12/22/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Educating children to avert a culture of violence in Mindanao

by Santosh Digal
State and Catholic universities are promoting cultural exchanges and a culture of peace. Expert in Islamic-Christian dialogue says, “Peace is more than silencing the guns”. Silsilah is an example.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Peace “is more than a piece of paper, a memorandum of agreement. [. . .] We strongly believe we have to start small, we have to start it with the children at the elementary level,” said Marcel Carpizo, director of the Center for peace and development at the Western Mindanao State University. In cooperation with the Ateneo peace culture institute (APCI), the centre has developed programmes to introduce a “culture of peace” in the region’s public schools. The goal is to avert ignorance through education and intercultural dialogue.

“We must correct the mindset of students. Our surrounding is really full of violence, even in the media, at home and in school,” Ms Carpizo said.

“Our attempt is not just about educating the students but” it is “at the same time developing experts able to deal with peace education,” APCI director Cecil Simbajon said.

Teachers help students cope with their daily problems and conflicts and both try to discover together the social and cultural reasons for the present situation.

“This way, students and teachers are encouraged to see Mindanao’s cultural diversity as something stimulating rather than conflictual,” he explained.

The predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao has been at war for the past 40 years. The Filipino military has been battling it out with Muslim rebels like the Moro Islamic liberation front (MILF) and extremists like Abu Sayyaf, a group tied to al-Qaeda.

Since September, peace talks have been underway between the government and the MILF, and the army has captured Abdul Basir Latip, considered one of the founding members of Abu Sayyaf. Private armies hired by powerful Muslim families in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have also emerged, adding another fault line (see “Mindanao: dozens killed in election-related fighting between rival families,” in AsiaNews, 23 November 2009). At present, more than 4,000 soldiers are deployed in the area.

“For Muslims and indigenous peoples, Mindanao is their homeland. For Christians who settled in Mindanao, it is the Promised Land. Yet often, Mindanao has become a ‘No Man's Land,” said Fr Amado Picardal, theology professor and inter-faith dialogue expert.

Everyone has suffered in the recent conflict. Peace is more than silencing the guns or deals signed by the government and the MILF, he said. There have been ceasefires and peace agreements in the past, yet genuine and lasting peace has not been attained.

Genuine peace can only be achieved through dialogue at the grassroots level, a dialogue of life, a dialogue of faith, a dialogue of action, with everyone working together to address our common problems.

For Father Picardal, Silsilah, a Christian-Islamic association founded by Fr Sebastiano d’Ambra (PIME), is one example. For the past 20 years, it has proposed initiatives like the Bishop Ulema Forum and the Mindanao week of peace as a way to reach that goal.

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