YWCA Honoree - Belinda Aquino - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

YWCA Honoree - Belinda Aquino

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

This week, Hawaii News Now and the YWCA of Oahu are honoring exceptional women leaders who've made their mark on Hawaii and beyond. We begin with UH professor emeritus Belinda Aquino - who's built a legacy, not only as an educator and author, but as a pioneer of civil rights and an activist in the Philippines' pro-democracy movement.

Belinda Aquino, Ph.D., is a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

Civil rights activist, women's rights advocate, renowned author, and esteemed educator - who helped found the University of Hawaii's Center for Philippine Studies in the '70's.

"There were specific courses in the Philippines, and languages, music, linguistics, and so on," explains Aquino. "But, we put together a comprehensive center." Aquino started as a community development worker in remote Philippine villages - walking miles or hitching rides on horse-drawn carriages - introducing women of the 60's to birth control and employment outside the home. That didn't sit well with conservatives.

"I just found myself in situations where you had to take a stand. I was called a contrarian many times. I thought I had to speak my mind, you know," says Aquino.

Speak her mind, she did. In those turbulent 60's and early 70's, as a student at Cornell University, she protested the growing dictatorship of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Aquino's outspokenness landed her on an enemy watch list. It was too dangerous to return home.

"About 10,000 people were either killed, detained indefinitely, or just simply disappeared. So, you would have been just another statistic. It didn't help that my name was Aquino!" she said.

She's no relation to "those" Aquinos, but she's made her mark in much the same way - exposing corruption, poverty, and brain drain in the Philippines. She was an expert witness in the massive class-action lawsuit against the Marcos'.

While she has achieved much publicly, friends say "Lindy" has accomplished even more privately. "When she was at Cornell, there was a fire in the College Hill house she was staying in. She did this Corey Booker thing. She ran in and tried to save this woman!" says one of her best friends, Sheila Forman.

Mahatma Ghandi famously said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world". For Belinda Aquino, "change" comes naturally.

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