Schools of Peace: Antidote to culture of war, violence

school children
School children in the ‘School of Peace’ in Manila de Bugabos, Agusan del Norte are taught about peace. (Photo: MP Duran/ UNDP Philippines)

MANILA DE BUGABOS, Agusan del Norte – Joy Carol C. Ardecer teaches peace to Grade 1 pupils.

This morning, the lesson plan in mathematics was about time. "Peace is not just the absence of violence," she explains. "Punctuality, for instance, is an important component of peace."

After the lesson, the children sing: "God answers prayers in the morning… at noon… in the evening. So let’s pray…"

"When do we have peace?" Ardecer asks. "When we pray," the pupils reply.

Highlights

  • Until the early 1980s, Manila de Bugabos was often a battleground between government soldiers and communist guerrillas.
  • The town declared itself a Peace and Development Community promoted in 20 of 24 Mindanao provinces by the Action for Conflict Transformation (ACT) for Peace Program supported by Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the European Union and UNDP.
  • To strengthen peace-building in communities affected by hostilities or vulnerable to conflicts, ACT hopes to dismantle a culture of war by integrating peace principles, concepts and values in 53 Schools of Peace it has created in Mindanao, including that in Manila de Bugabos.

"The song inspires inner peace," she says. "It’s all part of the School of Peace curriculum."

Until the early 1980s, Manila de Bugabos was often a battleground between government soldiers and communist guerrillas. An hour’s drive from Butuan City, it is accessible only by a footbridge when the river is swollen by heavy rains.

Last year, it declared itself a Peace and Development Community promoted in 20 of 24 Mindanao provinces by the Action for Conflict Transformation (ACT) for Peace Program. Until ACT constructed a potable water system, residents used to trek four kilometers to get drinking water. ACT has also put in place a Botika ng Barangay and a Barangay Development Plan.

A government enterprise supported by Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the European Union and the United Nations Development Program, ACT helped develop peace-based lessons plans up to college.

To strengthen peace-building in communities affected by hostilities or vulnerable to conflicts, ACT hopes to dismantle a culture of war by integrating peace principles, concepts and values in 53 Schools of Peace it has created in Mindanao, including that in Manila de Bugabos.

The lesson plans were developed at the J. Marquez School where thousands of separatist rebels were billeted after signing a peace agreement with the government in 1997. It was then that the school was declared the flagship school of peace.

The elementary lesson plan used by Ardecer took three years to develop. It was written by 36 teachers, reviewed by 18 of their peers and 12 consultants and a 10-member technical working group from North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Science, mathematics and Filipino and English communication arts integrate peace and Islamic values in the belief that children exposed to an environment of peace stand a better chance than those marred by violence and abuses.

Peace often assumed in the absence of war does not paint an accurate picture, the lesson plans note in a guide for teachers: "Silence, after all, might not only mean calm or order. It can also be characterized by fear, which is prevalent in communities living under threat of armed confrontation between rebel groups or other lawless elements and the army."

"Peace as marked by the decline in armed violence does not bring into focus the casualties of poverty, cultural discrimination or marginalization, political repression and environmental destruction which are not as deafening as wars but have graver impact."

"Illiteracy is one reason why there is conflict," says Dr. Melinda S. Maruhom, the Schools Division Superintendent in Cotabato City who helped develop the lesson plans. "Ignorance breeds discontent and disparity of views."

The key, she says, "is to learn about others and understand them. It is the vital force that will open people’s eyes to work together to gain lasting peace."

"The lesson plans at the J. Marquez School of Peace, where 90 percent of teachers are Christians and 90 percent of students are Muslims, is now being used by 53 ACT Schools of Peace and all eight Mindanao State University campuses," says Leah Bugtay of ACT.

Early this year, three teachers trained by ACT went to Albay to familiarize 10 colleagues there about the School of Peace curriculum. It might be the seed of a nationwide replication.

Today, on one wall of Ardecer’s Grade 1 classroom, a sign reminds all: "Let there be peace on Earth… and let it begin with me."