Jun 25, 2010

Who are AAI's Catalysts for Peace?

In 2008, armed conflict broke out in Mindanao, especially in Iligan City in North Cotabato province, after the Supreme Court suspended the peace settlement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government. 700,000 were left displaced from their homes and stripped of most of their belongings after the guerillas burnt houses down and occupied farmlands.

There was little international or government support to help the displaced population. In response, AAI's President Mr. Albert Santoli and Program Coordinator Ms. Rohaniza Sumndad visited the conflict-torn area with a substantial amount of humanitarian aid in the form of medicines and toys for diaplced children. In an unexpected turn of events, students from Saint Micheal's College and Mindanao State University in Iligan City volunteered to assist the relief effort and were instrumental in the distribution of supplies and aid in refugee centers, and coordinating relief efforts.

The events in Mindanao in 2008 represent the spontaneous beginning of AAI's Catalysts for Peace. Currently, there are over 500 Catalysts for Peace in Manila and Mindanao. Catalysts for Peace are volunteers that assist with emergency services and mentoring children from underprivileged communities. Student volunteers from medical or nursing schools support our medical missions. Across Mindanao and Manila, active chapters are being formed and have an ongoing active role in AAI's interfaith community development and peace building programs. Rohaniza Sumndad has been the organizer and inspiration for college students to form Catalysts for Peace groups in their home areas.

Catalysts from Assumption College in Manila have been consistently involved AAI's capitol-area programs and are active participants in our Peace Caravans that link Christian and Muslim students in some of the most impoverished Muslim areas of the capital. Recently, AAI's Kiddie Fun Day brought Catalysts from Assumption College together with underprivileged Muslim children in the Maharlika barangay [neighborhood] to generate understanding between the two cultures and to build cultural bridges.

AAI inspires and coordinates new intercultural relationships across the Mindanao community that has endured generations of armed conflict. AAI's Catalysts for Peace are young people who believe that guns cannot bring peace and that the power lies in the hearts and through the actions of the community. They are an integral part of AAI's overall mission and our objective of building peace, not only in the Philippines, but across the Region.

For more information on the events of 2008 in Mindanao:




Jun 8, 2010

Peace Caravan Builds Bridges

On June 1, 2010, in Manila, Philippines, while religious conflict continued in neighboring regions, Asia America Initiative's (AAI) Peace Caravan program brought together local children and college students known as "Catalysts for Peace".
The Caravan's participants come from opposite spectrums of a society torn apart by ethnic and religious divide. Their mission is to bridge barriers within a fragmented and violently divided culture. The Catalysts from the Catholic Assumption College in the upscale Makati neighborhood joined AAI and held a Kiddie Fun Day event in the impoverished and predominantly Muslim Maharlika community. Although AAI is not a faith-based organization, we respect that people's religious beliefs are essential conduits for healing regardless of the way in which they pray. In the Philippines, AAI's mission is to bring people together to recognize a common good for entire communities under one God and one nation.

The "Kiddie Fun Day" in Maharlika was conducted on the grounds of the Blue Mosque, a sanctuary well-maintained as an island of Hope in the midst of desolation. The event was attended by more than 100 elementary school children, parents and community leaders. Many belong to families who live in makeshift "squatter" shacks after fleeing religious violence and severe poverty in the Mindanao region. In a standard trauma counseling exercise "game" the volunteers asked the children to draw pictures of what Peace means to them. As Catalyst Jian Palacio reflects, "Most of the children drew houses. Others drew trees, flowers and the sun because for them a clean environment means peace. Two of the children drew flags of the Philippines and said they just wanted to have peace here in our country."

Photo Credit: Dabet CastaƱeda and Bulatlat
Source: http://www.bulatlat.com/news/6-43/6-43-port.htm

Most of the participants had grown up with fixed ideas and seldom associated with people of different cultures and religions. However, music, dance and arts formed a common bond of joy throughout the Caravan. The Volunteers led an interactive unity of Faith through a book titled "I know who made me," where the characters in the story were enthusiastically acted out by Catalysts and the children. AAI's volunteers also found that by giving you also receive and that the human interaction is more powerful than simply giving toys and candy. Assumption Catalyst Maria Aljine Bautista reflects, "A child's smile is transparent. Their love can be seen through their smile. I generally saw more smiles when the kids were playing with the volunteers than with toys."
The Caravan and Fun Day programs are a form of peace mediation and non-traditional education where the human interaction breaks down the habits of lack of awareness and divisiveness. Without imposing beliefs or ideologies, community residents and volunteers learned that they have much more in common than they realized. Catalyst Florence Bayer recalls, "Muslim kids are just like Christian kids I met from the previous catechisms I have attended. They were like any other kids who want to have fun and explore new things. Like the Muslim proverb, "If you have much, give your wealth; if you have little, give your heart," the experience also made me realize that you really don't need to be rich to be able to help other people; all we need is just the willingness, perseverance and faith in God... Even after only a few hours, seeing them smile in spite of all their struggles in life inspired me."

During the three-hour event, large numbers of parents, community residents and religious clergy came out of the mosque to observe and appreciate the good feelings shared by all. The interfaith teamwork of the Catalysts served as a positive example for the community. This transformed the fear and apprehension evident when the Caravan arrived into a new-found sense of friendship and understanding. Kiddie Fun Day ended with enthusiastic requests for AAI programs to be continued on a consistent basis. Catalyst Mona Garcia, a Muslim student at Assumption, recalls what it meant for her to be a Catalyst for Peace, "I've learned a lot of things from this program. To know the importance of community...there are so many communities all over the world separated by religions, languages, cultures or geographical locations. However, I believe we are all related to each other in some way or other, thus making the entire world one single community."