With only 88 pesos ($1.69) when he first arrived in Hawaii, Elvin Laceda, a senior from Philippines studying political science, said he now has more than 88 reasons to be thankful after having the opportunity to empower farmers from his home country.
“I think God has something in store for me that I can contribute to the betterment of the Philippines. First, my family; second, my community, the church and the country,” Laceda remarked.
He said his grandparents raised him. His grandfather, who was both a farmer and a fisherman, instilled in him “hard work, service and love for the community.”
People have asked Laceda, why he could not just focus on his studies first and help others after he graduates. However, Laceda replied he “cannot help but think of others,” and said he felt he needed to do something while he is still in school.
Gaining strength from family
Laceda said he did not meet his father until he decided to look for him when he was 21 years old. Despite the lack of a real father, he shared it did not matter because he knew he had “a relationship with [his] Father in Heaven” and his grandfather filled the role of father.
He recalled an experience with his grandfather, which “stuck with him” until this day. Laceda said he and his grandfather were the only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their family. The closest church was in another town, and it cost 60 pesos ($1.27) to travel and two hours to go to church from their house.
“Every Sunday because we didn't have that much money for [fare], my grandfather would save for my [fare] since there was not enough for him to go to church,” recalled Laceda.
Laceda shared how his grandfather served people “sometimes beyond what he could do.” Laceda’s grandfather told him to “love others, be good with them and serve them whenever you can.” Especially with education, his grandfather told him through gaining knowledge, it would help him rise from poverty.
Sharing his light
Initiating and creating change is one of the things Laceda said he wants to do wherever he goes. Regarding his team’s continuing success with Rice Up, a company connecting farmers with consumers started through the platform Enactus, Rice Up enables farmers to profit off of their crops, he said.
“I never thought it would be this big. I could never do it without other people enabling me to create change because BYU-Hawaii is an enabling environment for something like this to happen.”
According to Laceda, the biggest accomplishment was not winning the National Enactus Competition twice but he and his team changing the lives of people in the Philippines for the better.
A community in Davao, Philippines, has more than 120 graduates from the farm school they established in the area, said Laceda. “The [graduates] totally changed their mindset. They have hopes, they have businesses and they’ve created jobs. Just that single community, I think [that’s] an accomplishment,” Laceda explained.
Balancing life with school and work
Joseph Duano, a senior from Virginia studying marketing, said Laceda’s commitment to service comes “from an issue very close to his heart and his grandfather.” He explained, “I think that personal connection is what really drove it, and now it's a personal commitment to not just his grandfather, but the farmers of the Philippines.”
Joan Rey, a junior from the Philippines studying communications, described Laceda as a “leader and a visionary man.” She explained, “[Laceda is] passionate in something and has a clear vision of what he wants to do. I think those are traits of a leader.”
Laceda said he was also able to establish Rice Up’s model in Cambodia with the help of his teammates and mentors, and the program is now helping two provinces in the country.
Pattica San, a sophomore from Cambodia studying finance, has collaborated with Laceda and said he is thankful he can help his people strive for better lives and more stable incomes.
“There is nothing [more] delightful than seeing my people having the confidence and the hope to work in their farms again,” said San.
Although he is not an “A” student, Laceda shared what’s important to him is “the value and contribution I give to my country, to my family and the school.”
“You cannot have everything, but you can have enough to serve other people,” remarked Laceda.
Plans and advice
Other than his goals include expanding Rice Up into 10 different countries in Southeast Asia, and Laceda hopes one day to become the president of the Philippines.
Initially, Laceda said he came to BYUH to pursue biology but now he has desires to be a lawyer because one of his mentors said, “If you want to learn how to govern, you need to learn about the art of politics.”
“It’s my vision to lead the country hopefully in a way that is godly and [have] sustainable development,” said Laceda.
Laceda shared how people must be aware of their surroundings or communities. “You can never see something that is needed if you’re not sensitive or vigilant, or if you don’t open your heart or eyes,” he remarked.
Laceda encouraged students to pursue every opportunity offered to them as everyone will do their best to help you. He shared students ultimately ended up studying at this university because the communities where they came from need them.
“I hope we can leverage the resources here in BYU-Hawaii to not to only empower us as students but also empower us as disciples, as leaders and as changemakers,” said Laceda.