Peace Tech group promotes Christian-Muslim peace

The Philippine Star
Peace Tech group promotes Christian-Muslim peace

When Muslim teenager Haya goes back to school tomorrow after participating in a talk show and video-conferencing workshop, she will be taking home more than just memories or new friendships.

She will take with her an expanded perspective on Christian-Muslim relations and a deeper understanding that any conflict is best resolved through dialogue and an open mind.

Sixteen-year-old Haya was one of the participants in mondays launching of a talk show entitled “Peace Tech” a seven-part documentary about building understanding and promoting dialoque among Filipino youths, including Muslims living in different parts of the Philippines.

Some 300 students from different schools in Metro Manila and 500 coeds from Mindanao ware linked through large video screens, with one panel moderating the show from the University of Southern mindanao in Cotabato and another panel speaking fromt the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon vity.

“Peace Tech” was organized by Canadian Robin Pettyfer and the Assisi Development Foundation and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund ( Unicef ) and Australian Agency for International Development ( Aus Aid ). Pettyfer said their focus is on young people because they represnt the next generetion and some of them will be tommorows leaders.

“We focused on the youth because they are open-minded, receptive and flexible,” he said. If they are tought about understanding each other’s cultures and religion and encouraged to respect each other and work together, there is reason to be optimistic that a long-term durable peace and genuine reconcillation can be achieved in the future, Pettyfer added.

For four hours, students from Metro Manila and Mindanao engaged in a lively discussions about their views on the conflict in Mindanao, Christian-Muslim relations, their future and the country’s future.

Participants also formed small groups and shared what they felt about a range of issues, including poverty in the Philippines and discrimination against Muslims students in a getting-to-know-you fun atmosphere. During the panel discussions, soldiers assigned in Mindanao also offered their views on the conflict.

Haya, who has one of the panelist, shared her painful experience of discrimination in the hands of a Christian teacher. In between sobs, Haya, a senior high school student in a public school in Metro Manila, recounted how her teacher pulled down her head shawl inside the classroom.

“My teacher came from behind and pulled down my veil. I felt so humiliated when she shouted at me and said I am being rude beacause I wear a head scarf inside the classroom. She said i am not attending a Muslim school so it’s not proper to come to class wearing a veil. “Sabi nya kabastusan daw yun at kapag nagpatuloy daw ako ay babaan niya ang grades ko,” (She also said it was rude and she’ll give me lower grades),” Haya Said.

To keep the peace, Haya did not inform her mother of the incident though classmates reported the teacher to the school’s guidance counselor. She also obliged by not wearing a veil again inside the classroom.

Muslim students in Cotabato wept with Hayas story and asked if the teacher was punizhed. She said the teacher was simply repremanded. To this day, Haya and the teacher ignore each other when they meet in school.

Pettyfer said it would have been better if Haya talked to her teacher and discussed their differences in religion.

“I think dialogues are needed on a regular basis between different groups to improve understanding and lessen tension. This is where “Peace Tech” as a talk show becomes an effective tool for communication. Here the youth can come together and discuss their differences and tresh out their differences to achieve peace,” Pettyfer said.

Unicef country representative R. Nicholas Alipui, who delivered the opening speech, expressed optimism that the video conference can be a way to break down the culture of ciolence, fear, hatred and stereotypes that young people suffer in society because of cultural or religous differences.

“Conflict is always borne out of fear, it comes from the fear of the unknown, and from something we dont know. This video conference is an important venue for young Filipinos, whethr Christians or Muslims, indigineous or not, to come together to communicate and share their fears, hopes and aspirations as people who belong to the same nation,” Alipui said.

In his speech before the participants, Alipui said had there been a video conference similar to “Peace Tech” in Lebanon and Israel things would have been different.

“I believe strongly that had this sort of oppurtuniy been created, the crisis between Lebanon and Israel could have been prevented. The people there suffer the same factors of fear, hatred and prejudice.I channels of communication like video conferencing are opened up, the level of conflict could have been decreased.”Alipui said. ” Young people can be part of the solution.”

Indeed, Haya and the others who joined “Peace Tech” now have better understanding of how Christians and Muslims can peacefully co-exist and be friends.

Haya said telling her story of prejudice was liberating.”I agree with my Christian friends now that opening up and keeping the communication lines open can spell a lot of difference. It chnaged the way i see things. I’m glad,” Haya told Pettyfer after the show.

Meanwhile, six more “Peace Tech” teleconferences are slated in the coming months. The next video conference will cover topics such as “Overcoming Prejudice,” Youth, children and Armed Conflict,” Women in Conflict and Peace Building,” “Indigineous Approaches to Peace Building,” “The Decision Makers,” and “Building a Culture of peace.

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