WAGING PEACE IN THE PHILIPPINES
Associate Director, Miriam College, Center for Peace Education
Whenever people ask me what I teach and I say "Peace Education", I usually get a surprised reaction. "Peace?" they usually ask. "Do we have to study that?"
Whenever I hear this reaction, I can't help but think of the famous UNESCO quotation on the relevance of peace education: If war begins in the minds of men (and women), then it is in the minds of men (and women) that the defenses of peace must be constructed.
Hence, in my heart, I know that peace education is vital in the building of a culture of peace. Peace education began in Miriam College in the early '80s when peace and global perspectives were integrated into the curriculum. It was in 1988 when we first introduced a 3-unit college peace course in the curriculum of International Studies. Now Peace Education is also taught as a separate subject in the Grade School, in selected Graduate School programs and in our Child Development and Education program in the college. In the high school, our approach is infusion. Peace perspectives, values and skills are integrated in Social Studies subjects across all year levels.
In 1997, the Center for Pace Education was established. This allowed the more systematic training of Miriam College administrators, faculty, students and non-academic personnel on peace issues such as war, prejudice and economic inequity. Our students and teachers are also trained on such peace skills as conflict management and peer mediation. Our Center has conducted peace education workshops for other schools and groups throughout the Philippines as well. Many of the people we have trained have also trained others and have started their own peace-related programs in their respective schools.
The need to plant the seeds of peace in the minds and hearts of our young people is essential as Philippines is besieged by conflict in multifarious forms. The government places poverty level at 41% and the gap between the rich and the poor is immense. The Communist Party of the Philippines has been waging a war against the government for about thirty years now and the Moro International Liberation Front continues to wage its secessionist cause through armed struggle, though at present, a ceasefire is being observed. The military has spent huge amounts to fight these local insurgencies siphoning off resources from basic social and economic services. Our foreign debt rate is astronomical; hence, debt service eats up about 40% of our budget annually. A lack of understanding and trust exists between Muslims and Christians. And the country's resource base, its real wealth, is increasingly eroding at the expense of economic growth.
Hence, peace education for us is both an ethical imperative and a practical alternative. We need to place human and ecological well-being at the top of our agenda. There is a need for our young people to understand the nature of conflicts, their causes and consequences. More importantly, they have to be equipped with the skill to imagine alternatives for a preferred future-and work passionately to concretize them. We have to help nurture in them a sense of hope that peace is not an elusive goal, but a concrete vision that can be attained.
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