Laro ng Lahi : Building friendships among the youths in Mindanao

"Masakitan pud mi, (It hurts) They don't distinguish us (from those groups.) But what can I do? I was born a Muslim. How people treat us because of our ways is a challenge," says the young Tausug, whose family has settled in Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte for years.

"So, how is it to feel that way?" Jason Equipado, 19, a son of an army officer, wondered out loud.

As different stakeholders here observes the 9th year of the Mindanao Week of Peace, young people like Shajed and Jason are being brought together in a two-day "laro ng lahi" activity to build friendship and increase cultural awareness among youths belonging to different peoples in Mindanao.

Ronald Bocboc, MSPC regional youth leader, gathers over 140 youths from different schools and parishes for the process-oriented activity geared towards promoting team building, a jumping board and a strategy for building relationships and heightened consciousness for peace.

Bocboc said that the activity aims to reach out to the children, whose scars from the so-called Mindanao conflict are not yet running "too deep" for healing.

 "We're aware that the Bishops and the Ulamas have been building bridges and renewed commitment for peace," Bocboc said. "So, we're thinking, why not work with young people, too? This will bring a much brighter future for Mindanao."

On November 26, 2001, the President issued Proclamation 127, declaring the last Thursday of November up to the first Wednesday of December of every year as the Mindanao Week of Peace, to raise the consciousness for the culture of peace and provide a venue for expression of the peace aspirations among all peoples in Mindanao.

Various activities geared towards promoting peace have kicked off in six major areas in Mindanao; namely: Iligan, Davao, Cotabato, Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan and Butuan.

As an offshoot of the Bishop-Ulama forum in Zamboanga city nine years ago, the activity has begun to create changes in the consciousness of children and young people in the predominantly Catholic Christian city of Butuan, said Fr. Jodimar (Pax) Bañas, diocesan youth director.

He said that the current Mindanao Week of Peace celebration carries the theme "Building Bridges of Peace with our Peace Officer," recognizing the role of the armed forces and the people in uniform, as one of the key stakeholders for peace in Mindanao.

"The armed forces play a big role in pursuing peace," he said.

Bocboc said that continuing dialogs will open the minds of young people to a deeper understanding of the cultures of Mindanao in the hope of addressing the root causes of the conflict. 

Bañas said that activities like these are changing the consciousness of children and young people, and help them become more aware of the varied cultures of Mindanao. 

As a soldier's son, for instance, Jason said, he always thinks of Mindanao as a land of promise but continues to wonder why his cousins in other parts of the country are afraid of coming here. "They think we're always at war, when we're not. Mindanao is relatively a safe place," he said.