Peace camps for our youths

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014


THE Al Qalam Institute of Islamic Identities and Dialogue in South East Asia of the Ateneo de Davao University is committed to conduct intra faith and inter faith dialogue within the Ateneo community and in the different regions and provinces in Mindanao.

As a Filipino Muslim and director of Al Qalam Institute, I am very excited every time we do peace camp that leads to interfaith and intra faith dialogues. As we faced several challenges on peace building initiatives and countering religious fundamentalism and extremism, activities like peace camps are becoming increasingly important to discuss potential challenges that our communities are facing today and how the youth can engage the government and important sectors in our society.

We believe that intra-faith and interfaith dialogue are strategies to ensure that communication lines among the different stakeholders of Mindanao are open and that it promotes a culture of sensitivity and acceptance of diversity. Conducting dialogue among the young students of Ateneo is a good start to build new generation of young leaders that will have a clear vision of Mindanao. The end goal of dialogue is for them to define their commonalities of values and principles as a true Mindanaon, which will be a foundation of society in a way that contributes to sustainable development and peace.

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Last April 22 - 24, 2014, we engaged more than forty Iranun youth of Maguindanao for a three-day peace camp. It was held at the only mountain nature park in the Iranun municipalities. The park is called Padang Padang Nature Park.. Padang padang is a word from the Iranun language which means “small mountain”.

The peace camp was an activity initiated by our partner PAKAT (Pagungayan Ami so mga Kangudaan Antapan ko Kamapiyaan ago kad-Tatabanga, PAKAT, Inc.). PAKAT is an Iranun youth organization that is being trained and supported by Al Qalam Institute, forumZFD, and iEmergence.

The venue of the peace camp was sponsored by the municipal mayor of Parang, Maguindanao and the office of Assemblyman Kahar Ibay of the 1st District of Maguindanao, ARMM. The park has a zip line, black sand beach front, and a fantastic view of the Ilana Bay, Bonggo Island, Moro point, and Sugod beach.

Mindanao is once more at a critical juncture for a peaceful future. With the recent signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) and the Peace Agreements on its way, building leaders of the future is more critical than ever. With this in mind, Al Qalam has been engaging the youth coming from the different ethno-linguistic groups from the Muslim and Christian communities. We wanted to know the hearts and minds of our youth today. With the advent of internet, social media, and strong impact of globalization, our youth will eventually become the future of our nation.

Key results for the camp included substantial knowledge and education on the current peace process (from FAB to BBL) and effects of climate change, and current socio-economic and political situation of Maguindanao, the participants’ interest and willingness to promote peace and understanding, and to organize themselves for the purpose of educating others of the underlying reasons of the peace and land problems of Philippines and Mindanao.

According to one of the board of advisers of Al Qalam, "with the advent of climate change and natural disasters, we need to create a grassroots based constituency that would be able to support both the finalization of the MILF-GRP peace process and be prepared for climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness which eventually will be one of the major causes of conflict over battle for resources".(2014)

I was assigned in discussing the module on Visioning and updates on the peace process. Before I gave my lecture, I started with a parable of Zen. Zen is the Japanese variant of Chán, a school of Mahayana Buddhism which strongly emphasizes dhyana c.q. concentration-meditation. This gives insight into ones true nature, or the emptiness of inherent existence, which opens the way to a liberated way of living.(Wikipedia, 2013)

The title of the story was “A Cup of Tea”. The story was about Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912). He received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!" "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" After sharing this story with them, the flow of discussion went smoothly.

While I was engaging the Iranun youth with a constructive discussion of our communities and effects of the peace process, I realized that while most of our partner NGOs, civil society peace groups, and members of the academe are busy discussing the FAB, CAB, and the Annexes, our youth are facing the endless challenges of drug and addiction, rotational brownouts, and ineffective governance. Most of the participants were toddlers when the “All Out War” of Erap happened in the year 2000. They did not really see the evils of war and conflict at that time. But they know that peace is vital for their future.

This was the fourth peace camp that Al Qalam has conducted since 2011. We have engaged more than nine hundred students and youth from different communities in a peace building activity like this. With enough resources, we are slowly building more peace advocates in Mindanao.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 30, 2014.

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