A guest blog I wrote for Global Partnerships about using simulations and scenarios to teach peace.
Every May persons from all over Philippines, Southeast & South Asia, the Pacific and beyond converge in Davao City, Mindanao to learn and share their desire for and experiences with overcoming violent conflict. This annual event, the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI), runs for three weeks, hosting multiple classes of one week each. This year we have 93 participants from 19 countries. The first class I am co-facilitating, A Force More Powerful: Theory and Practice of Nonviolence, has 13 participants from six nations.
Every year at MPI the first week is reserved for basics courses such as Fundamentals of Peacebuilding, Introduction to Conflict Transformation, Peace Education and Active Nonviolence. The second week has traditionally more focused courses such as Trauma Healing, Interfaith Dialogue, Advanced Mediation, Advocacy, Asian Faces of Justice and Peacebuilding and the Arts to name a few. The final week participants visit communities in Mindanao where these very models and examples have been practiced, building local capacities for peace.
For the past 12 years I have been co-facilitating Fundamentals of Peacebuilding, Active Nonviolence and Inter-religious Dialogue with some dynamic conflict transformation practitioners. Indeed these patient and generous folks mentored me into the facilitation role and made a trainer out of me. I owe Deng, Myla and Wendy a huge debt of gratitude.
In an effort to further enlarge the dialogue space in a polarized Mindanao and to address local issues of violence, a cross section of Filipinos and Philippine based NGO leaders journeyed to the Eastern Mennonite University Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) in the year 1999. Transformed by that experience and supported by the Catholics and Mennonites, resourceful Filipinos asked themselves, “why can’t we do that kind of peace learning and training here in Mindanao?” Thus, in the year 2000 the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) was born.
Intentionally non-academic for the first dozen years, MPI has focused on conflict transformation skills such as mediation, conflict analysis, dialogue/communication strategies and using any means at hand to support peace such as the arts. Equal to skills training is bringing a diversity of persons together who are working at peace. In such a climate of elicitive learning, participants learn as much from sharing stories and having fun together as they do in the classroom. Frequent comments from participants go something like this; “we thought we were alone working at peace in our communities but now we have found friends in solidarity with us and we feel part of something larger.”
While MPI originally began as a venue for supporting peace in Mindanao, news of this new effort quickly spread in the Catholic and Mennonite networks and it became an international peace training event for persons from the Asia/Pacific region. This is the 14th annual MPI and so far more than 1500 persons have attended at least one of the week long training courses.
Since 2001 I have been primarily engaged with civic groups working at conflict transformation in Mindanao. In this blog posting I will highlight two of the conflict realities, a brief historical perspective and intervention strategies.
In the 70’s and 80’s Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos practiced divide and rule politics in a feudal way, brutally suppressing any attempts by civil society at change. The communist insurgency arose in the 60’s to press land reform, fight corruption and ultimately to overthrow Marcos. When the nonviolent “people power” movement ousted him in 1986, the nation was left polarized between those who still advocated pro-communist style struggle for justice and those wanting to try reform from within the new populist government of Cory Aquino.
The conflict transformation framework offers Philippine civil society a third way to that dualistic view still prevalent in the minds of many activists. Conflict transformation uses nonviolence to focus on analyzing root causes of conflict, build relationships while addressing structural issues and building local capacities that increase dialogue and trust.
While the conflict in Mindanao is often cast simplistically as Muslim (south) vs. Christian (north) it much more complex than that. Cultural violence, structural injustice, long running community and family feuds as well as personal vendettas are all inherent parts of the lack of security many feel. Due to the ethnic, religious and historical diversity of this island, every interaction is a cross-cultural, interfaith encounter. Thus dialogue strategies, communication skills and inter-faith bridge building initiatives have been important skills and frameworks to develop.
Imagine a nation composed of 7107 islands (at low tide) and the political, logistical and practical challenges this country would face. Imagine that nation regularly experiencing every imaginable kind of natural disaster; super typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods and droughts. Add on top of that the chaos, displacement and human tragedy not to mention enormous expenditure that war entails. Now you can begin to understand the Philippines.
It is this latter challenge where I have focused much of my efforts in the past 12 years. The Philippines has faced internal violent conflicts on multiple levels. Internal struggles for justice have spawned a 40+ year communist insurgency throughout the country. In addition, a minority Muslim population in the south (Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago) has pursued a movement to reclaim the self-determination of historic Sultanates. A feature of this conflict has been intermittent, but intense battles in defense of ancestral domain. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and a later splinter movement the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been the main groups putting forth this agenda.
At all levels, good folks in the Philippines have been working constructively on mitigating the violence of these conflicts. The Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is a cabinet level position tasked with managing the various negotiating, on behalf of the government, the in multiple peace process. At a community level, many groups in civil society, from religious to international non-government organizations (INGOs) have been building local capacities for peace. It is with these groups that I have been spending my time in the last 13 years.
I made my first trip to the Philippines in May 2001. My family and I lived there from 6 years, from 2001-2007. I am grateful for this annual trip there to connect with friends, to offer what I am able in the area of peacebuilding and to learn from those striving for peace throughout Asia.
My destination is Davao City, on the big southern island of Mindanao. This is where the yearly Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) is held each May. Gathering peacebuilders from throughout the Asia Pacific region, 100 plus persons converge at a conference center for three weeks to learn new conflict transformation skills, share their stories of overcoming violence and building sustainable security in their communities and nations.
This is the 12th year I will facilitate at MPI. I am leaving on Wednesday, 15 May and returning 2 June. It’s a 36hour trip there with transit stops this year in Washington DC. , Seattle, Tokyo and Manila before I get to Davao. Return route is even more grueling-Davao, Manila, Guam, Honolulu, DC and Harrisburg. There is a 12 hour time difference between Manheim and Davao. So stay tuned as I share stories from peace heroes and heroines.
I just finished co-facilitating the Active Nonviolence (ANV) course here at Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI). ANV is a course I have helped teach here since 2005 and every year I understand the role of ANV in peacebuilding better thanks to the Mindanaoan and international participants.
This year while presenting Mahatma Gandhi’s and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence it struck me that there have been many successful nonviolent movements that have not articulated the individual worth of each ‘opponent’ like Gandhi and King. Some of the foundational values evident in the Indian struggle for autonomy and the US civil rights movement include:
o There is divine in all beings
o Humans can’t be reduced to the evil they perpetuate (Gandhi)
o Actively loving our adversaries while identifying our own blind spots (Gandhi)
o Seeking to win friendship and understanding (King)
o Defeat of injustice not people (King)
o Chooses love instead of hate (King)
The above values were insisted upon by their leaders.
But some successful nonviolent movements have embraced a much more pragmatic approach like the simple removal of a dictator or righting an injustice. In these movements physical violence to infrastructure, sabotage to economic systems or character assassination were encouraged. While these movements would go so far as non-lethal coercion of political leaders and lampooning individuals, they rejected violence toward humans be they occupying soldiers or corrupt leaders.
My insights crystallized as I realized that Gandhi and King invoked principles that were internalized in their nonviolent followers while in more pragmatic situations external limits were what held the movement in check. In the long run I wonder which starting point, principled or pragmatic, will bring the most sustainable change.
I will take a break from the Schematics for Peace Series and give some updates during my time in the Philippines at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI). I left on the 14th of May and expect to return on the 5th of June with most of my time will be spent in Davao City, our former home for 6 years under MCC.
This is the 9th year I have had a role at MPI, co-facilitating courses such as Fundamentals of Peacebuilding, Active Nonviolence and Religion; Peacebuilding in Multi-cultural Societies. My Filipino/Filipina co-facilitators are the ones who made a trainer out of me. I didn’t intend to become a facilitator but as a result of another facilitator “no show” in our early years living in the Philippines, I was convinced by my colleagues Deng and Myla of Catholic Relief Services to try co-teaching a course.
This year I co-facilitate Active Nonviolence with Deng. The second class I co-facilitate is Religion; Peacebuilding in Multi-culture Societies with Alzad, a Muslim who is from Basilan Island. It is exciting to think of once again engaging Asian Peacebuilders with these two topics.
I love the Philippines and especially MPI. The participants often come from communities that have experienced so much violence and conflict yet have such a hopeful disposition. Out of the crucible of their pain each person, facilitator or student, comes away from MPI with hope, learning and a sense of community.
Please send prayers, warm thoughts and healing intentions our way in the coming weeks. Thanks!
I am intrigued by all the metaphors for peace used by friends and colleagues in the peacebuilding field. John Paul Lederach in his book Moral Imagination uses spider webs to help give shape to how things come together for conflict transformation. In the Philippines, a network of organizations call themselves the Mindanao Peace Weavers to denote their efforts at weaving a tapestry of healthy, violence free society. Jay Rothman developed the ARIA framework which uses the harmony of voice and orchestra to describe an identity based conflict engagement. In our conflict analysis models we use icebergs, pyramids and egg shaped paradigms to describe the dynamics involved in war. People take what they know and apply solutions, frameworks and descriptors for addressing the conflict around them. It would make a fascinating study to collate the various metaphors that have informed our peacebuilding thinking.
I know electronics and it recently it dawned on me that my ability to read schematics would be a helpful metaphor in mapping conflict actors and interactions. While I never thought that the world of electricity could help shape my thinking about solutions to violence there is no reason why it should not. In writing the Mindanao Reflecting on Peace Practice document I used the phrase “theories of change schematics.”
A schematic, according to Wiktionary, is “a drawing or sketch showing how a system works.” In electronics a schematic is a pictorial representation of how some simple or sophisticated set of parts interacts to perform some function. Each part has a unique symbol denoting its role and value. The engineer designing a system knows the characteristics of each small part.
A schematic for peace would take into account how adding components with specific characteristics/values, will interact within the whole. I hope to develop this concept in the coming months. Maybe we will soon see electronics technicians adding their unique metaphorical understanding to the development of peace programs!