Trained by experts at NIU, community organizers from a conflict-torn region of the southern Philippines are now teaching their neighbors to look at the bigger picture, resolve differences peacefully and be more active in mainstream society.
The activists participated in a three-week summer workshop led by NIU faculty who have expertise in conflict resolution and cultural diversity training.
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs provided a $350,000 grant in support of the program, titled “The Past is Always Ahead of Us: Empowering Indigenous and Minority Leaders in the Southern Philippines.”
The 11 participants arrived on campus in late May, exchanged ideas with peers and learned that arguments and violence are not the best tools to solve differences or improve lives.
The grant also will support travel by NIU educators to the Philippines next year to conduct follow-up training, said International Training Office Director Lina Ong. Another group of Philippine activists is scheduled to arrive in DeKalb in October for more leadership-building workshops.
Over the past seven years, NIU’s Ong and Anthropology Professor Susan Russell, an expert on the Philippines, have led a series of similar leadership-development workshops for Filipino young people and adults. In all, they have received $2.2 million in federal grants for the programs and have trained 234 people.
Participants learn to look outside of their indigenous tribes, regions, cultures and country for solutions to age-old problems.
“They learn to collaborate among themselves, with members of other tribes and with the government to solve common problems,” Russell said.
By the end of the latest workshop, participants were anxious to return to their country and put their new knowledge to use.
“This program gave me a chance to make known the issues of our people and hear what other cultures are dealing with,” said Licelle Onggo, an organizer and government employee from Buhangin, Davao City. “In my region, poverty, education and cultural degradation are our biggest issues. Few people are passing their tribal customs and heritage down to their children, and schools are not teaching them to children.”
There’s a real fear that customs may fade with time and generations.
“My biggest challenge will be to find (elders) who are willing and trained to teach culture to younger people, so it will not be eventually lost,” Onggo said.
To keep tribe members sharp and to begin increasing pride and self-esteem among the remote cultures, tribes must throw out their suspicions of neighbors. They must work together to rationally and peacefully solve problems they all share, Russell said.
“Conflict resolution is my biggest concern,” said Abdul Atar, an organizer from Marawi City. “I can’t wait to return to my country and show people how to assert our rights in a peaceful way.”
by Gerard Dziuba