A Feast for Peace in Mindanao

by Ludwig Quirog, Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia-Pacific Central Zone (Philippines)

On the 23rd of September 2015, I set foot once again on the large island of Southern Philippines called Mindanao to visit the United Religions Initiative’s (URI) cooperation circles (CC) there and to witness a culminating activity for the International Peace Advocacy Month of September. In my heart, there was a hint of anxiety because the last time I had been on the island was in 2013 and a war broke out a week after I left. Moreover, I had not been to this part of the island before and the only time it ever gets in the news is when bombs go off. Naturally, I was worried, especially since I was not entirely sure where I was going. Iligan City, I was told. The journey, which took just a few minutes over an hour, saw me struggling to maintain equanimity, but what greeted me when I finally planted my feet back on land was rather surprising. It seemed quite like my home community; we spoke the same language and I saw smiles even bigger than those that greet me in my own neighborhood.

I was welcomed by Pakigdait CC’s organizational staff and later had a nice conversation with Bishop Stephen Villaester, leader of the Interfaith Council for Peace in Mindanao CC, about his group’s work in promoting peace. Recently, they have been instrumental in educating people about the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a bill currently under deliberation by the Philippine Congress which would establish a new autonomous political entity, thereby enacting the 2014 peace agreement signed between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It was inspiring to hear stories of the resilience of his team in spite of being jeered at, called names and being told by both Christians and Muslims that they were sent by the devil. It’s amazing how much pain and suffering you are willing to endure when you are fully aware that your work will bear fruits of reconciliation and peace. It’s the only kind of battle I believe in—one that uses communication and education as a tool to combat ignorance and indifference.

The following day, the 24th, was the day I was particularly looking forward to. For years, as an active CC leader in the global community of URI, I had been reading countless inspiring stories about Musa Mohamad Sanguila and Pakigdait CC’s work—the wonderful things they have been able to achieve and the peace that they are striving to proliferate in the land. It had previously all been photos, text and videos until I found myself standing in the middle of a decommissioned camp for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another armed militant group fighting for the cause of autonomy and self-governance. It was surreal to think that the very ground I was on, which had been a training and breeding ground for violent resistance, was now a community centre full of lots of people, both Muslims and Christians, who believed in peace like I did.

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The date chosen for the culminating celebration of peace month was made to coincide with the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha. It was historic as not only were there talks about peace but we all saw the turning in of high-powered firearms by the MNLF in exchange for farm equipment and long term assistance with sustainable livelihood projects. The group’s former commander, Mr. Abedin Sanguila, said as part of a very impassioned speech in front of the local community and guests from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), “I am doing this because I don’t want my children to live in violence like I once did.” Simple words but they deliver a very clear message telling us that that he is making an active decision to break the cycle of violence that has been handed down from generation to generation for over a century. For his faith, his statement was even more meaningful, said on the day of the greater Eid. Isn’t it such an enormous sacrifice for a person to leave his old ways in pursuit of a greater cause? I certainly think so. And each time a person turns away from violence and accepts the way of peace, I feel a great sense of affirmation for doing what I do. It really is possible no matter how incredibly difficult it may seem.

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The end of the series of speeches led to a ceremonious tucking away of the weapons in padlocked wooden crates. Musa Sanguila, the leader of Pakigdait CC, said in his speech for the day, that the firearms are on a journey to the scrap yard to hopefully be recycled and turned into things that will assist people in life rather than bring death. The event concluded with a Halal lunch shared by Muslims and Christians alike. I smiled in amazement watching people of different faiths and backgrounds break bread together, share smiles and exchange words—an Anglican bishop to a Muslim imam, a hijabi Muslim woman to a Roman Catholic priest and even a British volunteer named Guy, who was, for days, the only Caucasian person I had seen in the city. Interacting with others and having conversations over a meal is such a natural thing for us human beings and it’s difficult to imagine that it would not have been possible in this place a number of years ago. Indeed, as was said in the book of Isaiah, there had been a beating of “swords into ploughshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” It’s truly amazing how we see the Divine Presence at work in the good things that happen around us.

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For a place with on-going conflict, Mindanao receives little attention from international media unless Americans or Europeans disappear there. Most foreigners only ever hear or read the word “Mindanao” from various lists, circulating all over the internet, of places that tourists should avoid. It’s sad but true. And I think the lack of knowledge of the situation of the place is the reason why it’s so easy to make assumptions about it. There’s a saying that goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and it’s true. This little knowledge is what causes presidents to declare all-out wars, independence fighters to be branded as terrorists, and certain people to be collectively perceived as inherently violent simply because they profess a particular faith that is different from that of the country’s majority. It is my prayer that the work of Pakigdait CC, the Interfaith Council for Peace in Mindanao, the Interfaith Youth Council, and the Ranao Muslim-Christian Movement for Dialogue and Reconciliation will continue their work planting seeds of peace all over their land, and that these seeds will bear fruits of healing and peace for Mindanao, setting an example for the rest of the world.

May Peace Prevail in Mindanao.

May Peace Prevail on Earth.

Meet Saochheng, CC Leader of Youth Centre for Development, Cambodia

We introduce you to Saochheng from Cambodia, who runs the CC “Youth Centre for Development”. You can read more about his CC’s work here http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles/detail/ycd but in the meantime, meet the brains behind the operation.

Personal

Faith/spiritual background?

Well, I was born into poor family who truly believed in Buddhism since I was born, and my family totally believes in Buddhism; but we always spoke without any discrimination to people living nearby from different faiths.

Languages spoken?

In terms of spoken language, I actually can speak Khmer fluently because it is my own language. Moreover, I am able to communicate in English with people worldwide.

Favorite food? Why?

At the beginning, I did not have any types of favorite food and I ate everything without consideration as to whether it was healthy or not. But after I successfully completed my my higher education, I began to love to eat natural foods which are usually healthier, not processed foods; because it made me more powerful, healthy, slim and will make me live longer. Furthermore, after lunch time, I also love eating Khmer popular snacks, boiled sweet potatoes or bananas and other types of Khmer dessert.

Favorite movie? Why?

Frankly speaking, it is hard for me to choose a beloved movie because I do not have much free time and rarely watch movies. However, I can say that one of my favorite genres of movies are ‘‘Chinese fighting movie’’ because there are a lot of strategies to fight against the enemies and they have a lot of ideology.

Favorite culture besides your own? And why?

I think that the Chinese culture fascinates me because it has such a long ancient history going back many thousands of years. I really became interested in it after I went to China for a week.

What do you do in your free time? What are some of your hobbies?

In my spare time, I love reading newspapers, listening to radio, and browsing the internet. I especially enjoy swimming on the weekend, chatting and going out with with friends and family.

If you could visit one new country, which would it be and why?

If I have a golden chance to visit a new country, it would be the United States because as I came to learn from the Gallup International survey in 2009, 41.6% of American citizens said that they attended church or synagogue once a week or almost every week. The percentage is higher than other surveyed Western countries

Interfaith

Your experience with religion?

In recent times, I truly believe in Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is the official religion in Cambodia which is practiced by 95 percent of the population– just like that of Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka. However, Christianity and Cham Islam are active and popular among a large number of population as well in the capital and provinces, showing a sign of growth. Daoism and Confucianism are also commonly practiced among the Chinese people.

 Why is interfaith important to you?

Because it is like a compass or path that guides people to respect human beings and want do something good for themselves, their family, communities and society. Especially, interfaith makes humankind have love, respect, patience, forgiveness, generosity and kindness. Furthermore, it helps people to be satisfied what we have right now and be happy in the daily life. In addition to these, it is the most important thing to minimize conflict and build deeper and stronger relationships.

 What’s the most challenging part?

Interfaith is hard when people don’t respect the beliefs of others, like when they look down on others and laugh and their way of praying and say you are deeply crazy to have those beliefs.

 What’s the best part about interfaith?

In my mind, the best element of interfaith is to be cooperative, constructive. The best part of it are the positive interactions between people of different religious and/ or spiritual or humanistic beliefs.

If you could ask for one change to the world, what would it be?

One thing that I want to say to the world from my head to my heart is that Peace begins with “hello”

Thank you for the great work you do, Saochheng!

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Introducing Ludwig Quirog, RC Philippines

Dearest blog followers,

At long last meet Ludwig, RC of the dynamic, multifaceted and intriguing Philippines – the same words could be used to describe this man himself. We already know about Ludwig’s extensive qualifications – Now let’s get to know him on a more personal level.

Faith/spiritual background?

I’m a member of the Society of Friends. Formally, I’m called a Friend (with a capital ‘F’) but most people call me a Quaker.

Languages spoken?

I speak Cebuano, Tagalog and English fluently, while I’m learning Spanish.

Favourite food? Why?

Gujarati cuisine because it’s largely vegetarian. I’d like to spend a month in Gujarat to have some sort of spiritual eating journey, if there’s such a thing.

Favourite movie? Why?

Schindler’s List. More than showing us the sheer evil of the Holocaust (or any genocide, for that matter), it portrays resilience and illustrates the power of goodness that touches the hearts of even Nazi party members and allows them to turn away from evil. That film made me cry like a baby but it also taught me very important life lessons that I’ve carried around since.

Favourite culture besides your own? And why?

Quaker Intentional Communities. They sort of live by something like spiritual socialistic principles. There is communal happiness yet each person’s individuality is always respected. Each wilfully works to benefit others as well as the self.

These communities, while composed of individuals and families that are tightly-knit, do not shun the outside world. They are open to new advancements (in thought and technology) but they make it a point to live by the Quaker testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship of the Earth) in everything they do. They may have computers and smartphones but these things are only valued for utility and do not take their time away from the farm or the family.

What do you do in your free time? What are some of your hobbies?

I usually read, write, go to the beach or take long hikes. Sometimes, I will spend an entire day cooking and baking vegan food. Whenever I have longer sets of free days, I travel.

If you could visit one new country, which would it be and why?

Georgia. And I’m talking about the country sitting at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, not the U.S. state. For years I’d been reading snippets about it from random books and just last year, I met a Georgian for the first time and she instantly became my friend. She said she’s Caucasian and Asian at the same time. She lives at the foot of the Caucasus (making her Caucasian) but Georgia is south of the range, which means it is technically in Asia (making her Asian). She was incredibly kind and she spoke inspiringly of her country.

Most memorable interfaith moment?

Following an almost 3-year hiatus, I re-entered URI in late 2010 and got to participate in that year’s Southeast Asia-Pacific regional assembly. It concluded with an interfaith concert called “Beyond Differences,” which featured various inspiring performances by people of different faiths. At the end of it, somebody started chanting “We are all connected,” and out of nowhere, everyone in the audience started chanting as well. Some audience members joined the people on stage to link arms with them, while the rest linked arms with whoever was beside them. This went on until everyone in the room was literally connected. It was the most inspiring thing I had ever borne witness to and I couldn’t help but shed tears of joy that night while linking arms with strangers and singing a simple yet poignant line over and over again.

Why is interfaith important to you?

It helps people see the world from a broader perspective. Without it, we’d be stuck in our own small boxes thinking we hold the absolute truth and that everyone else is living a lie. Interfaith frees us from the otherwise crippling bondages of fundamentalism. With it, we are not threatened by people just because they have different names for God or because they don’t pray the same way we do.

What’s the best part about interfaith?

I absolutely love working with someone of a different faith and seeing beyond differences while trying to achieve common goals that will benefit not only us but everyone in the world.

What’s the most challenging part?

Dealing with people who are not open to the idea of interfaith cooperation is extremely difficult—especially if they try to proselytise you into accepting their faith as your own.

If you could ask for one change to the world, what would it be?

I hope that, one day, we will come to realise that every single human being has equal worth—that every person deserves to be loved. This may take hundreds of years and the work of several generations of peace builders, but I believe it is achievable. Global peace is a dream for now but I am positive that this dream can and will come true.

Thank you Ludwig!

Ludwig in front of Cambodian Royal Palace

Ludwig in front of Cambodian Royal Palace

Fireside Chats: Sothearwat Seoung, RC Cambodia

Hi friends!

We are back with a new series for the blog: fireside chats.

image courtesy of “a family belonging” blogspot: http://afamilybecoming.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/fireside.html

These will consist of interviews with various URI people: staff, trustees, CC members, are more. Today’s Fireside Chat is a fun look into the life and thoughts of Seoung Sothearwat, the new RC of Cambodia/Malaysia/Thailand/Indonesia Zone.

So sit back with a cup of tea/chai/your favourite beverage, warm yourself by the proverbial fire and enjoy!


Personal

Q. Faith/spiritual background?

A. At this point in time. I don’t belief in any religion neither Buddha nor Jesus nor Allah. I am not a religious person. I would say I am a fan of evolutionary theory. But having said that, I also like the teachings of Buddha and Jesus too.

Q. Languages spoken?

A. Khmer and English

Q. Favourite food? Why?

A. I love Khmer food- because it’s rich in vegetables and herbs. They have less fat too, and it is rich in taste.

Q.Favourite movie? Why?

I must admit that I love animation movies. They are different and interesting. I also love romantic movies too – I love conversations.

Q.Favourite culture besides your own? And why?

A. I love some parts of western cultures, especially the freedom and the individualism.

Q.What do you do in your free time? What are some of your hobbies?

A. Going to the movies, calling friends for a chat, and sleep!

Q. If you could visit one new country, which would it be and why?

A. Italy- Rome, Europe- too see it famous architecture and to visit the museums, and America- especially the Grand Canyon.

Sothearwat, RC Cambodia

Interfaith

Q. Most memorable interfaith moment?

A. I don’t think I have one yet. I just joined!

Q. Why is interfaith important to you?

A. Because religion is so closely tied to identity. It is the reason for existence for many people, it means so much for the believers. Therefore, it should be respected. No one has the right to invade or try to convert. Interfaith work is a core work for peace building. That is why it is so important to me.

Q. What’s the best part about interfaith?

A. I respect and admire the different spiritual and religions’ ritual and teaching. They are fascinating.

Q. What’s the most challenging part?

A. It is all most impossible, sometime, to challenge people to not look down or criticise other religions.

Q. If you could ask for one change to the world, what would it be?

A. People of all religions background can live together as one.


Thanks Sothearwat and thanks dear readers. Stay tuned for our next in depth profile, on Ludwig from the Philippines. Remember, any questions/comments/feedback, leave a comment or shoot me an email: nivy@uri.org.

Till next time!

RLT Recap: Part 1

Hi everyone!

We are back from the Regional Leadership Team (RLT) meeting that was held in Phnom Penh, capital city of the wonderful Cambodia.

There is a lot of exciting news to share as a result of the meeting, so let’s get to it!

New RC for the Philippines announced

A few days before the RLT we were greeting with the wonderful news that Ludwig Quirog, the youth lynchpin of URI’s interfaith work in the Philippines, had been selected as the RC for the Philippines! The lovely Salle Mahe from the Global Support Office in California had these words of introduction for Ludwig, and as I couldn’t have said it any better myself, here is an excerpt:

“Ludwig is already known to URI as the founder of TULAY CC and current leader of the Bohol Goodwill Volunteers CC.  He was an instrumental leader in the YLP program at the SEA-Pac Assembly in 2013. Ludwig is trained in sociology and is passionate to help people engage in activities that provide short-term relief like food and clean water in response to disasters, as well as long-term relief like trauma healing. He is a trained practitioner in non-violent conflict transformation and helped introduce the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) to the Philippines after working in refugee communities in North Sumatra and conflict zones in Aceh Province. He became the first Filipino delegate to the organization’s international gathering in 2014 and was one of the people who introduced the movement to a prison in Bohol, Philippines. Ludwig will work 20 hours per week for URI and will be based in Bohol, Philippines.”

The moment Ludwig arrived he added such a dynamic and articulate element to the RLT. His recruitment is undoubtedly a huge coup for URI. We welcome him aboard with open arms and wish him the best in his endeavours! Stay tuned for an in depth profile on Ludwig, coming to this blog soon.

New RC for Cambodia/Malaysia/Thailand/Indonesia announced

As if Ludwig’s recruitment wasn’t enough, URI was blessed enough to meet, and hire, the intelligent, caring, and highly skilled Seong Sothearat for the position of RC for the Cambodia/Malaysia/Thailand/Indonesia zone. Once again, Sally’s words encapsulate Sothearat perfectly:

“Sothearat is Cambodian, living in Phnom Penh with ten years’ experience in social development sector. He is a clinical psychologist, trained internationally on “psycho-traumatology.”  In addition, Sothearat is founder and managing director of his own educational and consulting service, Center for Leadership Enrichment, and brings rich experience in capacity building facilitation and NGO management coaching. Sothearat literally dived into his position as a member of the Regional Leadership Team Strategic Planning meeting in Phnom Penh shortly after being hired and immediately connected heart, mind and spirit with the values and vision of URI. Sothearat will work 15 hours per week and will be based in Phnom Penh.”

Sothearat barely had a chance to take a breath to process the good news of his recruitment before he was thrust head first into a URI RLT. Yikes! Luckily for us, Ludwig and I had had a previous association with URI, so in coming to the job we knew about the organisation and our task in the RLT was to learn about the role. Sothearat not only had to learn about the job but had to start from scratch about URI, too! It was a formidable task and I struggle to think of anyone else who could have handled it with as much aplomb and aptitude as Sothearat. Well done mate! As with Ludwig, I will be profiling Sothearat in the near future. Stay tuned!

Can you believe our wonderful fortune in hiring these two highly qualified people to work with URI? I almost can’t! It was such a pleasure getting to know them both in Phnom Penh and you, dear readers, will be happy to know that the 3 of us will be Skyping every month to share wisdom, ideas, and knowledge for the betterment of our region.

Till next week, adios and happy interfaithing!

Nivy.

L-R Ludwig, Sothearat, Nivy

L-R Ludwig, Sothearat, Nivy

2015: the start of a new journey for URI SEAPAC

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Happy 2015 everyone!

2015 is shaping up to be a vibrant year for URI SEAPAC, and for interfaith globally, with the Parliament of the World’s Religions finally back on track for October 2015 – in Utah, USA! Hooray!

But firstly, let me introduce myself. I am Nivy – the new Communications officer for SEA-Pac. I have taken over this awesome blog from Rem Tanuan, from the Philippines. I am very excited to be on board with URI, and I am looking forward to keeping you entertained and informed about our activities and any other tid bits that I hope will be interesting and informative for our readers.

Let’s quickly go through what’s happening to kick-start 2015.


RLT January, 2015

Firstly, Pnom Penh will host this year’s Regional Leadership Team meeting, from the 21st-25th January. Sam An Ross, Trustee for the Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand zone, has been busily organising what will be one of the most vibrant and exciting RLT’s yet.

What is the RLT, you may ask? The RLT is comprised of URI trustees and Regional Co-ordinators for our region. The RLT meets every year to plan the strategic direction for URI’s projects in our region.

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attendees at a previous SEAPAC regional gathering

So, let’s meet everyone!


The trustees for our region are:

Sam An Ross (Cambodia): Trustee for Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. You’ve already met him before; Rem did a great piece on him which can be read here.


Musa Sanguila: (Philippines): Trustee for the Philippines. Check out this cool story on Br Musa here.


Peter Mousaferiadis (Australia): Trustee for Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. Peter has won many awards for his pioneering work in inter-cultural education with Cultural Infusion. Check out a story Rem did on him here!

L-R: Sam An, Peter, Musa

L-R: Sam An, Peter, Musa


The Regional Co-Ordinators are:

Nivy Balachandran (Australia), aka the person writing this post: RC, Pacific Zone (Aus, NZ, Pacific). She is also the Communications Officer for the SEAPac region!


RC, Philippines: The RC was Dr Potre Diampuan, who has now been appointed to a new role – the URI Senior Representative to the Philippines. The new RC of the Philippines has yet to be appointed.

RC, Cambodia/Thailand/Malaysia: To be appointed.


In addition to this we will have the Executive Director of URI himself, Mr Victor Kazanjian joining us too! Read more about Victor here.

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L-R Nivy, Potre, Victor

So as you can see, it will be an action packed meeting with the leaders of our region planning our year ahead. For any ideas, suggestions or questions, please contact me any time: nivy@uri.org.


2015 Parliament

Finally, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is BACK! It is being held in October in Utah, USA. URI is an official partner of this year’s Parliament. I will be keeping you all updated on this as the year unfolds.

That’s all for now dear friends – wishing you all a beautiful and prosperous start to the year!

We Fast For The Climate: A Project of Mulsim-Christian Community of Tala, Caloocan City

[NB: Mohammad Yusoph (Edmark Del Mundo) is one of the current youth leaders of Muslim-Christian Peacemakers in Tala, Caloocan City, Manila, Philippines. This campaign effort he and his fellow leaders initiated was accomplished in the recent Ramadan celebration, in the light of the climate changes that the country has been facing.]

We Fast For Climate: Members of Muslim-Christian Community of Tala, Caloocan City, Philippines.

I gathered the people in Community of TALA Caloocan City PHILIPPINES, to share the importance of fasting in our environment and the big issue of CLIMATE CHANGE. Ramadan is over, most of the Muslim here in our community doesn’t know that while they are taking fast, they are also saving the earth, Then after the small gathering, they promise to take fast not just only for Ramadan, but also to support the campaign in #FastForTheClimate, Christians are also starting to take fast for supporting this campaign #FastForTheClimate and also to save the Earth.

 

MOHAMMAD YUSOPH

Muslim and Christian Youth for Peace and Development CC – MCYPD CC

TALA, Caloocan City PHILIPPINES

#FastForTheClimate

Nha Mrh Site Iv, Tala Caloocan City.

(See original here)