KOLAMBUGAN, Lanao del Norte -- In the course of a story-telling session, children of Kolambugan Central Elementary School were asked what for them is war.

Immediately, one child answered, "madagma (stumble)" as his peers blurted in laughter.

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When asked further why he describes war as such, the child recounted, rather freshly, what he saw with his own eyes: people stumbled as they scampered away from the fighting that took place August 18, 2008 in this town.

Two years have passed since Moro rebels attacked this town and nearby Kauswagan, killing over a dozen people and leaving dozens of houses and a school building burned down.

In a short program on Wednesday, Mayor Beltran Lumaque told townsfolk not to commemorate the tragedy and be reminded of a misfortune, but to celebrate what they have achieved in terms of moving forward after the chilling incident.

Although rebuilding the lost infrastructures has been largely done, Kolambugan residents admit they still grapple to outlive their terrifying experience.

And most of the children continue to have vivid memories of that unfortunate travail in their lives, which could define their outlook in the future.

A 12-year old boy related that when he was younger, he loves playing war but after the 2008 attacks, "I hated it."

He added that after returning home from a brief evacuation in Ozamiz city, he had a distaste of his war toys.

A 10-year-old girl told of how Christian residents in their village scampered to borrow kumbong from Maranao neighbors and pose as Muslims in order to be spared from harm.

She said they are grateful to the Maranao villagers for helping keep their identities in wrap during those fateful moments.

Educating for peace

Dr. Maria Luisa Mutia, schools division superintendent of the Department of Education in Lanao del Norte, said a stress debriefing program, particularly for the Kolambugan school kids, has been vital in helping them shake off these trauma.

But in the longer term, Mutia points to the necessity of 'educating for peace' so that such consciousness becomes a behavioral norm and social practice for the upcoming generation.

Mutia stressed that in pronouncedly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities such as in Lanao del Norte, the schools will play a very vital role in fostering socio-cultural understanding.

For one, she cited the immense impact of integrating peace education in classroom instruction for over 175,000 students in the public school system in Lanao del Norte, both at the elementary and secondary levels.

For the last five years, the DepEd in the province has been holding the annual Peace Village every October.

It's just like camping during which participants from elementary and secondary schools obtain 'residential experience' and interact through its various activities geared at raising awareness of cultural diversity, respect for individuality, and recognize that "it is possible to live together in peace and harmony."

Mutia's daughter, Pinky, who helped her design the Peace Village program, said that even as children were most vulnerable to the negative effects of conflict, they, too, are a great resource for transforming the situation.

Pinky recalled an experience when she presided over a read-along activity among kids traumatized by armed skirmishes and asked what they felt when there was war.

The kids took turns saying they were sad, angry and scared, she said.

At the end of the story, when asked if they think there is still war going on, one child said: "There is because we still quarrel over something," referring to the usual conflicts naturally emanating from differences.

"That was my favorite insight," related Pinky.

She said the children even suggested ways in dealing with this war, whether that is in the classroom, at home, or in the community: behave accordingly, make amends, ask forgiveness, share resources, and help each other.

During last year's Peace Village, an elementary school kid who joined its story-telling tilt narrated a tale that depict how their community struggled to overcome a creeping atmosphere of polarization among its Maranao and Visayan villagers as an aftermath of the 2008 attacks by Moro rebels in Kauswagan and Kolambugan towns.

In what amounts to be a child's simple hope, he implored: "Maranaos and Christians are the same in the eyes of Allah." (Ryan D. Rosauro)