#ForMindanao Peace Educators in Lanao Del Sur
After a couple of hours of land travel from Marawi, I was jolted from my sleep. Just as our van was passing a Mosque riddled with bullets. “We’re almost here”, I heard someone from our van exclaim. A few seconds later, we arrived at a public school where a group of teachers warmly welcomed us.
A bullet-riddled Mosque still stands in Butig, Lanao Del Sur
Surveying around, I quickly noticed the reminders of a violent recent past. A couple of roofless classrooms stood out. Just like the nearby Mosque, it was pierced heavily by rifle bullets. A few meters away, an open field led my sight to a gymnasium. Where dozens of schoolkids participate in a poster making competition centering on the theme of “Peace”.
Students participating in a poster-making competition
After suffering the effects of the 5-month long Marawi Siege – which resulted in a catastrophic mass human displacement, loss of lives and properties, the word “peace” now centers on everyone’s desires. Despite being situated more than 50 kilometers away from the main battleground, the town of Butig in Lanao Del Sur wasn’t shielded from the fighting.
It was here where the Armed Forces of the Philippines hunted down the remaining members of dreaded Maute Group. The ensuing pockets of battles left a wound in the town. So deeply punctured, it will take the whole community to cure it.
The Old Narrative of Butig
The town of Butig, Lanao del Sur was infamously feared. Because it was once the stronghold of the Maute-ISIS group. It was also here where the local terror group indoctrinated and recruited youths into extremism.
A heavily damaged classroom in Butig
During the all-out war against the MILF in 2001, Butig was also the site of one of the fiercely fought battles between the government and the MILF. A few kilometers from the school was where a former camp of the MILF was located. It was the next heavily bombed target next to Camp Abubakar.
“From our houses atop the surrounding hill, we could see the battle ranging between the army and the MILF”. One of the current school teachers narrated to us. “It was at this place also where the Maute trained some out of school youths. And brainwashed them into extremism” she adds.
Enter #ForMindanao’s S.P.E.L.L Peace Program
The S.P.E.L.L Peace program stands for “Strengthen, Promote and Encourage Love and Loyalty for Peace in Butig”. It’s one of the many programs of #ForMindanao funded and supported technically by the US Embassy in Manila and Naawan HELPS Communities.
These two young students asked the author to take a photo of themselves
“SPELL Peace Project is an instrument to address this decade-long issue. With the hope to strengthen peace education in a war-torn community. The project consists series of activities that encourages community participation to become active agents of peace. A total of 220 PTA representatives from 22 schools in Butig shall be trained in seminar-workshop on peace education. Local government units, education and public security sectors are partnered to ensure a swift-moving activity” John Badawi, Grants Manager of #ForMindanao explains.
#ForMindanao team hands out Peace Educators certificates
“#ForMindanao oversees the smooth implementation of Spell Peace in Butig by monitoring the progress and challenges of the team. #ForMindanao also provides technical support and network to the team” adds Badawi.
Promoting and Teaching Peace in Butig Today
Today, Butig is an active community partner of #ForMindanao. And has successfully completed the first set of modules in training the first batch of peace educators.
PTA and Faculty who became newly certified PEACE Educators
More than 20 PTA members who successfully completed the modules of becoming peace educators, now plays a vital role in ensuring that the corruption of the youth into extremism shall NEVER happen again.
Envisioning to shed the town’s notoriety, these educators hope to mold students into making Butig known as hometown of future innovators, physicians, social entrepreneurs, and even travel writers. Because in peacetime development and community empowerment, anything is possible.
Ms. Johailah Balt – Project Head, SPELL Peace in Butig
“It is never easy to be the project leader of SPELL Peace as I was pregnant when I crafted the project. Two of the team members are pregnant and one is still in postpartum stage. However, these challenges do not stop us from carrying out the project. And in bringing hope to the place. I believe that by promoting love and loyalty for peace among parents and students in Butig, by capacitating them, and uniting them to work for peace, we will contribute to developing a better Mindanao” said Johailah Balt, Project Head of SPELL Peace in Butig.
In the past, the town of Butig was described in a myriad manner of grim: “hometown of the Maute brothers”, “birthplace of modern day extremism”, and “a very dangerous place”. Fortunately, these storylines are now in the rearview mirror.
What is happening today is how the whole community looks into the future with visions of a lasting peace. By guiding the younger generation towards the rightful path, the wounds of the past will be soon be forgotten. And shall be replaced with achieved dreams of a harmonious existence.