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Celebrating 20 Years of Peacebuilding - South Asia

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.

Novee Wila Rafaela (fourth from left) with MPI alumni and staff at Stella Maris College in India

Accepting and Embracing the New Reality

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.”

We are still facing the biggest upheaval of 2020. It has changed our lives, our relationships, and our peacebuilding work by 180 degrees. This change has led many of us to reflect, rethink, and recapture our visions of peace, our hopes, and our dreams that were put on hold because of the pandemic. Simultaneously, this has allowed us to accept the current situation and embrace the new reality in terms of learning, interacting, and living.

Being in this new reality where everyone is shifting to completely online makes us nervous, giddy, and anxious. Yet, it also makes us feel excited and eager as we await the future since this is something new, something we never tried, and something different from what we were used to. Because of the need to adapt to the changes around the world and in our society, it is challenging us to think creatively and positively as well as outside the box to remain relevant in this time of crisis and to continue with our vision to create just and peaceful communities in Asia-Pacific and beyond.

Father Albert (right) in discussion with two other classmates

Peace and Reconciliation Initiatives from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)

We are living in a world filled with violence, inequality, economic disparity, and degradation of human values. People are carried away by materialistic and consumeristic values that are promoted by a market-driven society. Violence is increasing because of uncontrollable self-oriented activities. The disturbing and destroying COVID-19 pandemic teaches our human society lots of lessons.

We belong to one human family, one ethnic race, and one society with multi-culturalism. What one does causes reactions on the other side of the spectrum. If one plants the seeds for social harmony and peace, it reaches far and wide. On the other hand, if one spews venom and poison on the hearts and minds of others, people become vindictive, sinister, malicious, and quarreling.

MPI taught me how to reconcile with myself, with my fellow beings, with society. It implanted in me a seed to spread social harmony, peace, and concord. Empowered and enhanced by the training, methods, mechanisms in MPI, I am able to apply and give proper orientation and perspective to my team, which works with people who have experienced war, conflict, and internal displacement due to political ideology and ethnic and religious conflict. We work with refugees who have no future. Their present life and dreams have been short-circuited and peace processes have been hampered. Nevertheless, we continue to shape the minds of younger generations to build peace and harmony. We can experience perceptible changes in them.

PK with another participant in a motion activity

From Raw Experience to Reflective Learning: My MPI Journey

I have had a rather privileged upbringing and was brought up by protective parents who were keen on ensuring a good livelihood for me. As a dreamy-eyed young boy, I chose literature for my undergraduate studies. Literature gave me some clarity and direction and made me value altruism and egalitarianism. It continues to have a profound impact on my worldly outlook.

As a young boy, there were instances when I used to feel helpless and confused. I could not understand why there were so many divisions, hierarchies, inequities, and determination to politicize issues. Oppression in the name of development, gender, caste, religion, nation, language, etc.—to which I had till then hardly any exposure—forced me to look at the harsh realities of life. Not knowing how to handle such contexts, I used to simply stay dazed.

As life moved on, I concluded that one needs to be stoic in the face of the unfair and unacceptable. If there are “bad” people out there, learn to keep away from them. If there are suffering members, try helping them. It is okay if you do not challenge structural violence. If bigotry and hatred are unfolding, look elsewhere and feel content that there are still others who shower love and care on the needy. If there is an abuse of power, keep away and await someone to speak the truth. If there is moral decay, bemoan it. These quick-fix formulaic approaches made me tired and unenthusiastic. Perhaps some of the key socio-political shifts over the past two decades in my country had enervated my conscience. Maybe, I was yet another metaphorical rabbit caught in the headlights of a neo-liberal world. I needed some experiential and cognitive shake-ups for me to recognize how youthful idealism could slowly pave the way for lifelong, unconvincing ethical compromises and unreflective endurance of many unjust practices.

Belinda leading dance in arts class

Using Art for Building Inner Peace During the COVID Pandemic

COVID-19 has brought along with it an additional pandemic affecting us psychologically—stress. Even the term ‘Corona’ alone, makes our body stiffen up and brings on heavy breathing and extreme awful thoughts appear. It causes panic, anxiety, and stress, thus leading to a lack of inner peace. Transmission control measures are adding fuel to the fire, leading to isolation, depression, frustration, and again to inner conflict.

As peacebuilders, we have an important role to play during this traumatic period, first, by building inner peace within ourselves (inner peace is vital for peacebuilders), and then, by building inner peace in others. Inner peace refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of stress (Barua,2014).*

Manjula with three other participants in peacebuilding training holding hands

My Journey as a Peacebuilder

My journey in peacebuilding began through the initiative of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which believes in responding to the biblical call to peace, justice, and nonviolence in everyday life and service. I did not realize that there was so much depth in the word “peace.” It was only after attending several in-house peacebuilding trainings organized by MCC that I began to realize that the word “peace” is an abstract form of internal wellbeing.

There were times in my personal life when I was going through difficult patches or situations, and I had no clue how to overcome the trauma that kept haunting me. I felt that I must find ways to handle those situations and not to give in to stress and allow trauma to rule my life. I began exploring myself, and I realized I needed a foundational training if I wanted to pursue ways of handling difficult situations through peacebuilding.

Dr. Richard Devadoss (2nd from left) with Pakistani participants in a cultural dance

Breathing Peace

At the outset, congratulations to MPI on reaching the historical milestone of 20 years of involvement in peacebuilding and creating peace activists throughout the world! Keep carrying the baton to achieve the 30th, 40th, and more anniversaries.

I was the lone Indian in the 2011 Annual Peacebuilding Training. Reminiscing about the three-week training brings back a flood of memories. The first memory that stands out is that we were breathing peace during the entire Annual Peacebuilding Training, whether it was the opening ceremony, the courses, the interactions with the batch and roommates, the cordial relationship we had with Chris and the Team of Trainers, or the cultural evenings. The events and processes were intricately woven together to create and promote a culture of peace.

4 Youth with peace banner

Youth Find Joy and Happiness in the Process of Peacebuilding

Over the last 20 years, the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) has spread its vision far and wide and has even touched the small town of Aluva 10 kilometers from Cochin International Airport in the state of Kerala. Kerala is known among tourists as “God’s own Country.” It is a land of many religions and many gods coexisting in ancient cities and villages and has been rarely studied. It was in this diverse land that a new project emerged to promote peace and interreligious dialogue.

The Centre for Peace Studies and Dialogue (CPSD) was born out of a classroom discussion in the Department of History. During the discussion, we were exploring whether the coexistence of religions was peaceful or violent. In 2014, inspired by my colleague Dr. Thara K Simon, I submitted a proposal to the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (United Board). I received funding but soon realized that conventional methodology was not going to help us. What we lacked was a radical approach and change in our perspective. No amount of reading alone could give us that perspective.

Orson Sargado with two participants looking at a flip chart during class

Echoing Peace Education in Sri Lanka

I was a participant in the annual peacebuilding training of MPI in 2018. Going through the list of courses offered, I had great difficulty in choosing just one course for each of the three weeks I was enrolled in. All of them were equally appealing! Finally, I settled for the following ones:

Week 1: Mainstreaming Peace Education in Communities and Schools
Week 2: Field-Based Course on Grassroots Peacebuilding in Mindanao
Week 3: Arts Approaches to Community-Based Peacebuilding

As I was participating in these courses, my imagination was on fire! I felt a lot of energy and wanted to do many things upon returning to Sri Lanka.

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