Sunday, March 10, 2013

Living Peace in Contact with Others: The Peace Village Residential Experience

Let us go where few dare to go. Let's bring our children.

On 25 October 2011, I and Noriko flew to Ozamiz City in Northern Mindanao to experience the peace village in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte in Mindanao, Philippines. We went to Lanao del Norte amidst the strong disagreement and opposition of many friends and families. They had reasons to dissuade us from going to Mindanao at that time.

On October 18, just a week prior to our flight to Ozamiz City, 19 Philippine government soldiers were killed in a fierce battle with Muslim guerrillas in Al-Barka, Basilan Island in Southwestern Mindanao. The incident had been tagged as Basilan massacre. The Philippine military launched pursuit operations against the Muslim guerrillas who were involved in the October 18 gunfight. The guerrillas were reported to be composed of mixed forces of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf.

Then, separate armed encounters and skirmished with "lawless" elements of the MILF forces occurred and consequent military operations were underway in the towns of Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay and Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Lanao del Norte. Yes, Lanao del Norte where we would have the peace village experience.

It was easy and understandable to simply cancel our trip to Lanao del Norte. But we thought that we had, in our hands, more than the trip to the troubled Mindanao. It was an opportunity to sympathize with Mindanaoaons and show support for their desire for peace, in the midst of the actual insecurities, threats, and risks.

And so we went to Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte via Ozamiz City. Indeed, security checks and military presence were quite ubiquitous in the areas we passed by. When we came to Kapatagan Elementary School, there was an atmosphere of "fiesta" or festivities. Schoolchildren were frolicking in groups. We were welcomed by the main organizer and Lanao del Norte's Schools Division Superintendent, Dr. Maria Luisa Mutia, who started the Peace Village experience in 2006.

Although there was an option to stay in a hotel, we decided to stay in the community. We thought that peace, if ever to be achieved, it has to be with the communities, with the peoples who are vulnerable to threats and violence. Their peace is our peace.

A Japanese NGO requested me to conduct a rapid impact assessment of the Peace Village experience on schoolchildren. I focused on the intergroup (ethnic and religious) relations. Before the experience, what were their perceptions and views of the other children of different ethnic and religious origins? Did they have friends or classmates from other ethnic and religious groups? After the experience, how do they perceive children from other groups? What changes in their perceptions?

In social sciences, one of the most known hypotheses is that contact reduces prejudice and induces positive attitudes towards other groups. In Pettigrew and Tropp's A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2006, they highlighted numerous studies on the importance of contact in reducing prejudice and inducing positive attitudes towards other groups. It originated from Allport's The nature of prejudice in 1954 in which he proposed the contact hypothesis. Gordon Allport posited four conditions to make contact a positive and effective outcome (reduction of prejudice and positive attitudes towards others); equal status, common goals, cooperation, and support of authority. To a large extent, these four conditions were met in the 2011 Peace Village experience.

Thank you, 2011 Peace Village residents. May you bring the atmosphere of and live out the peace village experience to your homes and own villages. Let us connect and expand our peace villages in our midst. See you in our villages.

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