One step, two steps, then, I stopped and looked around inside the airport, feeling nervous. Can I do this? Can I manage to travel alone and navigate a foreign country? Can I communicate clearly so that they can understand me? Will I be able to make friends? Will I be able to participate in the training as I had hoped? These were just a few of the questions that ran through my mind during my trip to Nanjing, China, to participate in the 2019 Summer Peacebuilding Training of the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI).
All these questions faded away as soon as I was able to see a secretariat volunteer and some of the participants waiting for the arrival of other participants before departing together to the venue. It was such a relief to see the NARPI signage, the waving hands, and the greeting smiles of the group. Then I realized this must be how most of our participants feel when they arrive at the Davao airport for the annual training.
The summer peacebuilding training was both a privilege and a blessing for me as an individual who is given an opportunity to study the fundamentals of peacebuilding and is given the chance to learn about the culture of the host country (China) as well as the other participants’ countries. The training gathered 95 students and professionals, primarily from Northeast Asia.
I was very inspired by an excerpt from the encouraging message of Professor Liu Cheng during his welcome remarks when he said, “Each of us needs to become a little piece of peace.” This line was the theme, unconsciously, throughout my two-week participation in the training.
As an educator, I took the Theory and Practice of Peace Education, a foundation course. In this course, I was able to learn the basic concepts of peace, peace education, and peacebuilding. At the same time, I learned various ways to organize class meetings, gather inputs or reflections from the group, communicate clearly and effectively, and creatively manage my anger. This course was really fun as we engaged in simulations that allowed us to move and act according to the roles that were given to us. I realized that in our everyday lives, we are already living peace by making small efforts to live harmoniously with our families and neighbors. The simple way of managing our anger, understanding our problems, and using good communication skills are some of the things that make a big difference within ourselves and the community.
In the second week, I chose the new course, Spaces and Facilities for Peacebuilding: The Roles of the Arts, Education, and Exhibition. Together, we walked through and discovered briefly the contemporary history of each country through mutual sharing and learning. It was challenging because I was the only one from the Philippines, but I was able to present it the way I was taught in high school. Aside from learning history, we explored different activities that helped us recognize our identities and our stereotypes and assumptions. It also allowed us to discover our similarities, deepening our understanding and respect for one another.
This course was very timely because, before it started, we visited historical museums in Nanjing. While in this course, we saw the important role museums play in promoting and educating about peace. Aside from mutual sharing and learning about history, we participated in enjoyable activities; we created a motion picture, wrote lyrics, and recorded a song. Since we were all inspired by the message of Professor Liu Cheng, we titled our song, “Be a Piece of Peace.” I was so happy with our output as I felt solidarity among us. We also enjoyed the course as we were able to rap lines in our local language.
In addition to the courses, the most memorable, educational experience I had was the field trip that NARPI organized for three days. It was an eye-opener for me. The visits to the museums left me with so much admiration and inspiration and filled me with lots of emotion. It was not easy to revisit the painful history, yet it was an opportunity for learning, dialogue, and reflection. The purpose and the hope of a Nanjing-based businessman for putting up a private Anti-War Museum impressed me. He built the museum to remember the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre and to challenge those visiting to do something for peace for war to never happen again. He wanted it to serve as an inspiration to people that peace is possible!
The visit to the Museum of the Site of Liji Lane “Comfort Stations” in Nanjing was very solemn and emotional. It was the biggest comfort station that the Japanese had set up in Asia. Through photos, videos, statues, artifacts, and written statements, we witnessed the life of comfort women in Asia, including the Philippines. Some of the rooms where they lived were even identified by the victims.
We watched the movie titled, The Flowers of War, before the start of our second day of the field trip. The story depicted the Nanjing Massacre. It was a painful and heavy movie that kept me thinking and praying that it should never happen again. The visit to the Nanjing Massacre Museum was very timely for NARPI because we happened to be there on the anniversary of the day that Japan surrendered to end the Asia-Pacific War in 1945. The ceremony started with bowing and placing flowers to remember the victims of the war and ended with writing our hopes of peace in our language. It is at this time that I realized the importance of remembering our history as well as knowing what we are commemorating during important holidays in our respective countries.
After the peaceful ceremony, the group toured the huge museum with all the artifacts, documents, testimonials, bones, and re-enactments of certain scenes of the Nanjing Massacre. In the afternoon, we were given a special opportunity to meet and listen to two survivors of the Nanjing Massacre and two of their family members. They spoke about their personal experiences during the time of the war. We were fortunate to have met and listened to them since they were elderly and in their twilight years. They told us that this history of war should never be repeated. This is something that we should always remember and not let it happen again.
The warm breeze, the peaceful ambiance, and the old buildings from the 1940s welcomed us as we visited the Mei Yuan Community Center in the old downtown Nanjing. I appreciated the collective effort of the young artists and educators who are creating a community as they restore and develop this area. I was impressed by how they restored and preserved the old Nanjing community despite the modernity of society today. This initiative is very important for the young generation to see first-hand, not just in the books or documentaries, what community life was like before the war and how modernization of the society has taken place.
In conclusion, my NARPI experience was very enriching and enlightening. Thank you, MPI, for allowing me to travel and to learn more about peacebuilding. It is in this exchange that I created friendships with wonderful people with a simple hello and became aware of others’ history through mutual learning and sharing as well as experiencing together a wonderful training process through the collective efforts of the NARPI team. What I learned during the training broadened my perspective of other cultures and the peacebuilding world and served as a stepping stone on my journey of becoming a peacebuilder. As Professor Liu Cheng said, each of us needs to become a little piece of peace by becoming a better version of ourselves, by doing something for peace in our own little ways, and by living a culture of peace.