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Four participants and Marlies Roth sitting at a long table

Finding a place at the table: Peacebuilders' exchanging stories

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On Sunday, October 9, 2022, MPI’s Research, Documentation, and Learning team, Anna Gingco and Marlies Roth, gathered a group of five participants for a roundtable conversation. It was a mix of people from different cultural and geographical backgrounds, experiences and age ranges. It was their genuine interest in each other’s reflections that made the conversation so memorable.

Five participants sitting together at tableThe interesting stories, examples, and experiences of two Papua New Guinea participants made up a big part of the conversation. Aside from the major violence of the 1990s that led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001, Michaelyn Wembi from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) discussed the cyclical violence experienced in relation to the elections every five years, particularly in the Highlands Region, explaining some of this violence at a community level as being rooted in frustration “because people think they are not listened to, justice was not served, so out of frustration people turn to violence.” 

As Father Isaiah Timba from the Catholic Diocese of Mendi pointed out, the conflicts between tribes is nothing new in the Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea where he works. However, whereas before people fought with bows and spears, since 1992 “ … modern weapons, M16, AK 47, all kinds of weapons, you name it, keep coming in,” making it, in his words, “hell in paradise.”

Michaelyn and Ferdinand Temokang, her colleague in the UNDP team who also attended the training, are now working for a project called “Creating Conditions for Peace in PNG Highlands.” They are partnering with Father Isaiah and Moses Komengi from the United Church of Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), who was also a participant at the MPI 2022 training, and others to reach for peaceful solutions to conflict in the region. Father Isaiah is mainly involved in peace mediation. He says that the level of violence has subsided but “it is still like an active volcano. It is still dormant in the minds and hearts of the people.” While Father Isaiah remains hopeful, he fears that it will be very hard to move past people’s desire for revenge. In the absence of a trusted base of elders—something which has changed over the years—his mediation work is all the more important, across a complex variety of types of violence, including resource-based and domestic violence. He hoped that the MPI training could help find ways to help people “get rid of these emotional and mental wounds.”

Alma “Kins” Aparece, the Coordinator of Friends Peace Teams-Asia West Pacific and the only training participant from Visayas, pointed out the similarities between the Philippines and Papua New Guinea: both countries are inhabited by people from numerous indigenous and nonindigenous groups speaking different languages and dialects. However, this diversity has become a major hurdle in achieving peace.

Meanwhile, Mariano Dos Santos from Timor-Leste shared the possibility of conflict recurrence despite resolution efforts. In the case of Timor-Leste, after becoming a sovereign nation in 2002 and ending the Indonesian occupation, there was initial reconciliation between opposing groups. But in 2006, violent conflict broke out again between these groups. According to Mariano, the violence was based on political rivalry and a desire for power split along east and west, dividing the people and using the military and police. This again led to violence and thousands of internally displaced people.

While this conflict was resolved, there remain various radical Martial Arts Groups that act as small armies in support of different political rivals. Recruited as young as primary school age, the members fight against rival groups in their communities, often leading to deaths. Joining these groups has created a sense of belonging. “If you don’t come into the group, you don’t have friends—in the school, in the community.” Mariano is aware that many of his students are part of these groups. So, he uses his classrooms to educate them on non-violence. 

Mariano’s sharing inspired the other roundtable participants to also express their concerns on how to strengthen young people’s engagement in peacebuilding. All sitting at the table agreed that, especially in very hierarchical and patriarchal societies, like those from which they come, children and youth are looked at as troublemakers rather than as a source of peace or agents for positive change. 

Michaelyn stressed the need to listen to young people, to take time to understand their needs and concerns. She gave the example of Papua New Guinea where more than 60% of the population is under the age of 25, where there is a high rate of youth unemployment, and many do not even have access to education. Isaiah added that many young people who have weapons will not surrender them because it is their source of income and survival. As a mediator, he said  he cannot ask them to surrender the weapons as long as he cannot offer an alternative to them to survive. Empowering young people is vital, but it is necessary to promote and strengthen servant leaders as well.

Another participant who joined the roundtable discussion was Dhatz Magada. Dhatz is a training officer/community organizer with Integrated Mindanaons Association for Natives (IMAN). He underlined how important it is to bring together people from different sectors of society to overcome conflicts and to build positive peace and just communities. IMAN tries to integrate Christians, Indigenous People, Muslims, women, youth, and elders in their project activities. He shared about a violent conflict in Pikit, North Cotabato area where Christians and Muslims were blaming, attacking, and even killing one another. Dhatz said there is a need to overcome the ideologies and the old narratives and to invest more in young people to become peacebuilders. 

At the end of our conversation, everyone expressed that they appreciated the discussion. They were thankful for the opportunity to share their challenges and experiences in doing peacebuilding in their different contexts, to listen to the questions and reflections of others, to get motivated and inspired again by hearing about the challenges others are facing, to not lose hope, and to feel that you are not alone. 

Communicating Peace Through the Youth

Four participants sitting at table discussingAs the participants capped off their first day of training in the second week, four young and vibrant participants gathered to share their peacebuilding-related work and their goals for attending MPI’s 2022 Annual Peacebuilding Training. Unlike the Roundtable Conversation during the previous week, the participants in the second week were new in the field of peacebuilding and were taking on roles and projects related to communication vis-à-vis development work. 

The group was composed of participants who signed up for the Conflict-Sensitive Journalism and Content Creation: Theories and Practice (CSJ) course. Irish Jane Calungsod is a communications officer at Equal Access International (EAI) and has produced an educational radio drama that featured stories of people in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Mohamed "Medlyrics" Bangura from Sierra Leone is the production manager of Culture Radio, a show that not only provides news and entertainment but also  tackles critical issues affecting their country. Meryem Goektas is the development advisor in the field of conflict-sensitive journalism for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – Civil Peace Service (GIZ-CPS) program in Beirut, Lebanon, and is a former journalist covering forced migration in Syria. Janna Arabea Matanguihan is a communications student from Ateneo de Davao University and a youth volunteer for Learned Kagan Muslim Foundation, Inc.

In the age of the internet and rising mis/disinformation, it is important now more than ever to recognize the crucial role of the youth in terms of communicating peace. At their young age, the involvement of these roundtable participants in their respective communities using their skills in communication and storytelling is worth highlighting. 

Irish, who considers herself more of a peace influencer than a peacebuilder, conducted research and applied the social and behavior change communication model in order to retell the stories of women in Sulu in the radio drama she produced. Through her organization, she helped in providing opportunities to vulnerable youth, especially in the BARMM. During the discussion, she shared the story of a radio program host, who was about to be recruited by combatants, but his life was transformed after joining EAI’s five-day tech camp. 

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, Medlyrics is known not only as a radio personality, but also as one of the peace ambassadors in his community. He has been using his talent and program as a platform to mediate issues related to migration, land grabbing, flooding, and land use and management. He is a huge advocate of giving voice to the voiceless through his media platform. 

Meryem, through her organization, has helped provide mentorship on conflict-sensitive journalism and media skills to their partners in Lebanon. She believes in the “butterfly effect” or the idea that small changes will always have a broader impact, similar to how her organization had helped build a media lab in Beirut where the project beneficiaries can produce their own media content to tell stories about the human condition in the country. 

After meeting Mindanaon filmmakers, Janna, who was a former engineering student, realized that she can promote her advocacies through the film medium. Despite being raised in Manila and being relatively new in the peacebuilding world, her interest in getting to know and understand the culture of the people in Mindanao inspired her to shift from engineering to a communication degree and pursue her interest in filmmaking. Even though she is still a student, she is an advocate and a youth leader, who wants to share the stories of the Kagan people and prove that even young people have a voice that needs to be heard.

Armed with their own inspiring stories, these participants came to Davao City to join the MPI training with the goals to broaden their experience, gain more skills in peacebuilding and communication, and hear stories and learn from their fellow participants. During the roundtable conversation, it was evident that while the participants are aware of the somber realities around them, they have high hopes that they can have a major positive contribution to their respective communities. They were aware of their limited experience in peacebuilding, but they have the skills to encourage meaningful conversations and the technological know-how to drive change, especially among their peers, which is a good step towards building a learning community of budding peacebuilders. With their diverse background and experiences, the four young peacebuilders are ready to welcome the challenges of making a difference in the world!

Marlies Roth is a seconded personnel of Bread for the World in Germany and works with MPI since May 2018 as Research, Documentation, and Learning Coordinator. 

Anna Gingco is MPI’s Research, Documentation, and Learning Assistant. Aside from hosting the roundtable conversations and open sessions during the MPI 2022 Annual Peacebuilding Training together with Marlies, she also served as the documenter for the CSJ training, which was offered by MPI for the first time in 2022.