By Taj Basman
COTABATO CITY — After the Mamasapano incident in 2015 that claimed the lives of 44 police commandos, 18 Moro combatants and other civilians, the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM) was one of the organizations who responded quickly to the call to provide services to children.
Same with the 2017 Marawi siege which displaced thousands of families.
The organization held series of psychological first-aid sessions with the children affected by these hostilities.
Currently, the organization’s presence in Mindanao could be felt, especially by schools inside the areas affected by the conflicts.
Its mission, “to make every Filipino child and youth a peace builder”, could be traced from the experience of its founder, Rohaniza “Honey” Sumndad-Usman, who experienced the horrors of the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia at the age of seven.
“I can never forget the sound of explosions and the feeling one gets when missiles were dropped,” Honey recalled. “I know what and how war is. That is why I find a bit of myself in every child who fears the sound of war.”
Unconventional peacebuilding strategies
By being exposed to different communities such as the Aeta in Pampanga, Muslim and Christian students in Taguig, and Moro students in Mindanao, the organization was inspired to come up with different strategies on how to instill a ‘peaceful way of life’ to the children.
Innovative strategies such as music, arts, games, sports, storytelling, and service—all of which are used as peace education materials—are the tools utilized by the organization to make peace building more enticing to children.
Board games and storybooks were created, songs were composed, and dances were choreographed by the volunteers who have experienced immersing with the communities of TPBPM.
The organization’s approach also includes other aspects of school life such as teaching practices and methods, student activities, administrative policies, school structures and relationships, as well as social action for and with the larger community.
TPBPM often strengthens peace visibility by organizing mural-painting activities with the students, helping the teachers in making visual aids by using peaceful acts as examples, and influencing the whole school to incorporate peaceful values in teaching various subjects.
In an official report, TPBPM noted that “teachers were able to integrate peace in their subjects with the use of peace jargons, claps, chants, rhymes, and other activities on the guidebook.”
Volunteer in conflict-affected areas
For Racquel Correa, a Manila-based volunteer of TPBPM, volunteering for TPBPM enabled her to learn much from the narrative of the people. “To put faces to what we seldom know about children living in conflict-affected areas,” she explained
“For someone, who could only get a glimpse of the situation through the news or read about it in papers, it’s a rare chance to debunk misconceptions and stereotypes, a way to put real faces and personalities to facts and data,” she said.
Nadzier Salunayan, a student in a TPBPM’s partner school in Maguindanao said that through the organization, he learned how to avoid conflict. “They taught us how to be a good ‘peace hero’: to respect our teachers, to feel compassion towards other people, to love everyone around us, and not do anything that would cause others harm,” said Salunayan.
To date, TPBPM is composed of more than 500 volunteers nationwide reaching thousands of students from Luzon to Mindanao.
The students they encounter are mostly ravaged by the generations-long war in Mindanao, some of the parents were killed by the conflicts.
With the rampancy of groups teaching violent jihad, TPBPM volunteer Soteya Trasadas said: “While we are teaching peace, someone else is teaching about violence, all the more that we have to advocate for it.”
TPBPM involves not just the students, but also the vital members of the community including the teachers, parents, and the community and religious leaders for a holistic approach to development.
Rijal Bashir, a local of Marawi, volunteering for TPBPM means giving back to his community.
“It nurtures my hope and love to humanity,” he said.
Living in post-siege Marawi, he saw some of the children at TPBPM have been actively involved on a daily basis. “Nagiiba talaga ang approach at behavior ng mga teachers at students,” he said. “Si Raquib from Camp Bagong Amai Pakpak Elementary School, ibang iba siya sa mga batang naglalaro,” he added saying that Raquib used to be shy when he first met him because of his cleft lip. “Siya na ang naglelead sa mga kaklase niya ngayon at makikita mong nagsstandout siya sa iba.”
“We observed significant changes experienced by the community,” said Racquel. “More students are now attending school. Children who were distant before are now more sociable and confident,” she added.