’s because of the pandemic and its impact on health. But it is also because of how the pandemic has impacted education, the economy, everything. With Landas, what we tried to do with our fundraisers last year was to partner with online and local businesses in the Philippines to help our community while promoting these local businesses and entrepreneurs. That has been a big thing with us. Thinking of innovative ways for people to engage has also been a big part of our strategy.
How did you find She’s the First and why did you want to get involved?
I’m involved with musical theater, and I had been following Erika Henningson, a broadway actress, for a long time. After the pandemic began, She’s the First launched its Covid-19 response initiatives, which came up on my Instagram feed. So, I followed their Instagram, donated, and then Erika became my vocal coach! She said to check the organization out, and I became an Action Group Leader for their Week of Action. The conclusion of that week was to find a way to move forward and take action to support girls’ rights. I pitched an idea for a Q&A with Erika. Participants would buy tickets, with the proceeds going towards She’s the First. The fundraiser was approved, and Erika said yes. We were able to raise around $600 to $700 through tickets, which is crazy. I became involved with She’s the First through an ambassador, and now, as the Community Engagement Intern, I work directly with the ambassadors.
What about She’s the First stuck out to you?
I think how they started — how Tammy (one of the co-founders) posted about girls’ education on her social media and Christen just replied “Ok, let’s start something.” That was so inspiring because you don’t think about how your actions leave an impact.
I also love how they’re based in New York but work with community based organizations in 11 different countries. They reach out to communities people say are “out of reach.” To She’s the First, it’s just bridging that gap.
The misconception about women’s rights and feminism is that we’re speaking for the girls — that we’re leading them but not lifting them up with us. With She’s the First, the idea is that, as leaders, we aren’t at the front of the pack. We are at the back, behind the group or with it, leading by lifting up girls as we rise ourselves.
Since you are so involved with music, theater, and performing, what role do you think art plays in advocacy and advocacy plays in art? What do you think about that intersection?
Especially with Erika, actors and actresses take so much of the story they’re telling into their real lives, and they use that to make an impact. That’s what I admire about artists. They tell stories, through song, dance, writing, or painting, through their art. Whether that story is promoting representation or shedding light on a certain issue or spreading awareness about a topic, they will inspire at least one person. And inspiring one person is one enough. I admire artists for having a purpose for their work, working to inspire other people and telling their stories especially if they’re underrepresented in their communities.
For instance, there’s this one organization called Broadway for Racial Justice, a group of Broadway actors, actresses, directors, and casting directors, who are making a difference in addressing racial injustice in the Broadway community and racial injustice overall.
If there are girls who want to make a change but they don’t know how, do you have any advice, something you would say, something they should do?
Something concrete is to join She’s the First. In terms of internally, I would say that you’re never too young to speak up, but you’re also never too old to educate yourself. I think one of the reasons a lot of people are afraid to step up and speak up is because they doubt their capabilities as a young person. Or they believe in themselves and are doubted by the people around them. Doubt yourself and ask yourself if you’re ready, but assure yourself that you are.
I always say it only takes one person. You don’t have to gather 1000 young girls pushing for change at one time. That would be amazing, but you really just need to be that one person. If you can be that one person to go “I believe in this. You believe in this. We believe in the same thing, so let’s do something about it,” you can create the spark that makes others to want to step up.
And you don’t have to go so big so fast. Even a baby step is still a step. Even a setback, a step back, is still a step. So, no matter what you do, if you’re doing something and you know that your purpose and intention is genuine, then that’s enough. I have nothing else to say. That in itself is enough.
Connect with Dani!
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