Stories from a Filipino peace camp

For decades, residents of the Lanao provinces of Mindanao, in the Philippines, have been caught in the crossfire of clan wars, violent extremism, and most recently, the infamous Marawi siege. Conflict in these locations can be attributed to a variety of factors, including poverty, religious and ethnic differences, and struggles over ancestral lands and local resources. The area’s youth is especially vulnerable because they are targeted as recruits by extremist groups with connections to the so-called Islamic State. The support of family and social networks plays a key role in determining their susceptibility to radicalisation, and in fostering a path both into, and away from, violent extremism.  

For these reasons, People in Need (PIN) believes in the essential function of education for directing youth toward the values of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance for cultural and religious differences.

This year, Mindanawon youth leaders from the Lanao provinces, specifically Butig, Munai, Marawi City, and Iligan City met for a productive youth training camp, locally referred to as CamPayapaan, or peace camp. The activity was made possible by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) programme, a joint project between People in Need Slovakia, People in Need Philippines, and People in Need Myanmar, funded by the European Union, and implemented with the Pailig Development Foundation, Inc., a local organisation.

The goal of the event was for participants to build harmonious relationships, mutual respect and understanding, and increase tolerance toward each other's communities. While their hometowns may be well-known areas of conflict, paradoxically, their cultures are interconnected. By empowering these young changemakers to act, the Philippines moves one step closer to its goal of a peaceful and sustainable society.

Following the successful first phase of the camp, three youth leaders from the group went beyond their original assignments and volunteered to assist in training the next batch of CamPayapaan participants. These are their stories.

One of the group's youngest participants was Almuhsin "Torz" Mulok of Marawi City. Described as a happy-go-lucky member of the Coalition of Moro Youth Movement (CMYM), Torz was sincere in his willingness to help in any way possible – even offering to be a coffee server for the campers. His determination is fuelled by a brief experience mingling with Moro tribes during his secondary education. While studying, he learned more about the conflicted relationship between Moro and non-Moro tribes. This strengthened his desire to better understand other ethnic groups who don't practice Islam like he does, and to contribute toward building cohesive and peaceful communities.

Despite being one of the older participants in the group, Jomael "Jay" Mama is more reserved than the others and chooses his words carefully. However, his words left a lasting impact on his fellow campers. He delivered a speech during the closing programme and encouraged young people to actively take part and volunteer in local organisations that contribute to peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao. He showed his sincerity by voluntarily gathering data with the Pailig Development Foundation during the preparatory stage for CamPayapaan's second group of participants. He also assisted in coordinating with some of the local village leaders in Marawi City. As a social work graduate, his interest in social issues stems from his dream to inspire others to build a path toward peace. Through his commitment, he proves that actions can speak louder than words.

The sole female local youth volunteer, Johaira "Barbie" Solaiman is an inspiration to Mindanawan women of all ages. She is an active member of the Youth for Peace Movement (YPM) in Butig. This organisation was established by the  Armed Forces of the Philippines to promote peace as a response to armed clashes in 2016. Barbie is a natural leader and aided in the preparatory activities through coordination and data gathering. Despite residing in a far-flung town where women are discouraged from mobilising and speaking out, she braved the risks and eagerly contributed to the workshops and shared her ideas. Through her actions, she is paving the way for other young girls to follow in her footsteps and contribute toward community development and peace. 

Author: Rebecca Galvez, PIN Philippines Communication & Advocacy Officer