PeaceSpace: Tapping cildren for pace
Zamboanga City (September 24) -- Fifteen-year-old Alibai Alim is not your typical teenager. Scarred and embattled by rido or clan wars that have been going on in the area where she lives, her life has mostly been a quest for survival.
"Whenever I get separated from my family often in the dark of the night to flee from the armed conflict, I just tell myself, 'do not be afraid, you will find your family soon,' says Alibai, a native of Barangay Kudarangan in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
This predominantly Muslim community in Central Mindanao is situated along a river and surrounded by the Liguasan marsh, a vast threshold of natural resource considered an ancestral domain by the Maguindanaon people. It is also an area where conflict and violence persists.
In Kudarangan and surrounding areas, children grow up in the midst of recurring conflict. Contrary to usual perception, this conflict is not rooted in religion or military invasion.
"We get along well with Christians, there are no problems. It's often the clan wars (rido) between and among families in the community that causes the conflict," Alibai explains. Clan war is a practice of avenging a supposed wrong on one's family and can go on for up to six generations.
When a fight erupts, everyone else in the community has to leave to be spared from stray bullets. This relentless exodus has caused children to stop going to school. Families would run to the river to hide. In an attempt to comfort them, parents tell their children they also had the same experience growing up.
"We don't go to evacuation centers because it's too far away from our home and the marsh, our source of livelihood, so we hide in the river and wait for the gun battle to stop," Alibai adds.
Productive activity stops and dire need sets in.
"My parents cannot afford to send us all to school. We do not have money to spare for education," laments Alibai, who is the fifth child in a brood of eight.
On June 2007, Alibai was able to return to school through the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program of the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) Project. EQuALLS is the cornerstone education project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Mindanao.
William Potter, chief of party of the EQuALLS project, revealed that Save the Children (STC) is implementing EQuALLS' ALS program which, apart from helping children affected by conflict find inner peace and be peace makers, also seeks to mainstream them towards economically productive activity.
"Through EQuALLS, USAID aims to provide 100,000 OSCY in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Region 9 and Region 12 with relevant learning and life skills training, with at least 4,000 targeted to engage gainful livelihood activities by the end of the project in 2011," Potter added.
Alibai now yearns to become a teacher, not only to help her parents but also to teach other children in their community.
"Kulang kasi ang teacher sa amin. Takot sila sa aming lugar," (We lack teachers in our community as they are afraid to come), she says.
The opportunity for Alibai to teach other children came in early with the PeaceSpace, an innovative program of STC which provides venue for children to participate in community development and peace building measures through the arts.
Called children facilitators, Alibai joined 36 other aspiring teachers aged 10-18 years old to share experiences and learn creative ways to promote healthy dialogue and understanding among children.
A PeaceSpace creative workshop was conducted on September 5-8 by Mindanao musician and renowned artist Waway Saway.
"May pag-asa tayo. May pag-asa ang Mindanao (There is hope for us, there is hope for Mindanao)," Waway emphatically tells the participants whose childhood dreams have almost drifted away.
Waway and his team led the creative workshop for children coming from the rido-affected areas of barangay Lumubog, Damatulan, Sambulawan, Kudarangan, Macasandeg and Sitio Guntong, all in the western part of Midsayap, North Cotabato.
The workshop used the principle of arts in managing conflict, noting how tapping children to participate in the community process through creative means could synergize peace.
"We need to listen to each other's music, to let others play their role while you wait for your moment," Waway explains. We need to respect, and complement in order to understand each other," he adds.
Yul Olaya, Save the Children Education Team Leader for Midsayap, North Cotabato added, "This workshop enables children and youth to creatively express their ideas, opinions and decisions. Children and youth are our way to peace in Mindanao," he added.
"To help other children process their understanding of the situation in their community, these children facilitators will spend their spare time in the community conducting story telling and reading sessions, including games and creative arts sessions," explained Joe Agarano, STC education program manager.
"I learned the value of respect for others, I also learned to open up my ideas, my music, my mind to others," says Mohamidin Kesa, a Grade 5 student in a public school in North Cotabato.
Building on the concept that children have the capacity to promote peace when their views are heard and respected Waway explains.
"Peace building could be likened to that of a theater. The small, or the weak are put in front and everyone is given their own space. It ensures that everyone is visible and heard in the process."
"Now I am slowly regaining the will to live not just to survive, but to take up my responsibility for other children and youth so we may be heard," Alibai says. (EQuALLS/PIA Z.C) [top]