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Teaching peace in war-torn Butig

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The ensuing pockets of battles left a wound in the town, so deeply punctured it will take the whole community to cure it.

We had been navigating the highway out of Marawi City, passing by fertile fields for almost a couple of hours, when we turned into 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 exclaim. I looked out the window and saw a group of teachers welcoming us.

They quickly led us into the public school grounds where I instantly noticed an unnerving sight. Near the gates stood a block of newly built classrooms; on the other end were a couple of roofless classrooms pierced heavily by rifle bullets.

A hundred meters away, an open field led my eyes to a gymnasium where dozens of school kids participating in a poster-making competition on the theme “Peace” seemed unmindful of the remnants of war right in their school grounds.

After suffering the effects of the five-month long Marawi Siege, which resulted in mass human displacement, loss of lives and properties, “peace” is now at the center of 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 the 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 youth into extremism.

During the all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (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 rebel camp 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 raging between the Army and the MILF,” one of the current school teachers told us. “It was at that former camp where the Maute trained and brainwashed youth into extremism.”

Enter SPELL Peace

The SPELL Peace program – short 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.

The #ForMindanao Conflict Response and Peacebuilding Grants support locally-led initiatives by awarding grants of up to P100,000 to projects that aim to contribute to the recovery from the Marawi crisis and the development of Mindanao.

Information from the Philippine Information Agency states, “#ForMindanao campaign builds upon the belief that addressing the needs of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao requires a confluence of local and civil society initiatives that encourage engagement from local communities.”

“The SPELL Peace project addresses this decades-long issue with the hope of strengthening peace education in a war-torn community. The project consists of a series of activities that encourage community participation to become active agents of peace. A total of 220 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) representatives from 22 schools in Butig shall be trained in seminar-workshops on peace education. Local government units, education and public security sectors are partnered to ensure a swift-moving activity,” John Badawi, grants manager of #ForMindanao, explained.

Advocacy

Today, Butig is an active community partner of #ForMindanao. The first batch comprised of more than 20 PTA members successfully completed the modules of becoming peace educators.

They now play a vital role in ensuring that the corruption of the youth into extremism shall “never” happen again.

Hoping to shed the town’s notoriety, these educators will help mold students into making Butig a hometown of future innovators, physicians and social entrepreneurs. Through 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 soon be forgotten and shall be replaced with the achievement of a harmonious existence.

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