Competitive dancer, beauty queen and CEO of an eco-charcoal company — all rolled into one dynamic package, university student Aya Fernandez has done and inspired more in her 21 years than many others. Single-handedly, she’s defied any saying there is about the young and what is wasted on them.

How did you go from winning a pageant to producing charcoal?

A year after becoming Miss Teen Earth 2015, I was nominated as one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Youth Leaders. I wanted to make a group of PWDs who were selling eco-charcoal on the street my beneficiaries. After they ran into problems, I used my savings to help them continue operating. I realized soon after that this was my calling, and launched Project Lily PH as a social enterprise. We employ and empower PWDs to produce environmentally-friendly charcoal made from water hyacinth, coconut husk, and other agricultural waste.

How do you pack so much into your life?

I enjoy—and am profoundly happy—pursuing my passions, but there are a lot of sacrifices. These include time for rest and me-time, and thinking that if I was not juggling a lot of things, I could have performed much better in any one aspect. But rather than think of the could-have-beens, I try my best to brush them off, move forward, and focus on what to do next. Anyway, at the end of the day, God does not require us to succeed. He only requires that we try.


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