A guest blog I wrote for Global Partnerships about using simulations and scenarios to teach peace.
The Republic of Bendora is an island nation surrounded by lesser islands like Renbel, Kula, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Laos and Canada to name a few. Fictitious of course, Bendora is the name of one of the case study scenarios we used in the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) Human Centered Security course. Our training design was hands-on and used made-up scenarios with real-world challenges. Newly designed to help those seeking to reframe security paradigms in their countries, this course tasked work groups to use conflict analysis and mapping skills. One starting assumption in Human Security include that nations are most secure when the needs of people (freedom from fear, freedom from want and respect for dignity) are the reference points.
This year at MPI we had a major delegation from the Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace in the Solomon Islands. During group work participants from five other countries tackled the Bendoran security issues which included clan tensions, an earthquake, outside meddling by foreign powers and weak governance. I observed that, in the minds of the participants, Bendora was imagined as an island nation among many other islands. The Bendoran mapping exercise proved the truism that our world is shaped by our perspective.
Sitting daily beside the sea for three meals a day, our MPI venue on the Philippine Island of Mindanao provided a tactile reminder of our geographic location. I have often thought about how the environment around us is but one influence that shapes our perception and experience. These filters, when applied unconsciously, are often a detriment to building peace. I wonder if art is the best medium to reveal hidden perspectives and once exposed these biases can be harnessed for peace. That was certainly the case for Bendora revealing its island nature.
Things got really tense in Dapat when young John killed the neighbors chicken. In fact, tensions broke out to the point where the lowlanders blockaded the highlanders, threatening to kill any who crossed into their territory. Some tenacious villagers from the highlands succeeded in bringing the two sides together to negotiate a settlement. And then we stepped in and called a halt to the whole thing.
Called “The Chicken War”, this fictitious scenario was one of the simulations we use regularly at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI), held annually in Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines. Written several years ago, it starts with a young highlander innocently throwing a rock and killing a neighbor’s chicken, which sparks simmering tensions into wholesale war. All too real in its narrative, we regularly cast participants as community leaders, police, apathetic citizens, and peacemakers. Also like real life, there are those present who just don’t want peace.
At MPI we often run these simulations after spending a few days analyzing conflict, learning new models of peacebuilding and viewing nonviolent tactics of conflict transformation. Our pedagogical philosophy at MPI is to not only present new theories and skills but to develop learning situations whereby participants can practice these new skills and then reflect on the gap between intentions and actualizing peace.
My colleagues at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute suggest there are at least three views of things that are metaphoric for seeking solutions to violent conflict. The view from a helicopter, Land Rover and walking. Viewing problems from a helicopter presents a flattened and panoramic field of vision where only major features of the terrain are visible. A helicopter leaps to the ‘destination’ without the inconvenience and snarls of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
The view from the Land Rover is a more nuanced, giving a ground level understanding of the bumps and twists in the road. The temptation is to drive at high speeds through villages to get to a destination some distance ahead. From behind the tinted glass, the rider gets a detached perspective never having to come face to face with real people. That is unless the vehicle stops and the rider alights.
It’s only in walking that one grasps, viscerally, the difficulty of traversing the road. Through the five senses the heat of the sun, the smells and sounds of the journey becomes intimately familiar to the walker. Might the solutions that emerge from struggling on the journey together, walking shoulder to shoulder, be the most sustainable even though they are the ‘slowest’? What will it take to get us out of our helicopters and Land Rovers and get a bit of road dust on our feet?
The Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) has now into its 15th year. Over that time there has been an amazing continuity in the facilitation team which has seen the same international and Filipino facilitators each year while mentoring a younger group of facilitators.
As I ate breakfast this morning I, as an American, was sharing a table with a Filipino, Kenyan, Japanese, Fijian, Canadian and Solomon Islander. We were talking about all our years of coming to MPI and the learning we bring from the past year of practice. I was struck by the beauty of diversity around the table plus the global perspective represented by colleagues who practice of peacebuilding in such a plethora of conflict situations. That common perspective gives us a common, international language that resonates deep in human hearts regardless of our nationality. We come each year to MPI having new experiences from the past year and applying that to our own classroom settings.What a rich trove of wisdom from these ‘elders’ of peacebuilding.
What I would like to see is funding that brings these sages together for a retreat as a kind of sabbatical reflection where the collective wisdom of the group could contribute toward the larger global move toward peace.
I am ready for my annual trip to the southern Philippines. This trip routing is rather long, 72 or so hours from waking to arrival in Davao, the venue for the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Training (MPI). This is my 13th time to be a part of this wonderful event but it was almost not to be. A medical condition threatened to ground this multi-country trip. In the end, I am salvaging enough to fulfill a minimum of my obligations and anticipations.
I am intending a different kind of travel Zen. It occurs to me that I always try to be a “self contained island” as I travel these busy, transient pathways of airports, seats with only a 31 inch pitch and cellophane wrapped airline food. Enough battery life in my laptop to be productive on trans-oceanic flight segments, throat lozenges for stopped up ears on descent and a clean pair of socks, have been some of my feeble attempts to carry-on the contingencies of long duration flight.
What I desire on this trip, having come face to face with my own physical fragility is to look to others, opening a space for human compassion. Even if no words are spoken to my seatmates of 12 hours, my intention is to be the kind of person who radiates and receives the life force of human empathy and blessing.
Two days before I flew to MPI, I went to the dentist. With a double whammy of replaced fillings on both sides of my mouth, the right side never quit aching and was unusable for chewing. It was sensitive to hot/cold changes and often shot through my jaw with pain. On our field visit to Pagagawan, the community fed us lunch. The national fish, “Bangus” was part of the fare. Containing many little bones, my co-facilitator James mentioned that the Ustaz (Islamic scholar) of the local NGO was a healer and could dissolve bones logged in the throat of a hapless victim. James mentioned in passing that Eskak, the name of the healer, could also make a tooth ache go away.
During a break I mentioned my tooth problems to Eskak and he told me to bring water. He dipped his finger twice in the water, touched the side of my mouth and told me to say, Bismillah meaning, “in the name of God/Allah.” My tooth ache went away. I can now chew on that side of my mouth. When I thanked Eskak, he held his hands open, palms up, and said the healing comes from God/Allah.
On this same visit was I was thrilled to see Usman, also from the local Islamic NGO. Our friendship goes back 10 years to many ceasefire monitoring and advocacy trips in the conflicted areas of Mindanao. He told me a piece of the story I had never heard before. While we were on one of those trips, where the terrorist group Abu Sayaaf was active, he was charged with my safety and security. That trip was memorable in that we had a contingent of 200 heavily armed police and military accompanying us. That I write this today is a testament of the success of his fulfilling that task. Thank you Usman for your concern all those years ago and your friendship today.
This is the last blog posting from Philippines. Until next trip….Daghang Salamat (many thanks)
On our field visits we went to the community of Pagagawan in Maguindanao. This area has seen its share of conflict, displacement, and violence over the last years as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has sued for the right to self determination and ancestral domain. Evidence of this traumatic past was made clear in the reaction by community members during our meeting. A large coconut fell from the tree and made a deep boom. For just the briefest of moments, those who have experienced war, returned to that mental state of ultra heightened awareness, confusion and adrenalin rush that accompanies the abruptness of violence. It was over in a split second but I could read the bodily reactions.
This community has experienced its own transformation through the help of a local Islamic NGO called the Integrated Mindanaoan Association for Naives (IMAN). This organization has been working nearly 30 years at values transformation that has led to structural and relational transformation in their community. As a national level framework for peace has been undertaken (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro-FAB), these communities are moving into the social and political space, creating cultures of peace.
A recent project linking two parts of their community is a bridge. They call this a peace bridge because of the collaborative nature of the work. The community has partnered with civil society and government to do this project. While a work in progress, they take pride in both the symbolic and physical manifestation of, what they hope, is finally durable peace.
Our nonviolence course went very well last week. As you can see by the last two postings the simulation exercise played out far differently than any other year we did it and our last day included a demonstration of the martial art Aikido followed by a meaningful closing program.
This week I am co-facilitating a new hybrid classroom/field exposure course. Each year in the third week we take a handful of folks to communities where peacebuilding and conflict transformation skills are actually put to use reducing violence. These field exposure courses include some processing but this year a week two hybrid course includes two classroom days, the first to set the frameworks to look at community efforts and the last day to synthesize learnings. The middle three days are intensive visits to communities to listen and learn.
The visit on Tuesday was to an indigenous community that has run innovative programs that has harnessed cultural, structural, relational and individual change. It is exciting to hear how this community has reinvigorated their traditional conflict resolution mechanism, gaining credibility in problem solving that circumvents the local and regional courts. I was also interested to learn that they intimately include the spiritual dimension in their peacemaking.
Every year at MPI we do a simulation where we set up two classes as communities in conflict. Participants get to practice the peacebuilding and nonviolent skills they are learning in class. This role play always plays out differently. This year our students delighted us by really practicing nonviolence. Some highlights:
-In the midst of agitated violence, one of our students moved a decorative tree right in the middle. The effect was dramatic. The violence was attenuated by the presence of this living being.
-At the front line of where the violence played out, nonviolence students sang peace songs, blessed their adversaries and offered them food in order to win them as allies and friends.