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Celebrating 20 Years of Peacebuilding - Southeast Asia and the Pacific

MPI Celebrating 20 Years of Peacebuilding Globe with diverse characters and MPI logo Southeast Asia and Pacific Highlighted It is now 2020, and the world is still struggling to achieve peace. But, a small yet committed and dedicated group of peacebuilders envisions having just and peaceful communities in Asia-Pacific and beyond. For two decades, the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) from Davao City, Mindanao—their island home in the Philippines—has been gathering together peacebuilders from all corners of the globe. MPI does this so that these peacebuilders can become empowered as catalysts, bringing about positive change and social transformation in their communities. Today, MPI stands fast in creating safe spaces for mutual learning and exchange, opening more and more hearts and minds to the possibility of peace in our lifetime throughout the world.

MPI Annual Peacebuilding Training Participants Locking Arms

Peacebuilding in the Time of COVID-19

Since we sent you the last newsletter, the world has turned upside down and so many of us throughout the world are in quarantine or lockdown with our families, relatives, friends, or alone. We are in a new situation. The questions for all of us are: What are we, the peacebuilders, being called to do in this extraordinary time? What is our role now as peacebuilders in the face of COVID-19? What special gifts do we have that can be offered to comfort and heal each other, our families, and our communities? How can we use our peacebuilding skills to understand the power dynamics visible throughout this pandemic and to address the systemic inequalities that have been so clearly exposed?

There will be no going back to where we were before the pandemic. As a world community, we are at a critical juncture that requires creativity, sensitivity, inclusivity, inspiration, and deep critical thinking to give birth to a new reality based on justice and peace. Many people throughout the world know this, feel this, and want to courageously take action to save us and our planet. MPI is part of this movement, and we are doing our small part as shared in the stories that will follow. At the same time, we are searching for the answers to the questions raised above. Let us link arms with so many peacebuilders and others in all parts of the globe and join this creative process with our peacebuilding lens to bring into existence something new, just, and of benefit to all creation.

Sunset over clouds

Reflections in the Dark

Photo: Gabrielle "Gabs" Aziza Sagaral

As I sit here in my room, comfortably sheltered from a deadly virus currently spreading across the globe, I cannot help but think of the many people struggling and suffering from the economic, social, cultural, and medical crises that are unfolding in our very midst. There is a sense of helplessness and paralyzing fear that is spreading at such a rapid pace among people, one that I am infected by at this very moment. This causes a creeping disease that if we do not try to overcome and grow from, we will die from asphyxiation of the mind, of our passions, and of life itself.

In my attempt to make sense of this new world, especially as a peacebuilder trying to find some foothold, I am confronted again by this question: What does it mean to be a peacebuilder? And more concretely, what does it mean to build peace in such a time as this? We are in a time where the majority of us have all gone virtual, save those who do not have access to reliable internet, and ways of working and living have changed from meeting partners over coffee or tea to asking them if they can hear us well from behind a screen. We are in a time where people’s priorities have been redirected closer to home and family. Our eyes glued to our phones and laptops, we scour for some good news, and we hold our breaths and sigh deeply as the end seems to be still too far off and unimaginable. Our hearts constricting more often as we find that online there is even more division and prejudice between and among people. Trauma is just a tweet, a story, or a meme away. How do you transform a conflict that seems to be everywhere and nowhere? Where is the safe space in all of this?

These are questions we need to face and reflect upon deeply. I do not have the answers. But perhaps telling ourselves more positive stories and drawing inspiration and solidarity from other peacebuilders will help us collectively find some light through these dark times.

Room filled with candles

A Safe Environment

Everyone needs to be in a safe environment. We all live in diverse circumstances that form our ideas of a safe environment. Those who live with an alcoholic will think of a safe environment as an environment where there are no alcoholics. What is your idea of a safe environment with respect to your situation? I would like to tell you my story.

Barbara Tanne sitting between young peacebuilders she is observing and who are part of mentoring

Being a Woman Mediator

Through my membership with Conciliation Resources, I am considered a "Woman Mediator in the Commonwealth." However, while I do facilitate dialogues between parties, I have not fully completed any study on Mediation. Because of this and because I am not certified in mediation, I do not feel good about using the word Mediator, but rather dialogue facilitator.

I developed my tools in peacebuilding at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) in 2014. I took the courses Peace Education: Concepts and Approaches, Arts Approaches to Community-Based Peacebuilding and Trauma Healing and Reconciliation in Divided Communities. But living with the issues and concerns in my community in Bougainville is where I first began my work as a peacebuilder.

Khamsa Homsombath left with another participant at MPI's Annual Peacebuilding Training

Peacebuilding as Building Social Harmony and Solidarity

I am currently working as an Education Officer with the Pestalozzi Children Foundation (PCF), an organization that helps disadvantaged children and youth exercise their right to a good education, thereby providing them with better opportunities for the future. My role is to provide coordination support to education working groups of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic by managing the PCF education funds. We work in partnership with government agencies, NGOs, and community-based organizations in the development of primary education in Laos.

The work that we do is important in building peace among different ethnic groups of Laos as the project promotes the culture and identity of children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. With the support of the project, teachers are trained in participatory approaches that promote the culture and identity of the different ethnic groups in settings where the children come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Bobet Dimaukom presenting during course at MPI

MPI Impressions

I first heard of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) in 2012. I was encouraged by my mentors, the people I look up to in the field of peacebuilding, to explore and volunteer as part of the Secretariat Team for that year’s Annual Peacebuilding Training. At that time, I was still finding my “vocation,” whether or not I wanted to be involved in peacebuilding or if I wanted to pursue something else.

Without having anything to lose, and the potential to gain much, I tried out my luck and was invited. Being in the secretariat team was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I had that year. Not only did I feel I helped make the participants and facilitators’ lives easier during the training, but I also learned much on many different levels in the field of peacebuilding. Somehow, that experience transformed me into what and who I am now.

So, what is it that calls me back to MPI’s Peacebuilding Training every year? Why is this important to me?

Leaders during traditional reconciliation shaking hands

Peacebuilding Activities in the Solomon Islands

“Violent conflict in the Solomon Islands, locally referred to as ‘the tensions,’ began in 1998 … prompted by the failure of successive national governments to address issues raised by the indigenous people of Guadalcanal.”* This major conflict ended in 2003 with the assistance of the international community. The author of this article, Reverend Mark Graham, was the Secretary for the Commission on Justice, Reconciliation and Peace of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

I attended MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training in 2013, taking the courses Introduction to Conflict Transformation and Trauma Healing & Reconciliation in Divided Communities. These courses covered various areas in peacebuilding, such as the definition of violence and conflict, conflict analysis—including mediation—shuttle diplomacy, and more.

These topics equipped me to be able to respond positively to the effects of the ethnic conflicts in the Solomon Islands, especially in Malaita Province and Guadalcanal Province, where the people were most directly affected by the tensions and conflict. Although the ethnic conflict happened between 1999 and 2003, the aftereffects continued to fuel new conflicts, divisions, and trauma in the communities even up to the present day.

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