Ernesto C. Casiple, Jr./ Senior Volunteer (Convener), Tri-Youth Movement/ KKC & SOCSARGEN Peace Network
For many youth organizations, the commencement of volunteerism and community service comes after membership and indoctrination to the organizations’ principles and goals. Generally, recruitment mechanisms, organizational orientation and trainings for prospect members are primarily set that lead to their formal participation to activities and membership to organizations.
Reversing this classical example may be theoretically challenging and seldom, if not, practiced to many youth organizations. However, for some 60 (more or less) regular and activity-based volunteers of a network of youth in General Santos City and Sarangani Province, volunteerism is by persuading and not by obligating participation to the goals of the Tri-Youth Movement of Kapayapaan Kapatid Council and the SOCSARGEN Peace Network.
This paper questions a new paradigm in defining (or putting criteria to) volunteerism and community service. It would like as well to draw the readers’ attention to an emerging spirit of teamwork and unity that does not require any formal structure but rather focus on impact and contribution to sustaining the gains of peace and development in Southern Mindanao. It is very imperative that we share the story of these volunteers.
The Birth from Sumbakil
The Cirle of Peacebuilders in SOCSARGEN (COPS), among others, was the first group to volunteer for the Kapayapaan Kapatid Council. Some COPS' members act as trainer to new volunteers.
The Tri-Youth Movement birthing came in an Inter-faith and Cultural Dialogue cum Medical and Dental Mission in a post-conflict area of Sumbakil in Polomolok, South Cotabato on August 19, 2007. Unexpectedly, the invitation from the lead organization, Kapayapaan Kapatid Council (KKC), drew attention to many youth from the academe, church, other youth organizations and some out-of-school youth. The number of youth who volunteered exceeded from what was expected.
Celebrating the short victory of being able to share food, old clothing, and games and stories to children, a group of youth started an informal discussion of continuing this effort. That informal discussion caught the attention of Fr. Angelo R. Buenavides and committed to support the idea. This group of young people showed enthusiasm and continued to bond themselves together regardless of customs, religious beliefs, educational status and others. Then a core group was formed and they informal named it Youth Technical Working Group/ Arm of the KKC. The idea was to create a pool of youth volunteers that will co-share each other’s experiences on youth leadership and management, community service and youth volunteerism. The result of series of meetings was the First SOCSARGEN Tri-Youth Sportsfest on October 27, 2007. More than seven hundred (700) youth from different sectors including young military and policemen participated in the activity. It was a day of convergence for sport and friendship designed as an instrument of interfaith dialogue geared towards understanding and appreciation of multiculturalism in the Mindanao context.
Tapped for Mindanao
Week of Peace (MWOP)
Banking on the youth’s enthusiasm, energy, and capacity to plan and initiate activities, KKC made the Youth—TWG as the backbone of the Mindanao Week of Peace Celebration in SOCSARGEN area since 2007. Unknown and unpopular to many, for the past three (3) years, the youth volunteers of KKC and Peace Network co-planned the MWOP activities in partnership and in collaboration with many NGOs and civic organizations in the SOCSARGEN area.
As a pre-Mindanao Week of Peace activity in 2007, the tri-youth volunteers conceptualized the First Poster-making Contest on November 20, 2007. Fortunately, the posters developed became the theme of the 2008 Calendar of the GoP-UN ACT for Peace Programme .
The Tri-youth Movement/ Volunteers continue sharing their time, talents and skills in the 2008 Mindanao Week of Peace. This year (2008), the volunteers were given the chance to conceptualize and implement its own pre-Mindanao Week of Peace series of activities. The Mindanao History and Culture of Peace Information Caravan for the Youth Project (MH-COP-ICY Project) , initiated by the Tri-Youth Movement/ Volunteers, informed the in-school youth (secondary level in Sarangani and General Santos areas) about Mindanao History and Culture of Peace. The project included poster-making contest, quiz bee on Mindanao History and peace concepts, and essay-writing contest. The project included short lectures and exercises on peace and conflict. The project:
•increases the level of awareness of youth about Mindanao History (as this is not taught in the schools);
•provided venue for the youth to articulate their thoughts and feelings about the Mindanao conflict,
•increased the level of participation of the youth to peacebuilidng initiatives in Sarangani Province and General Santos City; and
•learned from the other youths about their concrete plans that will foster the culture of peace in their communities and schools.
Making a step forward in peace advocacy, KKC and Peace Network (with the Tri-Youth Volunteers behind every activity from preparations to implementation), 2008 Mindanao Week of Peace theme “Integrity of the Heart and Mind: A Way to Reconciliation and Peace” was made realized through the following activities:
In Times of Conflict
While peace advocacy activities are in place for the SOCSARGEN area, the skirmishes brought about by the issue of the MOA-AD between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) redirected efforts towards healing the trauma to children and other civilians displaced during the armed-conflict. The communities of Sarangani did not escape from the displacement of people and properties because of conflict that happened between the months of July to September in 2008.
It was noted that earlier than June 27, 2008, while hearing news of a possible armed conflict in Mindanao, the Tri-Youth spearheaded a concert for peace dubbed a Kaduyog K’linaw at Queen Tuna Park in General Santos as a way to inform the public of the need to build the culture of respect to all tri-people in Mindanao.
Regrouping to initiate assistance to affected communities in the municipalities of Maasim and Kiamba, Sarangani some members of the Tri-Youth taught of replicating/ or modifying the Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) tool to the communities. CFS, a borrowed tool from World Vision, “is an area where the children and youth (affected with crises and dealing with the risk they face) can be in a protective environment. CFS gives children the sense of safety, structure, and continuity that provides support…” More than 800 children of Kiamba were gathered in Avelina dela Cruz Elementary School and Kitagas Elementary School in Kiamba on September 15-19, 2008.
World Vision and some provincial volunteers in some communities in Maasim earlier conducted CFS on August 30—September 5, 2008. Yet, the same impacts were shown when the Tri-Youth of KKC did it themselves. According to other stakeholders and the community-beneficiaries themselves, the activity taught them how to release fears and anxiety. The presence of the volunteers according to a teacher from Avelina dela Cruz Elementary School was “senses of assurance of courage and love.
Seeing and feeling the impact of the CFS to some Kiamba children, KKC with the assistance of ACT for Peace and other stakeholders, tapped again the Tri-Youth volunteers to conduct Psychosocial interventions to IDPs (internally displaced persons) temporary shelters in Manil, Kanayan, Lumatil, Kanalo, and Nomoh in Maasim on October 11, 17, 25, 2008. These are communities hardly affected by the armed conflict.
This period, the Tri-Youth have gathered more activity volunteers. The students of Notre Dame of Maasim and other schools in General Santos volunteered for the series of psychosocial intervention. The intervention included not only CFS but also dental and medical mission, food for work projects and others. This time, a convergence of many stakeholders was felt. Doctors and student nurses volunteered for the dental and medical mission. Also, thought in the frontline of conflict, the contingent of the military (73IB of the AFP lead by Lt. Col. Edgardo de Leon), together with the youth volunteers, have been actively involved in the building of temporary shelters for the IDP.
The psychosocial intervention culminated with a Prayer and Caravan for Peace on October 28 at Poblacion in Maasim participated by more than 3,000 people from SOCSARGEN Area. Highlight of the caravan was a motorcade from General Santos City to Kiamba. Another important feature of the Caravan was the sharing of stories of the volunteers and IDPs to thousands of spectators gathered around including government leaders and local officials. All together, the activity was an opportunity of sharing time with Muslims, Lumads and Christians to end prejudices with these people.
Not Only in Times of Conflict
The Tri-Youth Volunteers (with KKC as its shelter NGO) would like to further its cause to peace advocacy in SOCSARGEN Areas. Psychosocial interventions continued in other areas of Kiamba and Maitum (Jamalol and Kling in Kiamba, Teneb and Reganit in Maitum) between February and March 2009. More or less two thousand children benefited from the activity. According to Fr. Angel Buenavides, the contribution of the Tri-Youth Movement/ Volunteers are “bringing hopes, giving smiles, listening to stories, rekindling friendship, and revisiting dreams to other people.” In addition, on Easter Sunday of 2009, 200 street children brought by the Philippine National Police Region XII experienced psychosocial activities at DXCP Compound.
Furthermore, a big peace concert dubbed as Panaghoy sa Kalinaw: The Concert was also co-facilitated by the Tri-Youth (acting as Working Staff/ Secretariat) on April 28, 2009 at KCC Mall Convention Center. It was a big concert supported by the ACT for Peace Programme to declare Arnel Pineda (the lead vocalist of Journey Band) as Mindanao Peace Champion. The gift certificates gathered worth P 100,000.00 were used to buy school supplies for the children that were hit by the conflict in 2008 in Maasim, Kiamba and Maitum. The Tri-Youth dubbed the project Simpleng Alay para sa Eskuwela.. para sa Patulioy na Pangarap ng Mapayapang Kapaligiran on June 8-10, 2009.
Meanwhile, the Tri-Youth has expanded its volunteer work from community service to capacity building. On March to May 2009, the volunteers were engaged in the Mindanaowide consultation for the resumption of the Peace Talks between the MILF and the GRP. Many volunteers participated either as secretariat, documenters, caretakers and facilitators of the Konsult Mindanaw (for Region XII) Project lead by the Bishop-Ulama Conference. Just recently, they facilitated Culture of Peace Training for the Out-of-School Youth in San Jose, General Santos City (also a post-conflict area). Series of COP Trainings to be facilitated by the volunteers are now in pipeline.
Lessons, Impact and Challenges
The direct contributions of Tri-Youth Volunteers/ Movement are unfathomable that no naked eye can see but surely felt. True, the volunteers themselves cannot solve the century old peace and conflict issue in Mindanao but somehow they have contributed to sustaining some small gains of peace (i.e. 1996 Final Peace Agreement). Unintentionally, they did not wish to go to far from attendance to advocacy campaigns (like peace concerts and trainings) and community dialogues cum medical and dental mission.
However, situation calls them to contribute more to peacebuilding in SOCSARGEN areas. True, community activities are tiresome and time consuming but very rewarding. In one of the post-evaluation workshop, a volunteer commented, “I will make my weekend worthwhile to volunteering to communities rather than spending a day to computer games or strolling at the mall.” The volunteers learned time and talent/ skill shared is very worthy. It realizes the quotation, “a little act of volunteerism is a great deed someday.” Without asking for material reward, many volunteers have regularly shared their time with other volunteers. For these volunteers, the smiles of children and fellow youth in the communities are more than a reward. These volunteers are not originally formal development workers, but they have in them the value of contributing to peace and development. These volunteers, instead of asking colleagues to join Tri-Youth Movement, will ask you “want to share food with a child in a rural community?” It is a reflection of transcending beyond issues of organizational formalities (as a status quo) to actual contribution to the people in other communities.
Senior volunteers on the other hand face an emerging challenge. Questions of sustaining the personal spirit of volunteerism are facing them. Senior volunteers said they would like to continue volunteering through ‘knowledge management’. It means, as new volunteers are expected to emerge (as some will ‘graduate’), it is senior volunteers’ hope to train new breed of volunteers through sharing of stories and experiences. Meanwhile, shall the Tri-Youth Movement also graduate from sheltering to Kapayapaan Kapatid Council? Shall it create a rather formal structure or continue being a loose group? Answers to these questions are to be given in the open forum.
Anyway, what are advantages of loose group/ informal volunteer groups? First, the volunteers are focused on extending community service and are not influenced by power dynamics (the leaders versus the members’ syndrome). Second, membership is not because of the structure of the organization but because the goals of the organization. Third, leadership and management are not hierarchical but circular—‘everyone co-manages.’ Fourth, loyalty does not belong to the organization but to the principles and to its cause. Finally, it does not demand a member to stay because of an obligation but of an emerging heart to contribute.
The kind of volunteerism the youth gave is unquantifiable yet community impacts are felt. These volunteers know nothing about technicalities development work (logframes, indicators, etc.), yet unsurprisingly the simple processes of coming together, sharing stories of how to help, bonding with each other, and undying vision to contribute to peacebuilding were important tools to effectively managed each project.
But for me…why shall I continue volunteering? The answer is, why not?
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