Another town, another setting, another gathering of people from diverse backgrounds. Last July 23, 2019, 17 MPI alumni from and around Cotabato came together for their first MPI Cotabato Alumni Reunion. However, some who joined the meeting came from very far away. One MPI alumnus came all the way from Myanmar. Another alumnus from 2011, Mr. Shecku Kawusu Mansaray from Sierra Leone, who happened to be visiting Mindanao with his wife Isata, was also welcomed and added a special flavor to the meeting.
The reunion took place at the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. (KFI) compound and was hosted by one of the founders of MPI, Mr. Guiamel Alim, Chairperson of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society Organizations (CBCS) and Director of KFI.
It was indeed a fascinating group and a productive and inspiring meeting. Various warm-up exercises at the start of the meeting helped the participants learn more about one another and revealed the diversity of those present. Some alumni had attended MPI trainings in the early 2000s. Others had just joined this year, 2019. Some can look back at many years and experiences of peacebuilding, while others are just getting started. All who were present, whether “chronologically more or less advanced,” as our host, Guiamel Alim, addressed the different age groups, came full of enthusiasm and ideas as to how they would want to work together to contribute to peace. As our host said in his inspirational welcoming speech: “Anything that you do that contributes to peace is peacebuilding as long as it does not use violence …”
The MPI alumni came to share their experiences and challenges, to get inspired again, to get updates on peacebuilding, and to discuss concrete ways to strengthen the MPI peacebuilding network around the globe.
It was interesting to listen to the different stories and experiences of MPI alumni. One said, “Before, as a youth, we don’t have the voice to express comparing to the youth today.” He continued, “MPI has taught us to look at the roots of the problems [and] we learned the easy way.” This was, according to him, because the facilitators taught the courses in a very creative way, enabling them to re-echo what they learned.
One of the “chronologically least advanced” participants shared that MPI changed his life perspective: “Before, I want to become a teacher for myself, but when I got the chance to join the MPI training, I want to become a teacher not only for myself but to help everyone.”
And after a half day meeting, a number of concrete and creative ideas evolved on how they as a group and as individuals can contribute to peace and become an active part of the MPI alumni peacebuilding network.
One group came up with the idea to establish an MPI Alumni Chapter in Central Mindanao. They started right on the spot by developing and creating a Facebook closed group and messenger group chat. Plans for quarterly physical meetings were discussed as well as the formulation of a structure of MPI Alumni Central Mindanao, including the election of officers. When ideas were presented in the plenary, Guiamel asked the highly motivated group members: “Who is going to plan the quarter physical meeting?” He suggested to form “… a committee that should focus on this.” Marlies Roth, MPI’s Research, Learning and Documentation Coordinator, added that they should try to realize their plans without needing much money in order to sustain their activities. She said that this comes from her experience as sharing resources is the only way network meetings such as MPI alumni reunions can be realized and sustained.
The more international oriented group members discussed and shared about “Humanitarian-development-peace nexus global trends” and the relevance of peacebuilding trainings. “Everyone of us is doing our own contribution in peacebuilding work, what we have to emphasize here is to connect what we do to the bigger picture… It’s important to look in how to fit into the bigger picture.”
They developed ideas on how MPI alumni could strengthen their peacebuilding work and suggested training courses that MPI could take up in the future, such as:
- Building evidence-based peace advocacy;
- Responsible resource management in post-conflict countries/regions;
- Courses on reintegration and inclusion:
- Issues on housing, land, property;
- Access to services without discrimination;
- Peacebuilding in the global call for climate change adaptation.
At the end of the day, the MPI alumni were happy to have re-connected and felt energized to continue to sustain the peacebuilding initiatives they are doing. Guiamel summarized that the group “already drafted some kind of ways to connect and this would help a lot in linking with other groups.”
After the March 2019 Iligan/Marawi MPI alumni gathering, the reunion in Cotabato was the second for Mindanao this year. MPI hopes to organize an MPI alumni meeting in Davao before the year ends to help connect MPI peacebuilding initiatives in Mindanao and beyond.