Mar 31, 2008

Dispatches from the Philippines: "Once Upon a Time"

"Once Upon A Time" is usually how writers begin their fairytale stories. Sometimes, with all the issues and challenging realities that our country has been facing, we wish we could be in a fairytale where there's always a happy ending. Life in this world is full of uncertainties. As we live each day of our lives, our society makes us ponder what exactly will happen to us at present and in the future. At the end of it all, we find ourselves questioning, "What is it that we really need in response to the prevailing problems in our country?" Actually, the answer is found deep within us. As responsible and concerned citizens, we should MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

honey4 There have been a lot of extra-ordinary people who have been true examples of good leadership and selflessness. As the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation (RMAF) would describe their awardees, these are people who embody 'greatness of human spirit' through 'selfless service to others.' Together with other young leaders, I was fortunate to have a dialogue with two of RMAF's laureates through the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation's Video Conference. This took place during the launching of its 50th Year Celebration as one of its highlights. This experience inspired me to take further steps in doing my work and to fulfill, which I believe is my mission.

As a young Muslim woman working in conflict areas in Mindanao through the Asia America Initiative (AAI), it was a risky step to take. But despite the risk, I know it's worth it especially when you have witnessed children and their families having to sacrifice and even perishing because of war. We all are aware that the path towards what we want our society to be may seem far-fetched. Some people have given up, while others are continuing to make their own steps for change even without certainty. However, despite our country's thorns, we should not give up. We have good people to emulate like the two laureates that we interacted with, Mr. Jon Ungphakorn and Arvind Kejriwal. They keep reminding us that positive change can actually happen. We can be of service to others within our own beliefs and spheres of influence.

Both of the Laureates believe that youth has great potential. I will share some remarkable statements by Mr. Ungphakorn and Mr. Kejriwal with my own title: " FIVE WAYS IN MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH AN INTER-GENERATIONAL APPROACH."

(1) Attitude of the youth changes once they are immersed, have experienced and understand certain issues. Mr. Ungphakorn stated the Educational System should strongly support and encourage youth to volunteer and do community work. That makes me reflect on my work with AAI on peace and development in Mindanao . One of our programs called Catalysts for Peace encourages youth to be involved in peace-building. We believe that in order for youth to have an active role in peace initiatives, they should first be given proper knowledge and awareness in order to become effective advocates for peace.

honey1 I conducted a study in college entitled ASSUMPTION AND MADRASAH EDUCATION: A Comparative Study on the Development of Human Values. I found that Muslim students do not know much about the Christian Culture and Christians know little about Muslim Culture, which is the main cause of prejudice. As a graduate of Assumption College , a Catholic School , I gained much insight that my classmates' thoughts about Muslims are mostly negative. They were surprised once they found out I am a Muslim. This applies with people I meet even today. I think if peace education classes are implemented in schools as early as Elementary and more interfaith sessions are available for immersion, we can change popular outlook and encourage more young people to be ambassadors for peace.

(2) Creating change is a long process. Mr. Ungphakorn added that the process should be constantly strengthened. More young people should be involved. I personally believe for the needed consistency, the younger generation should be mentored to partake in a continued process of coming up with solutions.

(3) We need to have an effective democracy, said Mr. Kejriwal. Lack of credible institutions only leads to change of faces but not true change. Just like what we see in the news, people have been looking for their own heroes to hear them out and help them. Some have been lucky while mostly are unfortunate. Credible institutions may help in this process.


(4) We should believe in the potential of the youth. If we can create an understanding of peace, we can create a better society. We should recognize the diversity of cultures and allow some form of autonomy to exist so that different sectors can have more control on their own. Promoting these values and raising awareness should be factored into providing an understanding of peace and diversity. Different institutions, especially schools, should implement this approach.

(5) There are issues commonly overlooked by mainstream media. We should also be the voice of the people at the grassroots level. One of the significant insights that I've had with my AAI mediation work and with my involvement in the Ayala Young Leaders, is that in order to serve and help others we must first listen to their needs. Even though the media's responsibility is to inform us on what's happening, it does not mean it is the whole story or even reality. We should not impose on others simply what we see on TV or hear on the radio. In the end, what really matters is whether we are able to assist those in need.

honey2 Although these five points are simple and probably already known by most people, sometimes we need to be reminded to rekindle our spirits. Perhaps a dialogue with present day heroes like Mr. Ungphakorn and Mr. Kejriwal can motivate us to keep moving forward to selflessly serve others. Such experience has made me contemplate if I'm doing the right thing for my own people. It has caused me to evaluate if I need to take more steps to further my goals for the benefit of my community.

Another perspective on selfless service is found in Islam. Similar to Christian beliefs, Allah taught that deep and abiding respect for those whom God has created is respect for God himself. If we desire the mercy and forgiveness of Allah then we must extend that to others. Selfless service is what Allah shows us in His words and His guidance for life through Islam. Inspiring thoughts expressed in various philosophies, including Islam and Christianity, show that we should continue with our mission for unity and peace. We were all born into this world for a purpose; we should create our own stories. With all of us working together, who knows, everything might just have a happy ending…

Rohaniza "Honey" Sumndad is the Philippines Officer-in-Charge and Program Coordinator of Asia America Initiative, Inc., which aims to promote peace and prosperity in conflict-ridden communities through people-to-people initiatives integrate health, education, arts and livelihood as a basis for mediation. Honey is also the Associate Editor of Starfish Magazine, a youth leadership magazine dedicated to the Filipino youth crafted by young servant leaders from all over the country.

Source: Changing Asia: The RMAF Blog

Mar 28, 2008

Welcome new interns!

Three new interns joined AAI yesterday. The AAI team welcomes them and hopes that they will have a fruitful internship. We hope that they meet their expectations! The new interns are:
  1. Jennifer Doyle, University of California Riverside
  2. Mindy Chen, University of California Davis
  3. Hanayo Oya, University of California Santa Barbara

Again, welcome guys!

Crunching rice supply in East Asia

The FT has a nice story about rice supply, rising prices brought about by declining production, and its implications on security and social stability in Asia, particularly East Asia. Rising prices have already forced major rice exporters like Vietnam, Australia, and Egypt to curtail exports. Meanwhile, India has banned temporarily banned exports as well to satisfy domestic demand. This is going to put further upward pressure on rice price in the internatinal market. This is going to hit the South Asians (and to some extent East Asia and the Pacific) the most because rice is a major component of daily lunch and dinner (rice is consumed almost 365 days a year in South Asia). More on food prices here, and here (UN Secretary General writes about food crisis), here (People eating mud coookies in Haiti). For those interested in more economic interpretation of the rising food prices check this one out by Nobel laureate Gary Becker and Richard Ponser.
Some experts aruge that the Filipino rice shortage problem is exacerbated by the government and some special interest groups. It is said that the government is trying to siphon off a huge amount of money while importing rice from foreign countries. It is alleged that the Filipino government and special interest groups are trying to dissuade farmers not to grow rice, which would give them an exclusive control over rice sourcing and distribution in the whole country.

...Rice prices jumped 30 per cent to an all-time high on Thursday, raising fears of fresh outbreaks of social unrest across Asia where the grain is a staple food for more than 2.5bn people.

...The increase came after Egypt, a leading exporter, imposed a formal ban on selling rice abroad to keep local prices down, and the Philippines announced plans for a major purchase of the grain in the international market to boost supplies. Global rice stocks are at their lowest since 1976.

...The Philippines, the world’s largest buyer of the grain, said on Thursday it wanted to purchase 500,000 tonnes after it failed to buy a similar amount earlier this month. It is struggling to import 1.8m-2.1m tonnes to cover a production shortfall and on Thursday confirmed it would tap emergency stocks maintained by Vietnam and Thailand.

Oppression in Tibet: Is it about mainland Tibet or natural resources in Tibet?

The director of Asia America Initiative (AAI), Mr. Albert Santoli, has written a brief about the real intention of China in Tibet. He argues that the Chinese are more interested in controling natural resources in Tibet. He writes:

"The struggle for survival of the Tibetan people under Chinese occupation has been largely depicted as a human rights tragedy. There is, however, a significant strategic dimension to China's behavior.
Beijing's control of Tibet's vast landscape, its water resources, mineral and natural wealth, as well as its strategic location on "the roof of the world," is a major component of China's plans for expanded political, military and economic influence on a global scale"

Here are some of the little know facts about Tibet

  • Tibet is the largest region of China, encompassing one-eighth of the empirical land mass. This does not include the historical and resource-rich Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo, which are larger than the Chinese official Tibet Autonomous Region, and were annexed by China after the 1950 invasion.
  • Deposits of uranium in the hills around Lhasa are considered the largest in the world. Tibet is also rich in gold, copper, zinc, lithium and other scarce minerals.
  • There are at least three major nuclear weapons bases in Tibet. The "Ninth Academy," China's primary nuclear weapons research and design facility is located in Haibei on the Tibetan plateau.
  • Deforestation by Chinese loggers is rampant. At least 50 percent of Tibet's ancient forests have been destroyed, causing severe environmental damage, flooding and ecological devastation.
    Tibetans are now a minority population in the capitol Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and are vastly outnumbered in the annexed territories. In the Amdo region, now the Chinese Qinghai province, in 1953 there were only 100,000 Han Chinese. According to the official Chinese Statistical Yearbook, in 1985 there were 2.5 million Chinese compared to only 750,000 thousand Tibetans.
  • The ethnic ratio has gotten much more out of balance since 1992, when Deng Xiaoping began advocating the settlement of Han Chinese from other regions to Tibet and the Muslim Xinjiang region. Han settlers were given economic subsidies and other incentives and had houses and shops built for them by the government.
  • The UN and the West have enabled and funded this cultural genocide by investing in the railroad into Tibet, which was opened in 2006. Under "economic development," as well as the relocation of thousands at least 130,000 Han settlers into the fertile Lhasa Valley.

Mar 27, 2008

AAI videos and its peace-fostering works in the Philippines

This video (sorry, it is in Filipino language...but it has English subtitles), is made by Asia America Initiative (AAI), which depicts how a simple humor-based program like Fun Days can bring smiles and psychological relief to children's in the war-torn region of Sulu, Philippines. AAI credited for deterring terrorism and fostering peace through its selective intervention in education, health care, and livelihood building programs in Sulu, Mindanao, Philippines. Fortunately, this semester I am interning at the AAI headquarter in D.C.

Good news: You don't need think stack of greenbacks to make a difference in the lives of people. By just donating just over $1 cash or in-kind stuff, you can make a difference to generate livelihood and to foster peace in the war-torn regions of the world. Donate right here:

Ways you can help:

  1. Sponsor a girl to go to a public school
  2. Provide classroom chairs for 5 students
  3. Support and sustain the monthly work of 4 rural midwives
  4. Provide musical instruments to promote Peace
  5. Buy a chair for one student in Philippine war zone
  6. Provide medicines and health support in Philippines
  7. Building Peace: One Child at a Time
  8. Toys for Children Victims of War
  9. Help Feed a Child Victim of War
  10. Medical assistance to children in Philippines
  11. Art supplies for 1st grade class in Philippine war zone
  12. Paint a classroom in Philippine peace zone
  13. Provide food and water to a refugee family
  14. Provide clean water and sanitation for an elementary school
  15. Kiddie Corner: Put a smile on a refugee child's face