This time of the year is probably the most exhilarating period in a student’s life. All those long nights of burning the midnight oil to complete one’s thesis alongside gazillion of long exams to study for are finally over. After all, it is graduation season in the Philippines once again.

Looking back on my own student life, eons ago, I remember joining a demonstration to oppose the Student Organization Guidelines and Regulations. This set of rules was rolled out without prior consultation with the student body and gave less priority to non-academic-related activities and organizations. The demonstration eventually turned into dialogues and negotiations with the Office of the Dean of Students. The details of which admittedly are mostly already a blur. What stuck to me from that experience though was the power of our collective voice.

Students from various groups and organizations joined that demonstration but we were able to work together towards the directions we needed to go. For us to develop into well-rounded individuals, we needed a higher learning that organically happens within the four-corners of the classroom and beyond. Since the university could not deliver such, the students took on the ownership to demand for the higher learning they desired to participate in. Result of which was the eventual revision to a more balanced guidelines that encourage student participation in organizations and activities of his or her choice, apart from the academic requirements, of course.

Similar theme then from way back in my distant past is unfolding in front of me, in my current strand of work: the collective power of the people to take ownership for the kind of change they want to happen.

When Greenpeace launched its Project: Clean Water campaign in 2007, we only had a handful of Water Patrollers coming from the volunteer pool. As the years progressed, more focus was given on engaging communities especially those residing along the river and in industrial areas in Metro Manila.

Series of activities such as the Water Patrol Caravan and Basic Ecology Workshops were conducted in these areas to raise the awareness regarding the need to actively participate in ensuring our freshwater resources are protected, especially from industrial pollution sources.

During the Right-to-Know Expedition last year, we urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to adopt the pollution disclosure system.  The information provided from the pollution disclosure can empower the public to closely monitor and report pollution sources as it happens, where it happens. It was the same call as before, only this time, it was not just Greenpeace pushing for this, we were joined by several Water Patrol supporters from various communities

Since then, the Water Patrol community has grown.

Last Saturday, we attended the Water Patrol General Assembly in Marikina City.  The objective of the entire afternoon was for the various water patrol units, coming from different community and youth groups in Marikina and San Mateo, to map out and create their own step-by-step work plan for 2013.

Also included on the workshop that afternoon was a session for participants to re-assess their personal reasons for attending the general assembly and to reflect on their vision of change pertaining to water issues. Their reasons varied but were all deeply rooted on each individual’s desire to take action and do more for their community.  For them, awareness, as aroused by their involvement with Water Patrol is no longer enough, they wanted ownership in shaping the future of our freshwater resources.

Indeed, our community has grown, not just in numbers but also in our level of commitment. There is a steady and continuous growth towards the vision of Water Patrol - to build empowered communities and youth leaders that are actively working within their own capacities to ensure that we can all still enjoy a toxic-free, clean-water future. For all the Water Patrollers, thank you for being part of this vision.

Haydee Illenberger is Water Patrol Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines. You can follow her #waterpatrol updates on Twitter via @hillenberger