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.
At this point, the United Board wrote to us about the training program at MPI. After a thorough screening, I found myself headed to the Philippines and ended up at Mergrande Ocean Beach Resort in Davao City, Philippines, on a night in May 2015. Over the next three weeks, I was transformed inside out.
I was bubbling with ideas when I returned. In my presentation on my MPI experience, I introduced the teacher-as-facilitator model to which I was exposed during MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training. In March 2017, CPSD was founded with the vision of broadening interreligious understanding and peacebuilding among youth. The first batch of volunteers was from the disciplines of History and Psychology. We retained the action-based learning imbibed from MPI.
A committee with a Director and four members who all serve as faculty handles CPSD. We reworked the Interreligious Dialogue and Peacebuilding and Fundamentals of Peacebuilding courses from MPI and combined them into one course and began offering it to 20 students each year. Instead of a week-long course like those offered at MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training, our course consists of a one-day orientation and then the theory and student presentations are spread out across the semester.
When attending interreligious meetings, the youth have the opportunity for internal transformation and the broadening of their minds. During class time, we discuss issues and news headlines from the recent past that provide students diverse perspectives on pressing issues.
After the flood in 2018, volunteers collected memories to help the survivors cope with the trauma. They documented and surfaced solutions in a dispute over a neighborhood church. They reflected on the realization that careful listening by a third party can help people vent ill feelings, reconcile with each other, accept reality, and even arrive at better solutions.
In March 2018, we held an international workshop on peace studies and the general curriculum attended by teachers from Sri Lanka and India. One of the teacher-participants started a Peace Club. Students had an active session on the mitigation of rage on campus. CPSD developed short teaching modules in peace studies under the Value Education program.
CPSD has been well represented in national and state peacebuilding movements. During the first state peace convention in Kannur held in the context of political violence, we interacted with peace workers. Students had already seen a documentary and did some reading on the topic. Faculty and students participated in two national peace conventions, too.
In the future, we would like to have fruitful collaboration in building peace among youth, including with MPI. We have already had discussions with Lumen Institute and XLRI on student and faculty exchange.
Dr. Jenee Peter is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Union Christian College in Aluva, India. She is also the director of the Centre for Peace Studies and Dialogue at Union Christian College. She attended MPI’s 2015 Annual Peacebuilding Training as a United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia scholar.