Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Waging Peace Through Laughter And Magic In Southern Philippines

AAI in action during the HELP Caravan in Sulu province in southern RP. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

SULU, Philippines - Nurhikma, eight years-old, is among the nine children of Fatima. They live in the war torn village of Pang, Kalingalang Caluang in Sulu, Philippines, the scene of recent battles between government troops and guerilla forces.Nurhikma is among thousands of children in Mindanao who live in the shadow of fear due to the continual threat of armed conflict.

He was among more than 3,000 children who participated in four days of Kids Fun activities in Sulu and in Basilan war zones, from January 18 to 23, 2008 created and conducted by the Asia America Initiative (AAI).The surprise arrival of a clown, magician and face painters, along with an enthusiastic band of volunteer organizers was part of the first HELP (Health, Education and Livelihood programs) Humanitarian Caravan organized by the Office of Presidential Adviser for Peace Process (OPAPP).

According to Presidential peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, "This effort focuses on health, education and livelihood to provide development in the areas affected by conflict." The caravan was a partnership of national and provincial government agencies including the Departments of Health, Education, Social Welfare, Trade and Employment, with logistical support by the Philippines Armed Forces.

The Asia Foundation contributed thousands of school textbooks. On site non-government agencies were represented by Asia America Initiative. Over a six year period, AAI has fostered "peace zones" and twenty "Model of Excellence" public schools and livelihood projects in Sulu, and has intervened in Basilan. "The Caravan is a venue of peace and thousands of local people are joining our efforts to spread peace in the whole of Sulu," says Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan.

Like a typical party for children anywhere, the fun days were packed with games, magic shows, a cheerful clown, face painting, cupcakes, and gifts-give-away of dolls and Spider Man toys. It was the first time that the children of Pang village in Kalingalang Caluang and Tugas of Patikul in Sulu, and the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Sumisip in Basilan experienced such fun-filled activities.

AAI Philippines conducted the Kids Fun Days as part of its campaign of "Building peace: one child at a time." The festive programs aim to build support for the peace process by bringing smiles to the children and their families in the war zone of Mindanao.

Reflecting on Fun Day events, AAI Program Coordinator, Ms. Rohaniza Sumndad, says, "The children's smiles and laughter were indescribable. The teachers, parents and entire villages all participated. They kept thanking us for making their children happy. The first step in ending conflict is all of us working together for our children, Christians and Muslims, and not abandoning people in communities full of uncertainties.

That is how a culture of peace begins."AAI activities were supported by grants from Mr. Don Marshall of SALVTUG in Manila and the Shelby Cullom Davis Fdtn. in Washington, D.C., Mary Lanier and Bruce Pilley in California, and with medical donations from MedPharm in Virginia and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in Naga, Philippines.

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