Nov 22, 2010

AAI Peace Caravans are proving that peace is possible in areas where religious and cultural violence has been a tragic legacy

Peace warriors hold powwow
By Nesreen Cadar Abdulrauf
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:58:00 11/21/2010

Filed Under: Armed conflict, Schools
AN Asian proverb says, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

In October, young professionals and college student volunteers of the Asia America Initiative (AAI) started sweating in peace so other people, particularly their peers, would not have to bleed in war.

AAI, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and local organizations, held the fourth Peace Caravan–Luzon Leg in La Trinidad, Benguet to spread the seeds of understanding, appreciation, and coexistence.

At the two-day event, 40 young people representing Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous People (IP) gathered at the Benguet State University to learn how to become future leaders who will promote and maintain peace.

The participants shared personal and group experiences that would help them become Catalysts for Peace—compassionate role models to help heal and unite the nation.

“We often think of peace as something big or difficult but it’s the thought of bringing about peace that is the foundation for change,” said Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, 27, the AAI Philippines country director.

The participants, who were of diverse ethnicities, ages, and religions, were divided into five groups: A, M, I, T, Y. They played games that promoted participation, interaction, and learning. The ultimate activity was “Find the Missing Peace.” Each group had a piece to complete the puzzle that said “The Key to Peace Is You”.

Jassan D. Batalang, 19, said, “The peace caravan wouldn’t be memorable if it wasn’t fun. We smiled and laughed a lot ... already a sign that we were at peace with each other.”

Marc Ceenan Malucay, 18, added, “I didn’t know that I can be a catalyst for peace. In just a short time, we established a bond with each other.”

In peace-building, AAI stressed that peace must begin with one’s self. The intra-faith discussions led to a self-evaluation of their sources of pride, fears, and prejudices, among others.

“If a person doesn’t know his or her religion, he may become violent. That is why intra-faith is important,” said Alnasser L. Kasim, chair of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) who spoke on “Islamic Faith”.

Brother Mark Joseph Purugganan, a seminarian at the San Jose Seminary who spoke on “Christian Faith”, said some people could misinterpret what their religion was actually teaching them.

Marlon T. Jinon, AAI programs and resource mobilization associate, said differences in religion had never been nor would ever be the cause of lack of peace. “It is our greed, lack of awareness, and misunderstanding of our very own religion and culture, and the religion and culture of other people that fuel the vicious cycle of war and conflict in the country and in the world.”

He said it was wrong to try to make peace with the world or the nation before making peace with one’s self, family, and neighbors.

Jason Roy Sibug, president of Tuklas-Katutubo, a national organization of young indigenous leaders, said the youth should rid themselves of prejudice. “When you don’t have it (prejudice) towards other cultures and religions, there can be harmonious relationships. Do not associate a person’s act with his/her religion and do not generalize. The next step is to share (this attitude) with your family, friends, and community.”

Sibug, 30, a Manobo, founded Tuklas-Katutubo when he was 17. He said IPs accounted for 13 million or 10 to 15 percent of the total Philippine population, not including those who would write Christian or Muslim as their religion.
He added that, when there was interfaith, a person became a Muslim or a Christian or an IP by heart.

Muslim participant Alrashid H. Abdulmunat, 24, said, “I (only learned) about IPs and their struggle now. I also thought Christians hated Muslims but I found out they were kind and they did not have bad intentions toward Muslims and IP. If Muslims (complain) about discrimination and marginalization, how about the IP? In the Holy Quran, Almighty Allah mentioned the tribes or ‘qabail’. Peace cannot be achieved if the other tribes are not included.”

The youngest participant, nine-year-old Joshua Siddayao, said, “Akala ko nangangain ng tao ang mga Muslim, hindi pala (I thought Muslims were cannibals but now I know they are not).”

Through sharing, the participants celebrated commonalities. Jasmin P. Tosay, 17, was teary-eyed as she said, “We’re not just Lumad or Muslim or Christian, we are all Filipinos.”

Sumndad-Usman said, “Being a Muslim, Christian, or IP is the solution itself because our creeds are essentially all for peace. We can all be peace advocates in our own spheres of influence. The peace process is intergenerational. It is a shared responsibility.”