Becoming a Catalyst for Peace Activism

Becoming a Catalyst for Peace Activism

I distinctly remember how on the 6th of May, 2018, I had landed in Davao City in Mindanao, Philippines, and was anxious about finding my route to the venue for the Annual Peacebuilding Training of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Inc. (MPI). MPI had sent a volunteer and a driver to pick up a participant from Sri Lanka and me from the airport. With a beaming smile, they welcomed us, and within a few minutes, they started sharing many things from snacks to jokes and put us at ease. MPI knows more than a thing or two about making utter strangers turn into friends in a very short span of time. Dazed by travel exhaustion, I hoped that my next three-week experience at MPI would be one of such warmth. 

Padmakumar M M (PK) giving a testimonial during MPI's 2018 Annual Peacebuilding TrainingLittle did I know then that the MPI Annual Peacebuilding Training would turn out to be one of the best experiences I have had in my life! Looking back, I know that it was intensely enriching for many reasons. It was truly an immersion in global citizenship. I gained invaluable international, intercultural and even intersubjective experience; got wholesome food for the soul; picked up skills to handle conflicts and build peace; and overall, felt humbled as a learner and expanded as a human.

My sense of the world’s geography, histories, cultures, conflict contexts, and peace approaches grew immensely in those three short weeks at MPI. I had soul-stirring interactions with participants from Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Afghanistan, Fiji, Bangladesh, Switzerland, Bougainville, Germany, Pakistan, Laos, Kenya, Vietnam, Japan, etc. I’m sure many of those who attended with me would have similar accounts to highlight. Such exchanges inform us how beautiful and necessary cultural sharing is. And what do I tell about my Filipino friends! They were so adorably warm and friendly! I learned a lot in their company.

With the passionate and superbly-trained volunteers under the able leadership of Christine Vertucci, the director of MPI, and Novee Rafaela, the Peacebuilding Training Program Officer, MPI’s work ethics was evident in all aspects of the training. Their hospitality ensured that all of us felt at home. They took feedback from us about the courses, boarding and lodging, and the overall experience quite regularly. They ensured follow-up with their responses. Their philosophical values were reflected in the curriculum in many ways. As a teacher, I couldn’t resist listing down their value-driven approaches:

  • Safe environment in which to learn and share
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Opportunities for rich intercultural interaction
  • Art-based mediations
  • Learner-centered pedagogies
  • Clear course objectives
  • Learning outcomes, beyond the curricular ceiling, etc.

PK holding a sign "Who started? is not the questions, but how do we end?" during a simulation activityThe range of courses offered and how they chose the facilitators for each was brilliant. The choices made showcased the width, depth and sensitivity that MPI has in the domain of peacebuilding. MPI has a sharp sense of contemporary peace requirements. This year, they introduced the course Digital Peacebuilding and New Media, and I regret not having been able to take that. I had, in my limited capacity as a learner, suggested that ecology and peacebuilding be one area that MPI needs to address. Christine, the Director, sounded positive and hopeful that it should become accessible for peacebuilders who would participate in MPI next year.

Personally, my values as a citizen; family member; teacher; as the Head of the Department of Media Studies at CHRIST (Deemed to be University), India; and as a colleague; are all now informed by my learning from the three courses I attended. During the Fundamentals of Peacebuilding course, one of my fellow participants—John from the Office of the President Adviser on the Peace Process, Philippines—stated that “We shouldn’t listen to respond, but listen to understand.” Now I am reflectively listening to my family members, colleagues, and even to the birds in the neighborhood, and trying to understand why they say what they say.

Thanks to the Conflict Resolution Skills: Mediation and Dialogue course, I’m now able to differentiate mediation from activism; that conflict resolution is a vital but minor process in the conflict transformation process; and that contextual sensitivity is of absolute importance in any third-party mediation. My final course was on Arts Approaches to Community-Based Peacebuilding. It helped me overcome my inhibitions and made me realize how incredibly powerful a tool art could be in any conflict resolution process.

Right from my sense of the learner, to the learning outcomes my courses ought to have, I, as a teacher, know there’s bound to be an MPI stamp from here on. I’m already using energizers if the class is a little dull, sharing stories of suffering and resilience from other lands to broaden student’s understanding of the human condition, and employing the solutions approach to Journalism Studies. Thanks to the MPI opportunity, I would like to believe that I’m now a catalyst for peace activism.

If anyone with good intentions to understand the self and serve the world seeks direction, I would unhesitatingly point them to MPI.

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