On giving back: rendering narratives of peace
Adversity prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. Sometimes the toughest times often lead to the greatest moments in life. In times of adversity, these costly learning experiences shape who we are and what drives us to move forward.
Racquel Correa, member of the Assessment, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting (AMER) Team and Training Team of the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM), transformed unfortunate events in her life into meaningful and purposeful actions. When she was young, she felt anxious and aloof most of the time. She was resentful towards some of her teachers because of distressful interactions with school authorities. When she was young, she wanted to join a national film-making competition for children. She asked for the school’s approval to participate in the competition. However, with the approval came hurtful and discouraging remarks from school authorities because her chosen subject was deemed sensitive. This led to her distrust of teachers and authorities. Eventually, she was one of the two winners who won the video competition out of hundreds of entries in the country.
Racquel grew up with disbelief and disappointment in the education system of the Philippines. There was a time when she had given up her faith on peaceful, enabling and safe classrooms for children. She grew up doing things out of responsibility for others, weighing her actions with a firm sense of right and wrong, but never anticipated to be moved by passion.
Life of Twists and Turns
In December 2016, one of her closest friends and active volunteers of TPBPM, Tajallih Basman, invited her to facilitate at the Formation Session for Teachers. Out of curiosity, she decided to join the program. At first, she was worried because everyone looked so close together and she didn’t know if she would fit in. To her surprise, the team warmly welcomed her and made her feel like a member of the family.
During the Formation Session, her first experience as an AMER volunteer was memorable. Dr. Almuhaimin Usman, Team Leader of AMER Team trusted her to draft the Peace Development Plan for teachers, which is now being used and localized by different TPBPM partner schools. “TPBPM trusted me with creating the plan. I was new then and had little knowledge of peace. My knowledge was limited only to what I heard during the talks and from some books back when I was doing fieldwork in college. That’s why I felt overwhelmed. But now, I can see the impact of creating that simple draft and its implementation,“ Racquel shared.
On the last night of the Formation Session for Teachers, she cried immensely because of overwhelming emotion and the earnest dedication of teachers from conflict-affected schools in Maguindanao. She also expressed her appreciation and awe for the tireless work of the teachers towards peace education in Mindanao.
“I never expected that I would be part of Teach Peace. I also did not expect to encounter teachers that were kindhearted in their very nature. To meet them during the Formation Session in Antipolo was amazing. To hear their narratives and learn from their wisdom was an even greater experience. I wish more people knew the efforts and unsung sacrifices they make to teach the children and youth in Mindanao. If only more people knew, more people would come to realize the value and need for peace education, and that it is indeed possible,” Racquel said.
Her first involvement with TPBPM changed her perspective on peace and development. Right then and there, her peace journey had just started.
Unforeseen Roots and Challenges
Of parallel experiences
Racquel’s commitment in building a culture of peace became stronger through experience. As a volunteer, she travels to conflict and non-conflict communities of TPBPM to conduct assessments, and to facilitate peace education sessions with children, parents, teachers, and soldiers. “Volunteering with my TPBPM family enabled me to learn the narratives of the people, to put faces to what we seldom know about soldiers, teachers, and indigenous peoples. It’s a rare chance to debunk misconceptions and stereotypes, a way to put real faces and personalities to facts and data we would only see on paper,” she said.
Ultimately, her involvement led her to becoming part of the School and Communities of Peace Heroes Formation (SCPHF) Program, one of the pilot programs of TPBPM which aims to build a culture of peace in communities, and to make every child a peace-builder. Throughout her SCPHF Program journey, Racquel became close to one of the children benefiting from the program. During her assessment interview with the child, she found out that children in the community were purportedly suffering from corporal punishment by one of their teachers. From a young age, these children had experienced spanking and had objects thrown at them whenever their teacher was displeased.
On a personal level, Racquel understood the uneasiness of studying in hostile environments. Her encounter with this child made her more compassionate and eager to advocate for safer and peaceful classrooms. “Children deserve a safe and peaceful environment to learn and to develop their full potential. It’s these kinds of learning spaces that can make or break a child’s willingness to learn.”
She went back to the community and conducted post assessments of the SCPHF Program. After the assessment, significant and noticeable changes were experienced by the children, teachers, and parents. The SCPHF Program has impacted the community. More students are now consistently attending school. Children who were distant before, are now more sociable and confident. Parents and children, including their teachers, have witnessed stronger relationships amongst themselves in the community. But most importantly, the habit of inflicting physical punishment on young children in school had stopped.
Hearing the humbling narratives of people from the community helped Racquel gain a deeper understanding of the relevance and value of what TPBPM is doing. “From that experience, I realized that everything we do has a chain effect on people. We were able to change something that was close to my heart and childhood. It’s surprising that we may unknowingly be changing the lives of some people. It makes me more grounded and more appreciative of my role as a human being. These changes may be in the form of small habits, but from these small habits we can gradually change attitudes and mindsets,” she added.
Racquel also joined peace journey sessions at the Civil Military Operations School in Taguig. Her experience of facilitating a session with soldiers changed her perspective of them. Initially, she thought soldiers were conditioned to be emotionless individuals who were tasked to defend the country, and to maintain a sense of order. Knowing their stories and motivations for joining the military helped her realize that soldiers are more than what we know them to be. They have nothing but an intense sense of duty and resilient dedication to serve others. They come from different backgrounds, some of which we seldom know, such as soldiers who were teachers before they entered the military.
Racquel believes peace is essential to development. Peace has been part of her life. For Racquel, standing by peace and actively living by it, have been a process. One of the challenges that Racquel encounters is changing the mindsets of people from the limiting definition that peace is merely the absence of conflict. She firmly stands and willingly explains to them that peace is what facilitates development in communities.
“Development is not only limited to providing people with their basic needs, but it should also be human-centered and peace-centered. I had a micro understanding then. But seeing the situation firsthand and reflecting on the dynamics in partner communities helped me realized that peace is essential in bringing basic needs for instance: education, jobs, even infrastructure, to the people who need these the most. Imagine a school or community affected by war and conflict, with limited opportunities and no safe spaces to study. We would only be able to optimally reach them if there were peace; if the parents, teachers, and children themselves understand peace. Peace is ensuring we have a safe and enabling environment for people to reach their full potential,” Racquel shared.
When asked to describe her journey with TPBPM in one word, Racquel said it is immeasurable. She shared that Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, TPBPM’s founder, taught her how to manage her emotions, cultivate inner peace, and to better relate with other people. “The things I learned from TPBPM and Ate Honey are the kind of things you won’t find in any books or learn in the classroom,” she said.
Racquel’s experience being in TPBPM’s AMER Team is more than just writing reports, conducting interviews and researches, or making evaluation papers. It is knowing the stories of people living in these communities and telling their stories to build a culture of peace. Racquel dreams for Filipino children to have a safer and more enabling environment to go to, and for partner schools and communities to actively work together as advocates for peace education.
“TPBPM has been a huge part of my identity. It helped me find other means of service, and to use my experiences and skills for something bigger. I’m happy to do things that fill my heart, and I know I’m doing something for kids, one that is rooted from my own experience.”