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.
Even now, I carry with me the many wonderful memories I had with fellow peacebuilders around the world. They continue to give me strength and motivation to tread on. Many of these were sacred moments shared with people from different backgrounds during the years I attended the Annual Peacebuilding Training at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute either as a volunteer, a participant, or a trainer. A lot of what we shared were stories of tribulation, of lessons collected from a life dedicated to peace and justice, and of personal triumphs. It seems to me resiliency is a trait all peacebuilders should have. We try to learn from the experiences we go through, gather the fragments of our new selves, and work to grow whole again.
A few days ago, I sowed three different kinds of vegetables in recycled plastic egg trays as a start to what I hope will be a sustainable food source for my family. As I carefully placed the seeds into the shallow compost, I realized how something so valuable can start so tiny and simple. I am uncertain how these seeds will grow, but like the bit of hope that I still have that things will get better, I must tend to it every day.
Our ability to bounce back depends on how we perceive this new world. Do we hide in our corners or do we try to grope our way out of the dark? No matter how debilitating the circumstances are, we raise our words and we hold space for each one. Together, we take these tiny steps towards a better world every day.
Gabrielle "Gabs" Aziza Sagaral is a project officer with Forum Civil Peace Service/forumZFD, an international non-governmental organization working on nonviolent conflict transformation in several countries, including the Philippines. She started as a volunteer and then worked as a program officer with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute from 2009 to 2013. Gabs co-facilitated Fundamentals of Peacebuilding for MPI's 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training and is scheduled to do so for the next training.