Sherwin Dane Haro
Dec. 8, 2020
San Jose, Antique, Philippines
Audio narration by Sherwin Haro.
It was right after the end of hosting HAPI Scholars’ E-Numan: Secular Parenting and Coming Out virtual talk last Dec. 5 that I noticed something peculiar. Unbeknownst to viewers and Zoom guests, the broadcast team — which included the man underneath today’s Spotlight — and I had been successfully fielding two hours’ worth of technical issues. The difficulty wasn’t unexpected, really, considering it was the first livestream event the Scholars had ever mounted, but by the end, I just wanted to bury my face in a pillow.
Not Javan Lev, though. I’ve seen him energized before, but never this giddy. He looked like he could have gone on for another two hours.
“Boy runs on lithium,” I thought. But after working with him on-and-off for over a year now, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The HAPI Scholars Chief is one of the hardest-working secular humanists I know.
When I brought up the livestream to Lev a few days later in an interview, he said it was already his favorite HAPI memory ever. “This was the first time all of us [Scholars] banded and worked together for such a huge event online, [and] we made it work!”
E-Numan was more than that. It was also the first ever fully-online Café Humaniste, which is an event series by Humanists International. That’s pretty monumental, especially for an organization that was only established five months before.
The communications part of it was the hardest to pull off, according to Lev. “All communications needed to be done online. There was no other way around it. Some of the scholars haven’t even met personally!” he exclaimed.
The HAPI Scholars movement was initiated by HAPI Founder Marissa Torres-Langseth in 2018. It “evolved” quite a few times, with Langseth slowly tweaking its modus operandi until it formally became a department in 2020. It’s meant to serve as a training ground for future humanist leaders, with the Scholars being tasked to help handle the HAPI web pages as well as to continuously advocate different programs and events on good leadership, secularism, humanism, equality, science and reason, and environmental conservation.
It’s also a runaway success, with the Facebook page garnering about 4,200,000 impressions and 11,000 followers as of press time.
Again, Lev gets totally giddy over this, but I can scarcely blame him. In both of our years in HAPI, none of its social media pages had gone quite that viral online. But how did Lev come to find HAPI in the first place?
His story goes that in December 2018, right after he first moved to the City of Dumaguete in Negros Oriental, his new college English teacher asked him what his religion was. Javan replied that he “didn’t belong to any denominations”. As blasé as he may have been with saying that, the truth was that it took him years to get over the fear. Lev was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (or a Mormon); he loved the air-conditioned rooms, but not the lack of answers. “I had to look for [those] myself”, he told me. “My atheism [was] a long discussion I had with myself, it didn’t just happen overnight. Until eventually, I got a better sense of it, and since then, I never regretted leaving my religion.”
Which led to that little moment in the classroom. Lev answered the teacher bluntly: he didn’t have a religion. As it happened, a classmate of his, Quirl, overheard that and decided to add Lev to an agnostic atheist group chat that he was in on Facebook Messenger.
“There were already around 7 members at that time when I entered,” Lev recalled. “Then we just decided, why not [join] a legitimate group about this?” Organization names were thrown around, including Atheist Republic and the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI). After doing a little more digging, they decided to go with HAPI.
“Humanism then was a foreign word to me, so I looked it up and found out that [it] is what I have actually been doing,” he shared. “Even before HAPI, I was pretty much active in different advocacies and already believed that anybody can do good regardless if there’s a supreme being or not. And it’s exactly what humanism and HAPI are all about.”
That led their group to hit up then-HAPI Executive Director, AJ Ballares and to the eventual formation of HAPI Dumaguete. From 7 members, Lev and Quirl’s group grew to around 20, and the rest is history.
A little integrity will take you a longgg way
When I ask Lev why humanism lights a fire in him so much, he candidly credits others. “I got into advocacy work because I was privileged enough to be surrounded by people who have been toiling as an activist for so many years,” he says, “and that opened my eyes to the harsh realities of what’s actually been happening.”
He’s also candid about what it didn’t take for him to become an activist. “Unlike other people who were on the frontlines of feeling the full effects of different societal issues that became a turning point for them as an activist, there was nothing really like that in my life.” Ultimately, it was his peers and mentors that set him off. “[They] brought such a huge impact on me that I, too, want to create a positive change.”
Among other things, this desire manifests itself in a serious concern for the environment. Lev is a Committee Director for ClimatEducate, an intercontinental climate education initiative. He is also the co-founder and Pioneer President of the Association of Young Environmental Journalists, a grassroots organization that spotlights the stories and struggles of farmers and fisherfolk in the margins of Philippine society.
But it always ends with secular humanism for Lev. “Humanism is something I will carry even after I graduate from the university,” he says. “I will always find the time to contribute something, not because of any reward, recognition — or the threat of eternal damnation if I don’t — but because it is the right thing to do.”
…and a little ambition
When I ask him what inspires him, he spouts a life mantra. “I’ve always been the one to challenge the status quo,” he says. “When someone tells me that’s impossible, or that’s hard to do, I’d always find ways to get around that. And there are just so many things happening lately — climate crisis, injustices, inequality, racism, etc. It’s hard to just turn a blind eye or look away. There’s surely something I could do to help, no matter how small that is.”
Okay, so the guy can write a hell of a Hallmark card. (I’m kidding.) By that point in the interview, I was amazed at how much I didn’t know about my own Chief. But what I now know, only makes me respect him more. I’ve only come to befriend him recently, but I’m already so proud of him. How can I not? Evidently, the world would be better place if it had more Javan Levs in it.
“I want to see how far HAPI Scholars can reach,” he confides in conclusion. “Right now, we are achieving a few things but I want to take it up a notch and create a more lasting impact in the community.”