Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

An Unforgettable Journey: APILN-ILI Global Immersion Recap

Eleanor Blair and Melissa Franada

YMCA of USA's Advancing Equity for All Blog Series

An Unforgettable Journey: APILN-ILI Global Immersion Recap

Intro 1

We are proud to be part of the YMCA’s Asian Pacific Islander Leadership Network (APILN) International Leadership Institute (ILI), a year-long learning experience designed to foster leadership skills, cultural competencies, cross-cultural understanding and intercultural dialogue amongst the Y’s global network.

In April 2023, our cohort, comprising seven Y leaders of Asian-Pacific Islander descent, made a 10-day international trip to South Korea and the Philippines in an effort to bring back experiences, knowledge and collaborative opportunities to our respective YMCA communities. During this time, we all experienced personal and professional growth, including a new perspective and expanded vision of the global YMCA movement. We are proud to share a travelogue of the events and observations we experienced throughout this memorable journey.

During [our 10-day international trip to South Korea and Philippines], we all experienced personal and professional growth, including a new perspective and expanded vision of the global YMCA movement.

Eleanor Blair and Melissa Franada

South Korea Info


YMCA Korea is part of a collective effort to strengthen peace between Korea and Japan and build awareness of this important cause. Our learning in Korea focused on the history of war and the road to peace and reunification, alongside topics such as youth empowerment, civic engagement, climate action, university-based YMCAs, international programming and more.

One of the most powerful moments was a special tour in Cheorwon-Gun, a county in Gangwon Province next to the border with North Korea in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Almost seven decades after the Korean War, the DMZ remains strewn with land mines and continues to be a painful reminder of the division of the Korean peninsula. We visited the site of the Memorial Tower of Baengmagoji Battlefield, where the bloodiest fight took place during the Korean War, the Cheorwon, the Korean Labor Party Headquarters constructed by North Korea before the war, and the now-abandoned Geumgansan Mountain Electric Railroad Bridge, which connected the North and South until the outbreak of the Korean War. “It was eye opening to stand on the scene, learn the backstory of the Korean War scars and the reality of division,” shared cohort member Trish Villanueva.

Jeju Market

Peace-building and reunification of the Korean people is a focus and passion of civic organizations and the YMCA. We visited the Border Peace School near the DMZ, and later participated in a peace action movement. During that time, we gained a better understanding of the deep scars and wounds leftover from the time of Japanese colonial rule and the pain that remains deeply situated within the Korean people.

The group engaged in deep discussions with YMCA leaders from Korea and the Asian Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY). During a special visit to Jeju Island, we viewed the site of the new APAY Headquarters and Global Peace and Ecology Center, nestled within a pristine horse farm and healing forest. We visited historical places in Jeju learning about the history and culture of Jeju, particularly the story of the Hae-nyeo, referring to Jeju women who earn their living by diving into the sea. These women have been doing this job for the past 1,700 years, representing the strength and resiliency of women.



In Manila, the group spent extensive time meeting and learning from the Ys in the Philippines. With six of our ILI cohort being of Filipino descent, this was a homecoming. The passionate board volunteers and staff embodied the Filipino welcome greeting ‘Mabuhay!’ Their warm welcome included special banners, a programmed agenda, home cooked meals and cultural sharing. One of our favorite welcoming gifts was a portrait drawn by one of the youth scholars at the YMCA of San Pablo, who spent nearly five hours per portrait to offer us a memorable gift.

Here is a snapshot of what we learned from the Philippines Ys:

Group performing community serviceNational Council of YMCA Philippines: The national office provides capacity building to local Ys in the Philippines through national training programs such as digital and media literacy, youth leadership development, CEO/career development, green ambassadors and more.

YMCA of Manila: Key areas of focus at this Y include community development, youth development, engaging college students, providing scholarship opportunities, supporting adult work and physical education, hostel operations, and membership development.

Makati YMCA: Key initiatives include livelihood assistance through programs that provide employment opportunities, microloans, education seminars, workshops, academic competitions, health and fitness seminars, medical missions feeding programs in low-income communities, and climate action through the collection of used plastic objects, annual tree planting and the recycling of waste materials.

YMCA San Pablo 
Leaders from YMCA San Pablo and the visiting YMCA of Albay presented on their current programs and projects, including the Climate Action Project, C.A.R.E., or Cultivating Action Through Responsible Education in conjunction with two U.S. YMCAs (YMCA of Ann Arbor and YMCA of Florida’s First Coast). YMCA group arriving at Bagong Pook

Our time in San Pablo also included a visit to the Baloc community, where people struggle to find resources to provide for their families. Many use the local landfill as a means to generate income. Some of the youth served by the YMCA in San Pablo are originally from Baloc and, with the support of the Y, they continue their education and community service in hopes of redirecting the trajectory of their future. We continued our service by providing food to the children and staff at the Bagong Pook Elementary School.

Our visit in San Pablo concluded with a lovely homecooked meal and a reunion for Batang Y Scholars alumni, who reflected on ways their lives have been positively impacted by the Y. Some noted a change in their self-confidence, while others now have full-time jobs at the Y or in schools. It was incredible to meet board members and staff who passionately shared about their programs and to learn about their vision and hopes for the future.

The final day in the Philippines included tearful goodbyes, a board meeting with the National Council of YMCA Philippines, a visit to the National Museum of Natural History and a group dinner. 

Providing food to children and staff at Bagong Pook Elementary SchoolBack home, each member of our APILN-ILI cohort continues deep discussions on our experiences in Asia and how to bridge the gap between our YMCA communities, create awareness of the YMCA global work, and share the new-found perspective we have on the Y movement.

About the Author

Eleanor Blair is the senior director of communications at YMCA of Florida’s First Coast Association in Jacksonville, Florida.


About the Author

Melissa Franada is the marketing director at McGaw YMCA in Evanston, Illinois.


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