© UNICEF Philippines/2006/Bito
Videoconferencing connects young people from Manila and North Cotabato in Mindanao in a series of exchanges on war and poverty.
1 August 2006, Makati — For the first time ever, Christian and Muslim youth from all over the Philippines used technology to virtually cross the country’s thousands of islands and engage in dialogue. Linked by videoconferencing facilities, about 600 young people spent four hours discussing armed conflict, peace building, discrimination and poverty in the first of seven videoconferences entitled, “PeaceTech.”
Although all young, Peace Tech participants came from diverse backgrounds in various parts of the country: Metro Manila, Isabela, Cordillera region, Occidental Negros, and Zamboanga del Sur. Most were students; a few were young soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The video conference concept is a breakthrough in the decades-long conflict between Christians and Muslims that has been raging especially in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. Children and young people have been displaced, some mobilised, in the armed conflict.
“Conflict feeds on fear of the unknown and conflict is dissipated through knowledge,” Dr. Nicholas Alipui, UNICEF Country Representative, said.
“There are very wide gaps in understanding between different communities, confessions and ethnicities in the Philippines and in all cases fear of the unknown is the driving force behind those gaps. These video conferences are bridging these gaps and can create wider harmony in diversity.”
The participants listened to youth panelists, engaged in small group discussions, and participated in an open forum. For many, PeaceTech helped destroy stereotypes.
“With PeaceTech, I experienced working with Muslims. I can’t believe I once thought they were religious fanatics and terrorist supporters,” admitted April of Quezon City.
Many realized for the first time how discrimination hurts young people in their everyday lives.
Haya, 16, recounted how her teacher forced her to remove her veil in the classroom. “She reminded me that I was not attending a Muslim school,” Haya disclosed.
Canadian manager of PeaceTech, Robin Pettyfer, said, “It was amazing to see youth come together on the screens. How often do you have an AFP soldier speaking with a victim of war? How often can a poor 12-year-old girl from Negros talk with a Muslim girl from Manila about her future? Well, today, that happened!”
Organized by the Assisi Development Fund and YouthAid, PeaceTech is supported by the Australian government and UNICEF. It is an experimental initiative that may prove useful in other conflict-ridden countries.
“If this works in (the Philippines), we can do it in Israel and Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, and all the other areas where there is prejudice,” Pettyfer added.
Future plans include working with the Department of Education to integrate CDs of the dialogues in social studies classes. PeaceTech may also expand to the Internet, allowing participants to continue dialogues in online chats.
The increased awareness and understanding that PeaceTech nurtures is the most important peace-building tool of all.
Jimmy, a participant from Bicol, concluded, “We are more alike than different, but we make that little difference into a big one.”
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