Prior to MPI’s 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training, Physics Professor Franklin Savarimuthu of Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, knew nothing about and had no special interest in peacebuilding. Frank finished his PhD in Physics in 2009, conducting research on crystalline structures. Nine years ago, he became a physics teacher for undergraduate science students at Bishop Heber College (autonomous) in his home town, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. In January 2019, the principle of the college informed the members of the different faculties about the United Board for Christian Higher Education (United Board).
Franklin and his colleagues were asked to look into the offer and apply for the Faculty Enrichment Program of United Board. He checked the website of United Board and saw the announcement for an Intensive English Learning Program that interested him, but due to some constraints, Frank was not able to apply for it. The very next program listed on the website was a scholarship for the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute’s 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training.
“Since peacebuilding was not a known word to me, I was not interested in it initially. Since no other projects were listed, I simply went through it to see what is there,” Frank explains.
The information he found about MPI and its Annual Peacebuilding Training Program fell on fertile ground. “I already had the long-term wish to serve the society.”
Although he describes himself as “a man of science,” during the past five years of teaching, Frank had integrated value-oriented education subjects in his work and instructed his students in gender studies, life skills and moral instruction. “While handling these courses, I felt comfortable and happy in communication with the students.” Frank continued, “Because of social media, students nowadays are not able to concentrate more than 20 minutes on a subject.” So, in his lessons he would go from physics to gender or another value-oriented subject and back to physics.
“Without looking anywhere, I straight went to the requirements for application to that program.” The first requirement was that there should be some connection to value-oriented education. The second was that you should be less than 40 years old. That was the driving factor for Frank to apply immediately. Being 39 years old, he would not have the chance to apply again the following year. “This is how I stepped into peacebuilding,” he says. He was the first to apply for that program from his college.
Once his scholarship application was approved, he started digging further into the subject. He contacted United Board/MPI alumni in India who had attended MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training Program before especially since all United Board scholars also work in Christian academic institutions. Franklin felt very motivated after listening to their experiences and how they were able to apply what they learned after returning home. He was particularly inspired by Dr. Jenee Peter (MPI alumna from 2015) from Union Christian College in Kerala whom he had initially contacted with questions regarding the visa process. Just two years after attending MPI, Dr. Peter had initiated the Centre for Peace Studies and Dialogue (CPSD) at Union Christian College, Aluva, India.
In the long run, Frank also intends to establish a center for peace at Bishop Heber college. Initially, he plans to set up a peace club with a group of students in his college and wants to integrate peacebuilding into the curriculum, even with physics. “As an autonomous institute, we can include courses depending on necessity,” he explains. Frank continues, “My country is facing a great threat which needs a lot of peacebuilding work, so I am happy that I am here (at MPI) at the right time. I believe that God has brought me here with a purpose.”
Asked about what has changed in his perception since he joined the MPI annual training, he responded, “I am happy that I did not miss the time here, because I have been opened to a new world of peacebuilding that I have not known for the last 38 years.” He continued, “I met so many people from different countries who are all passionate towards peacebuilding, passionate in their work. And the stories about the Bangsamoro people in the Philippines had made a great impact on me. So far I am living in a country where I was not much aware of conflicts and war. Whatever I hear here is new to me to be frank.” He reveals that when one class assistant talked about the Marawi siege, “the reality of the issue and the emotional sharing disturbed me.“
Equipped with all the lessons learned and information gathered and inspired by the peacebuilders he met, Frank shared he is “ready to begin the journey of peacebuilding.” Even during the MPI 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training, Frank did not miss out on connecting with other peacebuilders from India to strengthen the bonds and make sure that together they will work for peace in their country.