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.
A simple coffee bean bringing world peace. Sound outrageous? Well that is the grand plan if the PeaceBuilders Community Incorporated (PBCI) in Davao City, Mindanao has its way. Beginning only ten years ago as a presence among parties in the long running wars in the southern Philippines, they currently have Peace and Reconciliation Communities spread throughout the Philippines. Even if this was all that visionary Dann Pantoja and the team at PBCI would have accomplished this would have been admirable.
However, connecting the values of justice and peace to a fair trade coffee business has made this venture down right remarkable. In ten short years Coffee for Peace (the entrepreneurial arm of the vision) has vastly increased what rural coffee farmers receive for their beans while encouraging the producer communities in a whole range of integrated skills. From tending coffee plants, to reforestation, to financial management skills to training baristas, the business acumen of Joji Pantoja has made this the social impact enterprise to watch. Indeed this merger of peace and coffee has attracted much attention earning Coffee for Peace numerous awards and notoriety from the United Nations, Price-Waterhouse Cooper, The Asian Development Bank and more.
With so much doom and gloom the world, I am inspired and humbled to have seen this story close up from the beginning as PBCI and Coffee for Peace make the world just a little more harmonious . . . one cup at a time.
Retired Archbishop Capalla came to our class today and spoke of his role in bringing leaders from Islam and Christianity together in support of peace in Mindanao. Speaking of years of personal relationship building across conflict lines he related a story of one dialogue that became stuck and bogged down. In the middle of this heaviness, they all decided to go for a picnic at the beach. This time for ‘play’ gave the talks some new energy and broke down some barriers.
The Archbishop, when asked what he feared for the peace agreement, said “war is business.” Peacemakers are an obstacle to the arms trade. The Archbishop has had 4 attempts on his life. The miraculous nature of his survival attests to a higher power on the side of peace.
“Look around the world and see the bad things being done” he summarized, “do the bad things being done outnumber the good being done? I don’t think so otherwise we would have all been overwhelmed a long ago. I believe in the capacity of the human being to change.”
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.
My friend Chito, a committed nonviolent activist since the days that ‘People Power’ overthrew the Marcos Dictatorship in the mid 1980’s, started his own NGO called the Interfaith Center for Conciliation and Nonviolence (ICCN) 10 years ago. Being relatively new to the Philippines in 2004, I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and ended up giving the key note address at the launching of this organization.
Now 10 years later, Chito is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the ICCN and I happened to be traveling through Manila on the very day of the commemoration. As he reminisced about the activities of the past 10 years I realized anew what a unique and cutting edge work the ICCN is doing. From mediating disputes between indigenous peoples to training paramilitary forces in alternative dispute resolution skills, the ICCN has a vision for a world where nonviolence is the way to transform conflicts.
This last activity, training paramilitary, was a project I was privileged to be a part of in 2012. We trained 40+ paramilitary soldiers in mediation. These men, recruited from their own home areas as “force multipliers for the Philippine military, are often the ones called on to help solve disputes. Many of them are stationed in contested areas where there is an absence of any other face of government. Soft power skills such as mediation and negotiation skills are filling the gap between the use of hard power and non-action.
I hope to be at the ICCN 20 year anniversary to review an even more impressive list of accomplishments.