Throughout May, I went through a volunteer experience as a class assistant and class documenter with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) at Davao City, Philippines. They conducted their Annual Peacebuilding Training with the theme “Positive Engagements in Peacebuilding“. I assisted in classes that covered topics such as Fundamentals of Peacebuilding, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding Practitioners, and Indigenous Peoples’ Culture-Based Conflict Resolution Practices.
I met new friends, new mentors, and new acquaintances. It was a one-month experience that felt like a lifetime — Mindanao now feels like another place I can call home. I will definitely go back there someday and catch up with the people I met.
Sustainability — what is it really about?
You might be wondering — what is the connection of peacebuilding with sustainability? This was my question also when I first stepped in as a volunteer. Sustainability is typically equated with the environment and climate crisis. But looking deeper into the areas of sustainability, you will discover that it involves four major areas: culture, politics, ecology, and economics. When simplified further, sustainability takes a look at people, planet, and profit (hence, the name of this blog, Triple Bottom Line).
One of the other reasons I joined MPI as a volunteer is to understand other areas of sustainability. Nowadays, I see it as problematic that sustainability is typically understood in ‘silos’. For instance, that one piece of plastic that traverses and pollutes the sea does not just involve ecological concerns — its mass existence in our bodies of water also has implications on modern culture, economics, and even politics. Sustainability is a matter of looking at today’s challenges systematically by using different lenses.
Another reason why I joined as a volunteer is because the field of sustainability overwhelms me with its complexity. I want to take it one at a time. This brings me to the connection of sustainability with peacebuilding.
Sustainability and peacebuilding: An emerging field
Peacebuilders around the world are doing their best to achieve peace in their respective communities. From Syria down to Mindanao, peacebuilding efforts are abundant and in need of much support from different sectors of society.
While I was talking with one of the officers of MPI, it came to my attention that peacebuilding and sustainability is an emerging field. Take for example the indigenous peoples or Lumads in the Philippines. While they’re fighting against ‘developmental aggression’ and conflicts in their ancestral domains, these challenges actually have corresponding sustainability challenges as well in terms of environment conservation, cultural preservation, political struggle, and economic stagnation.
This is why I think that whenever we think about sustainability, we have to be careful not to think in silos. Take a look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations — these represent sustainability in its boldest form. Ever since the United Nations launched the SDGs, the rest of the world followed suit and looked for ways to localize the SDGs in their respective countries and communities. In the peacebuilding world, sustainability is starting to get traction.
An experience of a lifetime
Now that I’ve let that off my chest, I want to share the experience I had with MPI.
I had a lot of firsts when I went to Davao this May. It was my first time in Mindanao, first time to engage in peacebuilding, first time to learn a bit of Bisaya, and first time to go to an indigenous people’s community, among others. The field of peacebuilding opened my eyes to another reality that probably typical city folk like me don’t usually dwell upon: conflict.
The people I met in Mindanao are mostly — if not all — working in conflict-stricken areas. They are peacebuilders engaging with their communities to find peaceful resolutions to various forms of conflicts and disputes from armed conflict down to the homelessness of refugees. For this year, there were around 30+ countries that attended the annual training of MPI. It has been a great privilege that I met all these kinds of people coming from different walks of life.
Some people may wonder how I, a sustainability and social entrepreneurship advocate, ended up in a field that tackles peace and conflict. Another one of the reasons why I joined MPI as a volunteer is to contribute my skills in writing. This is how I was able to obtain the volunteer position as a class documenter. Apart from that, there are just so many things I have not explored yet that I can’t just sit idly by without trying or at least attempting to discover them.
Joining MPI has been one of the greatest, spontaneous decisions I’ve ever made. Volunteering for them went beyond my expectations. All the new lessons and learning experiences were worth it. I will definitely return next year, when given the chance. I also discovered that they are developing new courses — this is something I can look forward to next year.
Learning, indeed, never stops. I take it upon myself to look beyond what I’m used to — to look into fields that are not related to my own field at first sight. In that way, I’m able to gain ideas and insights that could be integrated into my own field. Lo and behold — there are a lot of practices and frameworks in peacebuilding that are applicable to the fields of sustainability and social entrepreneurship. This is what reinforced my belief that every field is truly interconnected. We can never think in silos, because once we do, we lose sight of the bigger picture and narrow down our worldview.
Let the peacebuilders around the world serve as a reminder that we, too, although we are not tackling peace and conflict, can start within ourselves and try our best to achieve inner peace. After all, it starts with the self.
Photos were taken by Fou Arakama and Fred Goddard, MPI Photographers