#ForMindanao’s Peace Educators in Lanao Del Sur

We have been navigating the highway out of Marawi City passing by fertile fields for almost a couple of hours when we turned to a narrow road leading to a small town. Eerie silence reigned over our group, as our van rolled in front of a Mosque riddled with bullets. “We’re almost here” I heard someone exclaimed. I looked out the window and I immediately saw a group of teachers amiably welcoming us.

They quickly let us inside the grounds of the public school where I instantly noticed an unnerving juxtaposing reality. Near the gates situates a block of newly built classrooms while on the other end, stands a couple of roofless classrooms pierced heavily by rifle bullets.

A hundred meters away, an open field led my sight to a gymnasium where dozens of schoolkids participating in a poster making competition centering in the theme of “Peace”, seemed unmindful of the remnants of war right inside their school.

After suffering the effects of the 5-month long Marawi Siege – which resulted in mass human displacement, loss of lives and properties, the word “peace” now centers on everyone’s desires. Despite being situated more than 50 kilometers away from the main battleground, the town of Butig in Lanao Del Sur wasn’t shielded from the fighting.

It was here where the Armed Forces of the Philippines hunted down the remaining members of dreaded Maute Group. The ensuing pockets of battles left a wound in the town, so deeply punctured, it will take the whole community to cure it.

The Old Narrative of Butig

The town of Butig, Lanao Del Sur was infamously feared because it was once the stronghold of the Maute-ISIS group. It was also here where the local terror group indoctrinated and recruited youths into extremism.

During the all-out war against the MILF in 2001, Butig was also the site of one of the fiercely fought battles between the government and the MILF. A few kilometers from the school was where a former camp of the MILF was located. It was the most heavily bombed target next to Camp Abubakar.

From our houses atop the surrounding hill, we could see the battle ranging between the army and the MILF” one of the current school teachers narrated to us. “It was at that former camp where the Maute trained and brainwashed youths into extremism” she adds.

Enter #ForMindanao’s S.P.E.L.L Peace Program

The S.P.E.L.L Peace program which stands for “Strengthen, Promote and Encourage Love and Loyalty for Peace in Butig” is a program of #ForMindanao and funded by the US Embassy and Naawan HELPS Communities.

SPELL Peace Project addresses this decade-long issue with the hope to strengthen peace education in a war-torn community. The project consists series of activities that encourages community participation to become active agents of peace. A total of 220 PTA representatives from 22 schools in Butig shall be trained in seminar-workshop on peace education. Local government units, education and public security sectors are partnered to ensure a swift-moving activity” John Badawi, Grants Manager of For Mindanao explains.

Promoting and Teaching Peace in Butig Today

Today, Butig is an active community partner of For Mindanao. The first batch comprising of more than 20 PTA members successfully completed the modules of becoming peace educators. They now plays a vital role in ensuring that the corruption of the youth into extremism shall NEVER happen again.

Envisioning to shed the town's notoriety, these educators hope to mold students into making Butig as hometown of future innovators, physicians, social entrepreneurs and so on. Because in peacetime development and community empowerment, anything is possible.

 Challenges do not stop us from carrying out the project and in bringing hope to the place. I believe that by promoting love and loyalty for peace among parents and students in Butig, by capacitating them, and uniting them to work for peace, we will contribute to developing a better Mindanao” said Johailah Balt, Project Head of SPELL Peace in Butig.

In the past the town of Butig was described in a myriad manner of grim: “hometown of the Maute brothers”, “birthplace of modern day extremism”, and “a very dangerous place”. Fortunately, these storylines are now in the rearview mirror.

Today, the whole community looks into the future with visions of a lasting peace. By guiding the younger generation towards the rightful path, the wounds of the past will be soon be forgotten and shall be replaced with achieved dreams of a harmonious existence.

 This article first appeared on the front page of the September 23, 2018 issue of The Daily Tribune