We climbed up a steep hill, past many makeshift houses, and surveyed the view. This village looked like many other villages I had visited over the years. But our guide, a key local advocate for Project AK-47, assured me there were plenty of soldiers (men, women and children) stationed just beyond the trees, watching us. We had just arrived at one of the many villages that house and station rebel soldiers in the hills of Mindanao, Philippines. We had been invited to meet with one of the most locally influential communist ideologists, Commander V. She amasses armies to fight the corrupt Philippine government and stand for the rights of the peasant farmers who have been trapped for many years in a corrupt system.
I talked with Commander V. over the brown rice and grilled chicken we had carried with us to cook as a peace meal. A stocky but handsome woman, she is the supreme commander of rebels in this region. You can see the lines of care on her face, put there by years of constant life in the jungle and fighting relentlessly for her cause. I could also tell that she was well educated because she spoke to me with direct questions and intelligent, friendly banter. Only for a moment, I also saw the ache of her mother's heart as she told me that she had to leave her two young boys behind to follow her cause. Her sons are now teenagers.
We can’t disclose her real name or the trust we began to build on this trip would be broken. Our mission of this trip was just that: to begin building trust between many warring political camps. We are working with her to find a place of agreement between her army, the local Philippine government, large land owners, peasant farmers, and indigenous mountain tribes. An agreement that would stop the use of children in their conflicts.
We always aim to protect children by educating them with valuable skills that encourage them to go beyond the military. But we are also going straight to the source. These current leaders, whether rebels or nationally sanctioned governments, must be engaged as partners to help us bring freedom to the next generation of Philippine children. Our work is a war of peace and no matter which side of the political aisle a party sits, we must venture into that darkness as advocates for the children they put at risk.
Recently, our local Philippine team has helped negotiate for a mayor’s life and for peace between this rebel group and the Philippine Army. We are looking for a way to bridge the gap so that the children can lay down their guns and lead their generation to peace. You are our army of advocates helping pave the way.
Keep spreading the good word about PAK-47! You are the peace-brokers for these children!