Youths community immersion and interfaith dialogues offer an opportunity to improve social cohesion and contribute reduce radicalization among conflict-affected communities.
The Marawi crisis, which controversially described some youths involvement in violent extremism, saw parallel imperatives for dialogues and cultural exchange to inspire acquisition of empirical knowledge that can constructively change or shift perspectives to prevent radicalization .
Peace experts pointed that dialogue and conversations are practical alternatives to a crisis where there is severe infliction of casualties and destruction that left social-politics fragile amid destruction and displacement.
This was the heart of identified strategies when Maradeca Inc. embarked in an initiative to bring 50 Muslim and 20 Christian youths in an interfaith youth camp and community immersion in Lanao provinces in June 2019.
A number of participants in this process were youths from the most affected areas of Marawi.
Dialogue and de-radicalization
It was perceived that dialogues can only effectively discourage extremism or de-radicalize youths in conflict zones if they are able to pierce through stigmatization and become active partners and communicators under the context of social inclusion and integration for peace.
“The training was unique and meaningful in my life. Here, I was able to experienced how to befriend, communicate, and relate with Christians. After the immersion, I realized that its not enough that we have expertise but we must also have sensitivities to others,” said Abdensa Migpangcat from Ditsaan Ramain, 22-year old youth leader.
“Accumulated knowledge is useless if we do not empathize and understand others. If we must have peace, we should be more understandable and emphatic. This is most important for me. We must use our expertise and ability to understand if we wanted to attain peace,” he said.
“I learned from diversity and attitudes of peoples. However any relational experiences bring us, when a stone is thrown to you, you respond by throwing pandesal to maintain peace. Skilled persons know how to adjust; can control emotion. Excessive or strong emotion can destroy and its not good. We should do things with temperance and in moderation,” he pointed.
Migpangcat reflected that diversity of faiths, respect and tolerance, as well as, emotional and cultural intelligence on multiculturalism improve social relations and help prevent conflicts.
The tangible fulfillment of dialogue in practice inspire cooperation among stakeholders in post-conflict period to prevent collision of ideas and encourage sensitization of humanitarian ethos among affected constituents, including those intervening in the Marawi crisis.
The two year crisis require more dialogues to shift from adversarial to dialogical communication to rebuild mutual trust, respect, and understanding.
Spaces and open-mindedness
Immersion and exchange of ideas offer a better pathway for durable peace because spaces for dialogues engaged youths toward positive change and developed open-mindedness in conflict response.
“In the immersion, I was expecting that we will be hosted in a not so hospitable Maranao home because the place we went to are remote and far-flung areas. Unexpectedly, Bapa and Babu were so kind, accommodating, and hospitable,” related Johny Mendoza, a christian youth leader and participant to the interfaith youth camp.
“In this youth camp, I was expecting more activities, appreciation, communication, and socialization with others. These were met and sobrang saya (its filled with joy),” Mendoza said.
“We should strive to do what our ancestors have done decades ago. I realized, regardless of religious denominations, we are all the same. I have experienced this in the immersions with both Muslim and Christian communities. Some of us were treated like members of the family of our hosts and still others didn’t experience the same warmth in communities. I also realized that some people are poor in terms of monies, but rich at heart,” Mendoza pointed.
“It was my first time to join camping and dialogues. There were many learning and bonding that have transpired but what strucked me the most is that peace is a ‘state of mind.’ You should not deprive anyone to achieve that state. Peace must starts with the self. To attain this goal, the tri-people in Mindanao, should accept each other. Others say diversity is a weakness. But if we are accepting of others, we can live in diversity with comfortable lives and can transform this weakness into strength,” Mendoza said.
Contextual immersion likewise helped youths realize the situation of remotely situated Maranao communities and their dire needs for social services delivery.
“When we were in Madalum, I realized that there are still many people living in the remotest part of the mountains. We observed the families’ lack of access to potable water and they survived through farming. They are peaceful nonetheless,” said Jamael Tuman, a youth leader from barangay Dayawan of Marawi city.
“They were very hospitable to us and we were treated like family members. We were offered blankets and they narrated their stories. I was called anak. I appreciated this. They even invited us to stay for a week. The place is very cold though. I hope others will experience too what we had,” he narrated.
“In our immersion at Montay, Kolambugan of Lanao del Norte, with Christian families, I was a bit scared because I haven’t experienced sleeping, eating, taking a bath in a Christian home. I haven’t done that in my entire life. But we found out that they were hospitable too. I am grateful to Kuya Ian, a barangay official,” he said.
“We felt at home. He entertained us and he related many stories including about his family and his business. He asked us not be shy and he considered us as his brothers too. He fed us, too. He spared time to tour us in the poblacion of Kolambugan and we learned more about the people’s way of life in the coastal communities.
“I never expected that we will be treated very kindly. I didn’t felt discrimination nor prejudiced as a Muslim. I am so thankful to our hosts,” he expressed.
“The youth camp truly contributed and strengthened Muslim-Christian relationship. This is my first to attend in a seminar with Christian co-participants. Even if we come from different barangays and we bear different views, still we are able to unify. They respected us Muslims as we did to them. It positively impacts on me if people are not judged because of religion,” he stressed.
“When I was invited to this interfaith camp, I researched online to learn that this is about religious groups in discourse to understand culture and religion,” said Kristine May Apay, a resident of Ozamiz city.
“A night before we went to Marawi, I was a bit disturbed, was sleepless, and I had second thoughts. All of this was a new environment for me to be surrounded by Muslims. But when I started interacting with them, I learned about my prejudice. I realized that we are similar despite religious differences — Muslims and Christians. We’re only held distinct with our modes of clothing like those worn hijab. I realized that they are also good to us. I was accepted as I am,” Apay narrated.
“I was a bit surprised that part of the process in Marawi immersion was for us Christians to be ‘adopted’ by a Maranao family. This was new to me. I have joined many youth camps, but this was unique and something which can’t be relegated to forgetting,” she added.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that though we have differences in culture and tradition as Muslims and Christians but if we are willing to understand, be open, and be acceptable of each other, then its possible for us to attain peace and unity,” she pointed.
“Let me be the change I want to see; the change that is happening in me. I am bit saddened that we have only a short time of togetherness. I have strengthened my bond with them; thinkin’ to prefer to stay a bit longer because it felt not enough. I felt belongingness to a family. I’d like to know more of their culture. If there is another event like this, I really want to still join,” Apay said.
Indeed, engaging the youths in dialogues for social cohesion inspire critical awareness and understanding on multi-ethic and interreligious possibilities. It helped reduce biases and the interactions decreased social tensions.