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Schools and communities for peace

BY Danton Remoto
Lodestar column
Arts and culture section
Philippine Star

The Schools for Peace is a project under the Act for Peace Programme of the United Nations Development Programme Philippines. A School of Peace (SoP) is an elementary or secondary school in conflicted areas in Mindanao. It is a school that seeks to strengthen capacities on integration and mainstreaming of the Culture of Peace principles, concepts, and values through Peace Education and Teacher Education.

Mainstreaming process involves integrating peace principles, concepts and values in all subject areas, both in formal and nonformal education through the use of Enriched Lesson Plans and Peace Exemplars, or role models.

As defined by the United Nations, a Culture of Peace consists of values, attitudes, and forms of behavior that reject violence and prevent conflicts by going to their root causes. The endpoint is solving the problems of conflict through dialogue and negotiation among people, groups, and nations.

Actor Robin Padilla – the former Bad Boy of Philippine cinema – is now among the Peace Exemplars of the Act for Peace Programme of the UNDP. Early this month, he and UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer went to Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabungsuan province, to visit the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) staying in the evacuation centers. They also launched ACT projects in Mindanao.

Meyer and Padilla led the launching of the Early Recovery Project implemented by the UNDP-Act for Peace Programme for the IDPs. They were joined by Act for Peace Programme manager Diosita Andot and Governor Ibrahim Ibay of Shariff Kabungsuan. Among the projects were a children’s health and daycare center, as well as bio-intensive gardening for the evacuees. Food and non-food items were given as direct assistance, and a rubber-tree nursery was also set up.

Meyer said that the UNDP will continue to assist the Peace and Development Communities and the Schools for Peace so that the communities and schools can be transformed and provide better lives for their constituents and students. Moreover, the Act for Peace Programme approaches the conflict-affected areas in two ways. It helps in capacity-building by giving assistance to the communities and their leaders. It also makes sure that those areas affected, but not involved in the conflict, can live as normally as the other communities in the country.
Meyer adds: “After we acknowledge the situation, we make sure that the population suffers the least possible impact due to the ongoing conflict. Another important aspect of our role in dealing with the internally displaced persons is not to let them get addicted or dependent on assistance. We help them build and sustain their hope to go back to their homes and assist them towards recovery.”
For his part, Padilla – who is a Muslim convert – appealed to his brother Muslims and Christians to work hand in hand. Lines of communication should always be open, he added. “Lapit-kamay po tayo. At sana, ballpen at papel ang hawak natin at hindi baril. [We should join hands. And I hope, we should have ballpen and paper, not guns.]” Padilla’s daughter, Queenie, also visited conflict-affected areas in Mindanao last Sept. And Padilla himself has set up the Liwanag ng Kapayapaan [Light of Peace] Foundation, a preparatory school that gives free education to mostly Moro children in Quezon City.
Padilla added: “Hanggang may eskuwelahan at daycare centers na ginagamit bilang evacuation centers, hindi uunlad ang karunungan ng mga bata. Ang pinag-uusapan natin dito’y ang kinabukasan ng mga tao – lalo na ng mga bata. Lahat na po ng kailangan natin para magsimula muli ay narito na. Wala na tayong maidadahilan pa para hindi natin makamtan ang kapayapaan. Ipakita natin ating buong suporta sa pag-asang dala ng UNDP at ng Act for Peace Programme. [As long as there are schools and daycare centers that are used as evacuation centers, the children’s knowledge will not improve. We’re talking here about a people’s future – especially that of the children. Everything we need to start anew is already here. We have no more reason not to achieve peace. Let us show our full support for the hope that UNDP and the Act for Peace Programme bring.]”

Act Programme Manager Diosita Andot said that the assistance has no deadline and does not end after the evacuees have already returned to their homes. “We do not treat them as victims. We deal with them as people who have the right to plan for themselves and who can do something for themselves. We also see to it that our recovery and livelihood programs will be vehicles for social cohesion, where everyone from different cultures, religions, and beliefs can work as one and in harmony.”

The Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government led by Governor Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan is the lead implementing agency of the programs and projects implemented in the region. The UNDP serves as the managing agency for the programme and MEDCO serves as the overall implementing agency. The Act for Peace Programme supports 250 Peace and Development Communities all over Mindanao.

Afterward, Meyer and Padilla joined a storytelling activity among Muslim and Christian students at the Broce Elementary School of Peace in Barangay Tamontaka, Datu Odin Sinsuat. Broce is one of 31 Schools of Peace supported by the Act for Peace Programme to promote quality, basic education grounded on the values of non-violence. Padilla read a story of tolerance, goodwill, and friendship among Muslim and Ilocano children. The children listened with rapt attention – and applauded heartily after Padilla’s inspired reading. The story was developed under the Big Books project of the Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc., of Cotabato City, which is supported by the UNDP and the British Council. The stories are written by core groups of children from Mindanao themselves, who interviewed their parents and elders, and then wrote the stories themselves. In the true tradition of communal ownership, young and old weave stories that spring from their culture and community.

Among the stories are Bagong Golis [New Golis] of Dalingaoen, Pikit, North Cotabato; Pangadapen: Ang Kuwento ni Kandutan {Pangadapen: The Story of Kandutan] of Barira, Carmen, Cotabato; and Ang Balon [The Well] of Ranzo, Carmen, Cotabato. Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) helped in the writing of two more stories. In addition to the five stories, the young people have banded together and are now working on the following storybooks: the centuries-old Moro Watch Tower in Guinsiliban, Camiguin; the musical instruments of the Aromanen-Manobo, Matigsalug, and B’laan tribes; and on the Sheikh Makhdum mosque in Simunul, Tawi-tawi.

These kids’ stories introduce them to the glories of their past and made them take a peek at their culture and history. Moreover, it also asked that if peace reigned before, why can we not have peace again – at present?

And when you start with the young – in their houses and their schools – you can never go wrong.

Photos by AKP Images / Ruby Thursday More


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