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Five participants showing drawings from a class exercise with Irish in the middle

A Peacebuilder’s Journey in the Making

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My MPI training is perhaps the highlight of my learning journey for 2022. It not only introduced me to a world of peacebuilders and changemakers, but it also allowed me to understand more deeply why our very existence in this community of practice matters for a lot of reasons.

As a young communications practitioner from a small town in Southern Leyte, I never thought of coming to Mindanao, experiencing its diversity, and at the same time, realizing how this island has been challenged by decades-long conflict, fought courageously by peacebuilders and peace advocates. It then dawned on me how I was out of touch with this reality and maybe, just maybe, I can be part of this peacebuilding work with the skills I have when the time comes.

It is all thanks to Equal Access International (EAI), my home organization that gave me the opportunity to maximize my potential and use it in its many interventions for peacebuilding work. It is also with EAI that my almost four-years-in-the-making MPI journey started. I have met MPI alumni senior colleagues and mentors who encouraged and inspired me to apply. When they reflected on their MPI days, I always heard all the good and worthwhile things that are evident in their respective peacebuilding journey. Right there and then, I made it a goal to apply for the MPI Annual Peacebuilding Training.

In 2022, with the help of my colleagues, I was one of the individuals sponsored to attend MPI’s five-day training course on Conflict-Sensitive Journalism and Content Creation (CSJ). Most of the time, we at EAI are the ones providing capacity-building training to young peace influencers. It was the first time in four years that I felt that genuine thirst to learn like a student, considering how the pandemic also altered my learning process. Feeling excited is an understatement as I traveled to Davao City to undergo one of the most sought-after trainings in the peacebuilding community. True enough, MPI gave me an experience I would never trade for anything when the opportunity comes.

Irish Calungsod pointing to diagrams on the wall while classmates look onMeeting co-MPI participants of diverse backgrounds and cultures is something I will always treasure. I felt intimidated yet like I belonged. I think that is something big that MPI does at the end of the day—that sense of belongingness to a community where each one’s contribution and strength is celebrated and acknowledged. MPI participants can learn from each other and discuss ways to complement and support.

And I experienced it in my CSJ class. I am lucky to have shared my five days with them learning new concepts, arguing (in a peaceful way) for ideas, letting go of misconceptions, and challenging ourselves to become better in our work after all of these years. As I shared during the closing ceremony, the course not only taught us how to be effective storytellers but also how to be constructive listeners. There are more than two sides to a story—words that our class facilitators always emphasized. This line about conflict-sensitive journalism, complemented by the tools introduced, became my guiding point as I went back to my work and reflected on the many ways I can apply my learnings, may it be writing and producing a radio drama, or designing tools in our participatory media and technology programming at Equal Access.

As one of the songs from "Shrek the Musical" puts it:

… And there's more more more to the story
What you so often read
Isn't always so
There's more more to the story
Now I know

The CSJ class was the closest experience I had to being a professional investigator or a detective. Each tool used was a step closer to discovering what lies in the invisible layers of truth and lived narratives of the actors involved in the conflict. As writers and storytellers guided by CSJ principles, we are bound to seek the truth, even when it is painful, sad, or something that does not align with our beliefs and values.

The tools introduced and taught in the class were like ingredients that made conflict-sensitive journalism a concept that could be better appreciated and easier to grasp. We even performed a speech choir about CSJ during the culmination program written by one of my classmates. I enjoyed experiencing each tool used and appreciated how our class facilitators guided us in the process. I heard it was the first time CSJ was offered as an MPI course, yet it felt like it was not because of how carefully the lessons and workshops were structured; not only opening conversations but also working as a class to explore what works well or the other way around.

As they say, our learnings are not boxed within the four walls of the class. Looking back, as we made our way to the cafeteria after the brain-draining yet challenging sessions, genuine conversations were shared over a fine meal and good laughter. I am thankful to MPI for this learning journey and for connecting me to other advocates from the Philippines and other countries with whom I am grateful for sharing their knowledge and experience. It is also through this training that I got to deeply understand that our work in peacebuilding is and will always be relevant. It will never go out of style and is evolving. Peace work encompasses the different forms of advocacies we fight for and the progress we long to see in our society.

As I continue to engage with communities by designing participatory media campaigns, content, and solutions, I am grateful that I have with me the skills and knowledge I got from the CSJ class. At Equal Access, we value the narratives and voices of different actors in the community, which are reflected in our programmatic approaches to engaging local content and direct community engagement. With the CSJ concept and tools, I am more confident now that the content and stories we produce will inspire behavior change and norms diffusion.

Irish Jane Calungsod is the Communications Officer of Equal Access International – Philippines, a Cagayan de Oro City-based, non-governmental organization working on peacebuilding and transforming violent extremism in Mindanao. She completed her first course with MPI on Conflict-Sensitivity Journalism on October 17-21, 2022.