Meet the 20-somethings spreading peace education around the Philippines

Meet the 20-somethings spreading peace education around the Philippines

“At this very moment, if someone’s talking about peace, another person is talking about violence. And that’s what you want to counter.”

For Manila-born folks, the mere mention of Mindanao conjures images of conflict and destruction. We grow up hearing news stories of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf, fighting between government and rebel forces, and most recently, the Maute siege in Marawi.   

Our takeaway? Avoid the area completely. Up until recently, many of us have been wary of visiting. It isn’t uncommon to hear someone say “Mindanao? Diba delikado diyan?”   

What we don’t often think about is what it might be like for the people who actually live in conflict areas. There’s no way for us to understand how difficult it is for children who grow up in the middle of violence.      

This is why the work of organizations like Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM), building a Culture of Peace among Filipinos, is so important. Their trained volunteers conduct peace missions where they visit conflict areas like Marawi and Maguindanao, teaching students, teachers, and parents how to handle or respond to situations of conflict.

We talk to some of their youngest volunteers some fresh out of college about their experiences on the field, if they ever get scared, and why they do what they do. Here are what Micah Verzola, Glendford Lumabao, Soteya Trasadas, and Sheyna Delos Reyes had to say.     

Micah Verzola, 22, membership committee, TPBPM Secretariat Team

Micah began working with TPBPM upon the invitation of a friend. She was part of the team that conducted missions in Marawi a few weeks after the siege was first announced.

What’s it like to go on a peace mission?

Alam mo na pag nakita mo siya, parang hinila yung heart mo pababa. It was super congested, and you don’t know how they lived with that for months. I facilitated an activity with the toddlers. If you think about it na sila, pumunta sila sa mga evacuation centers days after the crisis, you would think that they’re very depressed or affected, but if you go there you’ll still see that positive vibe. You still see the hope, especially with the children. You see their emotions, their thoughts, their feelings, through the activities. Dun mo malalaman na, this is how they felt when they were there.

 

Did you ever get scared?

The org makes sure that lahat na kailangan security-wise [nandoon]. Actually, mas natakot yung people around me. Yung parents ko, ganun. Maybe it’s also the comfort of people you know being with you there and alam mo na yung gagawin mo dun is not for yourself. Yes, there are times na siyempre, matatakot ka. It’s just how you manage your fear. Not ignoring it, but handling it wisely.

Glendford Lumbao, 22, lead artist

Glendford is an artist who initially volunteered for TPBPM as a college freshman after seeing an online call-out for a peace mural painting activity.

How do you prepare for peace missions?

Yung sa Marawi first week siya after nung siege pumunta kami sa mga evacuation center. Prior to that, nag-call out kami for donations on social media, and then we packed them bago dinala namin sa mga evacuation center. Tapos iba pang preparation na ginawa namin is nag-memorize kami ng mga Islam prayers kasi sa briefing namin, sinabi nila na mag-memorize for security lang. Habang nagpa-pack kami, yan yung pinakakinggan namin. On repeat siya.  

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We were told that this was a precaution because ISIS was rumored to behead anyone they caught who didn’t know the prayers.)

 

What’s it like when you’re there?

Pag harap mo na siya, overwhelming siya. Nag-conduct kami ng mga psycho-social activity for children, peace education para medyo makalimutan nila in a sense yung seige na nangyari. Nagbigay kami ng coloring books, kumanta-kanta sila doon. Tapos yung mga bata they talked about their experience through drawings. Yung situation doon kung ano nakikita mo sa TV. Pero yung emotions kasi mas captured siya pag firsthand mo makikita yung mga tao doon. Sa evacuation center, sa sahig lang [sila], tapos may dividers lang na banig.

 

What do you think people from Manila know about the situation?

For me, kung ang mindset ng mga tao from Manila is, “ba’t ako pupunta doon kung conflict area?” Dapat baliktad. Since nasa conflict area sila, they need us more than ever. Kasi tayo may privilege, so mas may io-offer ka. Hindi mo naman kailangang pumunta sa conflict area. In any simple way, pwede kang tumulong to create social awareness online, and mag-volunteer sa mga NGO na tumutulong.

Soteya Trasadas, 22, membership committee, TPBPM Secretariat Team

Soteya first got involved with TPBPM as an intern, foregoing an opportunity to be a part of her college’s Model UN. She participated in a three-week peace mission in Maguindanao and Cotabato last November.

Do you have any memorable moments from your peace missions?

One of the striking realities na nangyari on the ground is teachers get to share. One teacher shared that may isang bata na pinapatay yung parents niya in front of him. It was really hard because as teachers, they serve as the second parents ng mga bata. They were trying to keep it together, parang “Hindi ako pwedeng mag-break down kasi there’s someone who needs me.” But what’s good about it is sa lahat ng sharing nila, they all said that you need to have faith in the Almighty to Allah, or to God, or to whoever you believe in.

 

Why is peace education important?

It’s teaching kids that peace is a way of life. At this very moment, if someone’s talking about peace, another person is talking about violence. And that’s what you want to counter. I think in order for peace education to be sustainable, you need to start [teaching] at a very young age dahil hanggang sa huli, they will pass it on from generation to generation.We want to instill in them that you can be a peace hero in your own ways and have a good life. The way you think, the way you act, and the way you deal with other people.

Sheyna Delos Reyes, 23, documentation and reporting, TPBPM Secretariat Team

Sheyna initially volunteered to help as a photographer for a peace mission that TPBPM had in Porac, Pampanga. Right now, she works with the org part-time.

Do you have any memorable moments from your peace missions?

My last peace mission was August of this year. It was a Peace Heroes formation program aimed to form peace heroes para sa mga bata and their parents. It was the phase five of the program at the Hadji Salik Elementary school in Tukanalipao. Yung unang interaction namin with the kids was September of last year, so pag balik namin in August of this year, nakita namin yung transformation sa perspective ng mga bata sa konsepto ng peace. Na-retain yung concept ng servant leadership, yung mga songs about peace, pakikipag-kapwa-tao, paggalang sa magulang. During our annual peace fair, sila na yung nagtuturo sa mga kapwa nilang mga estudyante. Lagi nating sinasabi sa kanila, unless someone else teaches them peace, someone else will teach them violence.

 

What do you think people from Manila know about the situation?

These people from the teachers, and the parents, and the kids may mga sarili silang goals. The same with us. Kasi tayo sa Manila, ang perception natin is conflict area ang Mindanao, sana magkaroon ng peace. Ganoon din yung perception nila na, “We’re not terrorists, and we also have that dream and this goal na gusto rin namin ng kapayapaan dito sa Mindanao.” They also have initiatives para magkaroon ng peace just the communities themselves. People don’t know because the media doesn’t tackle it. One concrete example is the communities who have a line-up of officers ng mga parents, the main body is the Kalilintad [translation: peace] Club. Na-touch lang ako pag tinatanong namin yung mga bata kung ano yung hopes nila. They’re not so different from the kids in Manila who dreams to be a teacher or engineer. Sana hindi magkaroon ng barrier dahil Muslim sila or from Mindanao sila.

 

To learn more about the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement and how you can volunteer, visit their website.


Photos by Kenneth Aballa
Special thanks to Bernadette Fernandez, Chinky Carandang, Aybi Lim, and Bai Rohaniza Sumnad-Usman



Tags:
#culture #friendship #politics

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