When I started with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI), I was part of what we called the MPI steering committee, which was composed of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and a year later, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). This was 1999, but the conversation started in 1998. These early conversations also included the Agong Peace Network and the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.
The impetus for forming MPI came out of a question from grassroots leaders whom we were training on the culture of peace from 1996 to 1998. The questions they asked were: “What’s next? Where do we get the continuing learning on peacebuilding, on conflict transformation?”
The answer to these questions was forged during a dinner conversation with John Paul Lederach in May 1998 during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. Nine of us Mindanaons plus one expat from across religious identities talked about a dream of setting up our own Summer Peacebuilding Institute, which would be the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. The idea was to create a space to bring people together, inspire people, and build their capacities for peacebuilding and conflict transformation.
If I am asked how I maintain my enthusiasm for MPI after all these years, it is because there is still a fire—I call it fire in the belly. There is still fire in the belly and passion because the work is not yet done. There is a continuous learning.
There are many patterns of violence still unfolding. So, the challenge is, what do we offer again as an alternative? We should be able to keep up in addressing these issues, but the big project is to provide the alternative to this violence and conflict context. The latter aspect or dimension is a very big task. It keeps me awake at night. The challenge is, how do we actually look for alternative ways?
We can use MPI and other platforms of learning and conversations to actually bring fusion to some of these alternatives. This can really work for communities.
I also get inspiration from many other facilitators; those who have been part of MPI early on and are still here. There is also a new breed of young peacebuilders who inspires me. They push us to think of ways to actually translate conflict transformation and peacebuilding in the current context.
One dream we have had for a long time is to have our own building, and there have been conversations about that. The idea is that it not be just a physical building, but really a structure and facility that would continue to be a platform for engagement, a place that would bring together peacebuilders from all over. In the work of peacebuilding, space is very important; a physical space which is an alternative space for other physical spaces where conflict and violence are happening. It would give us glimpses of how it is to dialogue, how it is to resolve issues, how it is to really celebrate diversity, how it is to be inspired with stories from other people.
The challenge to us is really to be able to articulate and clearly work towards that dream. If that is still the same collective dream, if that is a dream among us—the MPI staff, the MPI board, and the MPI community—then we need to set ourselves up for that dream and create milestones. How do we get to that dream if we want it to happen?