“Yesterday we intercepted a bomb at a checkpoint,” the chief-of-police mentioned casually as if it was not unusual. He had stopped by to meet our team and hear about the project we are implementing in a Muslim region of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines. Out here, military and police checkpoints seem as common as fruit-stands. Outside every school is a green sign with bold white letters stating simply: “This school is a ZONE OF PEACE. Let us protect it from conflict.” Security is tight and it needs to be. This region is one of the poorest in the country, at least in part due to the decades of conflict that have destabilized the region.
We asked the chief-of-police what can be done to facilitate peace and reconciliation in a region like this. He responded decisively, “The only way is education.”
For some children, they are raised from their youth to mistrust other religions, tribes, or people groups. They are taught who they can and cannot associate with before they start school. These lessons are rooted in wounds dating back generations. The only way to bring peace is to confront these ideas head-on, and to bring forgiveness and reconciliation where there has been hurt.
Project AK-47 recently sent a team comprised of different tribes and nationalities to implement the first Cultural Awareness Camp in the region. Held in a Muslim school, 111 students joined us in breakout sessions and games designed to bring a greater understanding of other cultures and religions and to spread a message of unity and forgiveness.
Over the weekend, our team noticed students from tribes which are traditionally at odds changing in their attitudes towards one another. Some even asked for each other forgiveness for things that their tribe had done in the past. At the end of the weekend one of the students shared with us, “Whether you are Muslim or a Christian, we must accept, unite and respect each other. Without unity and respect for each other, how can we attain peace?”
For these students, we hope this project will mark the first step of many towards reconciliation. For this region, we hope this project can be the first of many and will model a new approach to encouraging peace.