“Dialogue of life” with Muslims in Salam Compound, Culiat, Quezon City
  1. Check your heartAsk yourself why you wish to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths. If your intent is not to convert them to your faith but to build mutually respectful and harmonious relationships with them, then your heart is in the right place.
  1. Disarm, and make room within. Be aware of your prejudices, fears and apprehensions about relating with those who do not share your faith.     Disarm   yourself   by   making   an   effort   to understand and accept those prejudices and fears, while also reaching out beyond your comfort zone to overcome them.  Learn about the beliefs and practices of those whom you wish to engage in dialogue with, and find something in them that is good and admirable.
  1. Prepare a common ground. Reflect on hopes, dreams and aspirations that you might have in common with those of other faiths whom you wish to engage in dialogue. Listen to your common humanity.  Underneath your unique identities, personalities, interests, and values, there are basic human needs that you share. Prepare to meet each other there.
  1. Respect diversity, honor differences. Diversity is in the divine scheme of things. It is evident in nature all around us. There are trees that grow tall, shrubs that remain low, birds that fly and snakes that slitter, mountains that are high and low-lying meadows. Diversity is evident among people, too.

They come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, beliefs, etc. Respect and honor those differences. They are what make our lives challenging and meaningful, our relationships enriching, and our world wonderful.

 5. Invite and be gracious. Reach out beyond your comfort zone to people of other faiths and invite them to dialogue. Graciously and humbly share with them your hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better community, a better world. Invite and encourage them to share theirs with you, too.

  1. Create safe spaces and build trust.  Provide a “safe space” where people can feel assured that you accept them for who they are, and not for what you wish them to be. VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
          • Prepare a neutral place to meet where no symbols or articles of your faith might be perceived as imposing or threatening.
          • Sit everyone in a circle, leaving an open space at the middle. The circle enables everyone to see and relate with each other better with no hierarchy of status or rank getting in the way between you and them.
          • Be modestly garbed and respectful that your ways of being and your manner of speaking are sensitive to the culture and ways of your dialogue partners (e.g. their ways of worship and prayer, of relating with women and with each other, their manner of greeting, the food that they eat or do not eat, etc.).
          • If possible, provide separate serving tables for the different dietary preferences (e.g. vegetarian, halal food, etc) during meals.
          • When engaging in dialogue with Muslims, remember to provide them with a place for ablution and a separate area for their prayers.
  1. Listen deeply. Make time to be fully present and hear “the other” speak. Be in the present moment. Harbor no fears from the past or anxieties about the future. Engage in deep listening. Focus your attention away from yourself and fully on “the other” and be sensitive not only to the words that are being said, but also to the silences beneath those words. Humility, patience, and loving kindness are essential to dialogue and may be developed in time when one maintains the practice of deep heart listening.
  1. Speak humbly. Respond without haste from the silence of your mind and the listening of your heart. The heart is a place beyond words where oneness with the “other” can awaken us to love truly without fear, where compassion for our shared human condition can be experienced, and where deep respect and appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation can be beheld in each other with awe and reverence.
  1. Appreciate uniqueness. There is beauty, divinity, and a sense of excitement and adventure in our human existence. Each relationship is unique just as each person in the relationship is unique. Building relationships with people who are different from our selves brings with it the challenge of inner growth and self-transformation. Learning to accept and appreciate our differences is a difficult process of “dying unto ourselves” so that “the other can be”. But to persevere in the endeavor strengthens organs of the soul that enable us to bear the gift of friendship and love for “the other” who may be different from our selves but with whom we share a common origin and destiny in God.
  1. Inspire co-creative action. Interfaith dialogue is about relationship-building. Good and steadfast relationships are built on the foundation of trust. When we trust that we can be ourselves and not be expected to be like the other, when we can accept our differences and be mutually respectful and appreciative of each other’s uniqueness, then our journey together will lead us to places in our hearts where we can be one. We can unite in our efforts to find co-creative ways of bringing about a peaceful, harmonious and better world for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

The “Happiness” Problem

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”


Dr. Sandor Klein

Those words attributed to Albert Einstein were quoted by Dr. Sandor Klein, Vice President of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction (WCCI), in his response to the speech of WCCI President Jessica Carter Kimmel at the 18th World Conference on Education held in Rome, Italy from July 15-20, 2018. The Conference offered enriching opportunities for one to hear inspiring presentations of educators from various fields who shared their studies related to the “Role of Education for Global Citizenship in Promoting Social, Economic and Environmental Justice.”

On my flight back home to Manila from the US three weeks later Einstein’s words kept playing in my head like a song’s refrain. Even while enjoying two weeks of vacation with family, I realized that questions kept coming to the fore in my consciousness about the ironies of the world and my experience of happiness in its midst.  I kept asking myself: WHAT IN THE WORLD IS OUR PROBLEM? And is there ever a solution to it?

The book I was reading (on “Spiritual Paths to an Ethical and Ecological Global Civilization: Reading the Signs of the Times with Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims”) seemed to echo my thoughts. It enumerated many signs of the times—e.g. ecological and financial crises, corruption in government, failure of modern religion to explain life’s real purpose and its complex ramifications to its adherents, inequality, burnout, consumerism, death of bee colonies, plastic contamination, immigration and urbanization, child labor, drug addiction, etc. It also highlighted the urgency of the need for an “interreligious transpartisan method” in which “a more basic and inclusive global spiritual consciousness, one which seeks dialogue among all religions” link dogma and practices to global human experience (Raymaker, Grudzen and Holland, 2013, p. 14).

It made me feel more grateful about the privilege I have just had of being able to contribute to this awakening of “global spiritual consciousness” at the WCCI conference in Rome where I presented my own study (based on two decades of work of The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc.) in Interfaith/ Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). In it I highlighted the importance of integrating IRD into the curriculum as a proactive means of creating a counter cultural force to violent extremism. The positive responses to my presentation from esteemed mentors and colleagues were encouraging. Of note were the affirmations of Dr. Toh Swee-Hin, our keynote speaker, who spoke of the importance of exploring new pedagogies for developing “glocal” citizenship, and Sister Merceditas Ang of Saint Paul University in Tugegarao (northern Philippines) who has done impressive work in opening their university to students of different faiths and cultures so that it is now a veritable hub of education beyond international borders.


With Aisha Isah of Kano, Nigeria

The urgent need for integrating religious values and Interfaith/Interreligious Dialogue in peace education was apparent to me throughout the Conference.  The presentation of Aisha Isah, a young Muslim woman from Nigeria, also highlighted this fact. She spoke of the need in the Kano State for the integration of Islam into the largely Christian curriculum of the Adult Literacy Education Program (ALEP) which is facing numerous challenges due to inadequate education facilities, unqualified facilitators, inadequate funding, and unsuitable curriculum models.”

From Rome I joined my family in the US where I tried to shed off the cares of the world by playing guardian to my grandchildren’s “galaxies” in Florida’s “happiest place on Earth”–Disney World! It was an eventful and exciting two-week vacation for all of us from thereon, and I managed to actually enjoy the break from the all too familiar sense of concern (about the problems that beset our ailing human condition) that usually keep me company.

We survived a bolt of lightning that struck Blessed Days, our family’s rented home in Avon, Northern Carolina where we were to attend a niece’s wedding with other members of the Africa clan. It was also there where we celebrated the 8th and 4th birthdays of my grandchildren. Then we were off to New York where we eagerly immersed ourselves in the carnival atmosphere of summer in Manhattan and enjoyed theater nights on Broadway. It was truly a happy vacation for the eight of us despite our aching feet from the long walks, and the memory of the lightning bolt that struck our Blessed Days home in Avon!


Photo courtesy of John & Maricel Feser

So I was surprised to hear my grandkids let out a loud cheer when their mother announced (after the long drive from the airport in Manila) that we are “home now”! I imagine that, for four-year old Alonzo, this must have felt like returning “back to Earth” where he is reunited with his “yaya” (nanny) and everything dear, comfortable, and familiar to him. We are glad and grateful that our vacation together as a family was safe and happy despite the lightning scare!

Yes, it was a happy time for all of us, and happiness is certainly a measure of a good vacation.  Now we are back to “Earth,” back to the challenges of “real life” as we face it in our every day.  Truth to tell, I feel that I could use more time to prepare to face those challenges again today.  How nice it would be to be able to luxuriate in the happiness of vacation much longer!

Happiness. As I reflect on this I remember my Tibetan Buddhist friend and colleague, Reimon Sonam, who once spoke of peace as “an ecosystem.” I realize that happiness is an ecosystem, too!

The more I reflect on my “happiness experience,” the more I experience myself awakening to the realization that, like peace, it cannot be sustainable if we remain oblivious to the fact that happiness comes with something else for it to be true and lasting. It comes with listening presence and conscious awareness of our selves as being interconnected and one with others.

The great Einstein was right about how we need to understand problems in order to find the right solutions. Perhaps if we spent more time reflecting on humankind’s “problem” rather than going around in circles hitting every symptom with a hammer and wondering why we are not solving any, we could try listening to happiness and understand what it is, and what it is not?


In Disney World (dubbed the “happiest place on Earth”) people seemed happy, never mind the huge amount of US dollars spent on every single move they made—from buying drinking water in plastic bottles to buying a hamburger or a huge leg of roasted turkey meant for one person to consume (the size of which can feed an entire family in the slums of the Philippines), from stroller and wheelchair rentals to buying Disney stamped China-made raincoats and umbrellas.


While I was thrilled to ride my banshee as my avatar in Pandora, and enjoyed the expressions of awe in my grandkids’ faces as they saw real animals in Animal Kingdom, I was troubled by the wanton consumerism and the careless use and disposal of plastic cups, bottles, utensils, and bags everywhere! They all had to be disposed somewhere, but how and where? Plastics were also used in abundance in airplanes and airports in Rome and the places we visited in the US. I wonder how long happiness can be sustained in this “happiest place on earth” if plastic pollution got so huge a problem that we’d find ourselves buried in it!

Happiness was only marred by intermittent rains that prevented kids from a second ride on Aladdin’s magic carpet. This was summer in Florida, and rains were not supposed to come this early. Climate is changing, but does this worry us enough to take heed of it? Perhaps not. This was a vacation and we chose not to worry but to be happy.

It rained in Avon, North Carolina, too, and my sister’s car could not wade through the flooded road that led to Blessed Days, the house our family rented there. The thunder and lightning storm we experienced past midnight a couple of nights later was a wake-up call that scared us, but it was just a hiccup in our vacation that we were grateful to have come away from unscathed.


In Manhattan, New York it drizzled too. But despite the threat of rain, it was largely sunny and, as always, the place had the peculiar effect on me that was invigorating. It is the only place in the world I’ve visited that gives me the feeling of being amid a throng of humanity so diverse that it is a veritable microcosm of the world! I loved the experience of interviewing our Uber drivers in Manhattan–there was WeiWei from China, an Indian from Pakistan named Waheed, a Yemeni, and a Tibetan Buddhist whose colorful hand-embroidered collar got me curious about him and his origins. And I loved the sight of Asians, Indians, Africans, Latin Americans, Europeans, etc. seated together in a row across me in the subway trains, and hearing the different languages spoken around me!


Eight-year old Luna brought chuckles in a deli when she loudly exclaimed, “Asian Food!” She missed rice, I was surprised to hear her say, for she doesn’t seem to enjoy eating it at home. When asked, she replied: “But Gwama, I eat rice there every day!” Going without rice in America for two weeks made the little Filipino girl yearn for it, just like we adults did. In New York, there were different kinds of food for different races and creed, even for vegetarians like me!


Happiness was easy to come by for vacationers like us in the “melting pot” of races that is Manhattan in New York. As I reflect on my experience of it I realize that perhaps  the problem besetting our humankind today is a happiness problem. We have difficulty being happy on a daily basis, and we seem to be able to do so only with some effort to be away on “vacation” from the realities of our daily lives. Perhaps, for happiness to be sustainable, we need to develop conscious capacities for nurturing our “happiness ecosystem.” We need to develop our capacities for–

  • Childlike IMAGINATION, for believing in something out of the mundane and ordinary and making it special and magical. Waheed, our Indian Pakistani Uber driver (who has sought political asylum in the US and lived in Coney Island as an Uber driver for over two years) spoke of how thrilled he was about his “magic box”—the GPS gadget—that he raved about with relatives back home in Pakistan because it enabled him to go around and earn a living while being his own boss in this foreign land. Imagination fuels hope, and hope enlivens our journey through life by giving it some direction. This was the magic of Disney World, too, I suppose! Imagineers have a way of creating the illusion that dreams can come true!
  • AFFIRMATION OF GOODNESS, and appreciating this in ourselves and others. There is godliness everywhere, even when this might not be readily apparent. We just need to open ourselves to it and connect with our fellow human beings to find it. I experienced this goodness when talking with people. The lady guard at The Metropolitan Museum who spent hours standing by the doorwacofy to the hall of classical paintings admired my sandals saying, “They look comfortable.” I replied to her with pride, “Yes, they are,” I said, “they’re made in the Philippines!” She smiled. Similarly, my grandkids took time to listen and dance to the music of an old soldier playing a solo saxophone in Central Park and dropped some coins in his box. He must have been moved by their appreciation that he asked to shake their hands. Waheed, our Uber driver, also gave Luna a lollipop, and when I taught her to say “sukran” to him he smiled and said that I was “kind” and that he will “never forget me.”
  • CONNECTION, and seeing ourselves as part of a bigger whole. This is always a humbling experience. Knowing that we are not here by “accident” but that we are part of an awe-inspiring ongoing story of Divine Creation, of human history constantly unfolding, of our family with all its frailties and imperfections constantly bonding, breaking, and re-bonding. The visit to the Museum of Natural History, The Met, and 9/11 and Korean War Memorials, and the glimpse of Lady Liberty from the ferry to Staten Island gave me this sense of connection to great human beings in the past with their remarkable accomplishments in various fields, and the triumph of the human spirit in the midst of adversity and pain…even four-year old Alonzo enjoyed seeing the skeletons of dinosaurs, and following the story of the universe even when this made him yearn to “go back to Earth!” Earth is home, a place where he experiences security and love with his family. This is where he wants to be. This is where we all want to be too, I guess.
    • RESPONSIBLE ACTION, arising from a deep sense of care and concern for each other’s home, our home—Earth. The signs of this neglect are evident everywhere. Obesity is a sign of disrespect for oneself, plastic pollution and other forms of pollution is a sign of disrespect for our shared home. Violence, the invention of 3-D gun templates in America that allows people to make their own guns to kill others, racism, and other forms of intolerance and human rights abuse is cofdisrespect for life. Happiness cannot thrive in these dire conditions. We need to awaken in conscious awareness and bring to the fore the highest teachings and ideals of our respective religions and faith traditions to engage in responsible co-creative actions to save ourselves, and our “common home.”

So I think that perhaps the problem of our humankind is a “happiness problem.” We all want to be happy, but we do not know what happiness truly means. We mistake happiness for the momentary feelings we get when on “vacation mode” from our real everyday lives, or when we attain some measure of success in our quest for power, wealth, and fame even at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

But happiness is an ecosystem. If we do not awaken from our indifference and begin to nurture it in ourselves and with one another, the rains will eventually stop the joyrides even in “the happiest places on Earth,” the floods will ruin weddings and other happy family occasions, lightning will strike and kill in many unexpected places, fire will consume forests and communities, war memorials will disappear with the ashes of what once were safe places of human habitation, plastic bottles will choke the oceans, and drug use and abuse will numb our senses until happiness becomes an illusion in a place we call “Earth” where we can no longer find ourselves returning back home to.

If we had one hour to solve humankind’s problem, perhaps we need to make time to understand what happiness truly is and what makes us happy. Maybe then we can begin to finally find some solutions to the problem of our ailing human condition…


What is in the heart of Jihad?

Jihad. As a Christian I used to fear this word for I had grown to associate this with violence and war. But in my striving to understand Muslims and Islam, I found that this word simply means “struggle,” and this struggle may be internal as well as external efforts among the followers of Islam to be good Muslims. I myself have come to appreciate the concept of “jihad al-nafs,” or the struggle with the enemy within oneself, and I see the constant practice of overcoming and befriending our inner demons as the greatest battle that we, human beings, are to fight in our daily lives.

But today, there are those who pervert the real meaning of jihad. They are referred to as Jihadi, or jihadist. They are extremists who claim to be Muslims but are indoctrinated to fight for the creation of an Islamic state and wage war against all who, in their eyes, have corrupted the ideals of Islamic governance. Outbreaks of violent extremism and acts of terrorism are expressions of this contemporary phenomenon that plague our humankind today. They continue to sow terror in the name of Allah despite the fact that Muslim religious leaders and scholars condemn violent jihad as “not sanctioned by Islam.”

As a Catholic Christian struggling to promote peace among religions and build mutually respectful and collaborative relationships with Muslims, I wonder what is in the heart of jihadists. What is it that attracts them to extremist views, and to engage in dehumanizing acts of violence?

I came across this Bafta-nominated film JIHAD by Deeyah Khan, a Norwegian film director and human rights defender of Punjabi descent. She is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film director and founder of Fuuse, a media and arts company that tells moving stories of women and children from minority communities and cultures of Muslim heritage.

This is worth viewing.

Bomb Threat

A bomb threat received by the administration of the Ateneo de Manila University yesterday morning caused the evacuation of all students, suspension of classes in all levels and the locking down of the entire campus. Two things came to mind as I circled my way out of the deserted campus: How worried the parents (especially of the grade school students) must be when they heard the news of their children’s early dismissal; and what my students must be thinking about Muslims now…”

I am teaching an elective course on Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Cooperation for Nation-Building to college students under the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of the Ateneo de Manila University. I have one Muslim student in class, but the rest are Catholics. Finding creative ways of educating these young leaders–on the issues involved in the Mindanao conflict–and developing in them capacities for critical thinking as well as healthy attitudes of respect for Muslims out of their familiarity with Islamic teachings, is a challenge I continue to strive to respond to and find meaning in.

One day I encouraged the girls in my class to wear a hijab (veil), and the boys to wear a taqiyah (skullcap) to school the whole day as a way of promoting awareness of and interest among members of the university community in attending a forum on Locating Women’s Rights in Islam using the Sharia Framework that our class organized. I received various responses from students. Some of them had the courage to wear the Muslim garb only at the forum, while a few others did so for only some limited stretch of time during the day albeit with a sense of apprehension.

This reflection of Anna Raina, one of my Catholic students who dared wear the hijab to school the whole day makes what I do worth carrying on despite the overwhelming tide of anti-Islamic sentiments that threatens to drown tiny voices like mine crying to keep the hope for peace alive in our wounded midst.

Casu (2)

              Casu’s story


Interfaith Action with Vision and Conviction

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100    I have long harbored the desire and intention to share my experiences in the field of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding in some form of writing. I have been engaged in the endeavor for 16 years (since 1998). The challenges I have faced and the difficulties I have hurdled along the way have been richly laden with soul-nourishing moments that developed in me soul organs–organs through which I have learned (albeit with great difficulty!) to perceive and respond to the world around me with some clarity of vision, depth of conviction, and integrity of co-creative actions.

     There was no manual for interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding to guide me when I first started. I have had to play every moment by ear one movement at a time every step of the way. I did so with only the vision in my mind, the passion in my heart, and the music in my soul to guide me as I danced with the rhythm and flow of destiny’s unfolding in my life.

     A person I greatly admire in the field of peacebuilding once described the endeavor as a “marathon,” and spoke of us, peacebuilders, as “marathon runners.” Although I can understand this from the perspective of one who has been “running” for sixteen years in this so-called “marathon,” I do not wholeheartedly subscribe to this rather space-and-time bound description of the experience. It seems to me to focus rather much on the “running” experience as an effort that is functional, goal oriented, and temporal.  VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

    For me, the endeavor of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding includes and transcends the boundaries of space and time. Here, every choice we make and every action that we take along the way arises from and is moved by the spirit within and around us–the spirit that enables us to see and appreciate wholeness and unity in the midst of fragmentation and diversity; to see peace as the true nature and being of humans, and as the matrix of creation giving order and meaning to chaos; and to awaken to the subtle arising and unfolding of truths in every present moment even when our intellectual minds are unable to detect or grasp them. In this light I see that hope inheres in every present moment. And the energies that arise from hope are those which embrace even our fears and human frailties so that we find ourselves in the eternal now of the moment, the now which is the wholeness of Divine Love that unites all in oneness.

     So I carry on with spirit strong even when the bodyInternational Women's Day celebration March 9 2012 210 is weak and maturing. In this light, time and space fall meaningless in my experience. There is always something transcendent and indescribably awe-inspiring about truth’s unfolding and revealing its essence in each present moment of my hopeful striving. Yes, the experience may be intellectually demanding and physically tiring. But there is something ennobling about this that is also spiritually uplifting and emotionally rewarding. I experience this in ways that give life clearer direction and deeper meaning.

Embracing Courage with Hope

Pembains embrace

Pembain’s embrace

    May I embrace you, Ma’am?  Pembain Suga Olimpain, a feisty 48-year old Muslim mother of ten children (all of them girls!) respectfully asked me this on the second day of our time together. She was one of the twenty-two participants of the 3-day workshop on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation that I was privileged to conduct in North Cotabato,Mindanao from February 25-28. She was also one of those whose amazing story struck a chord in me.

    Pembain is from a barangay (community) in Aleosan, North Cotabato that is affected by sporadic outbreaks of armed conflict. She bore sixteen children in her lifetime, but only managed to save ten of them from the pangs of poverty and want. The hardships she has been experiencing have been exacerbated by the recurring cycles of conflict and violence in their area. For Pembain, surviving them meant that she had to teach in the nearby madrasah to be able to earn a living and bring food to their table. Helping her husband plow the fields and till the farmlands brings little financial security to the family in times of war, she said. There is very little money to be had there that would compensate for the heavy toll this took on her body. So she prefers teaching children to become better Muslims, she said, and she finds deep fulfillment in it.

Lourdes saying NO to violence

Lourdes saying NO to violence

Lourdes' hope

Lourdes’ hope

    Pembain’s story is one of the many stories that remain vivid in my memory. There is Sive’s story as well, and Lourdes’ and many others. They are awe-inspiring stories of courage and hope that stand out against the stark backdrop of violence and war.

Hope & pain

A vision of peace vis-a-vis the reality of violence

SHEG group photo

Leaders of the Self Help Group (SHEG) & Cluster Level Associations (CLA) with community leaders and Balay Rehabilitation staff

     It was a thrill for me to be able to return to North Cotabato just three weeks after having been there to conduct our Fetzer Institute funded workshop on Interfaith Dialogue for Muslim-Christian Understanding. I was invited this time by Mon Plasabas of Balay Rehabilitation (based in the municpality of Midsayap) to give a workshop on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation to women leaders of Cluster Level Associations and Self Help Groups (SHEG) representing five barangays (communities) of Aleosan, a municipality in North Cotabato affected by armed conflict.  Three men (local barangay leaders) took the courage to join the women and likewise engage themselves in the workshop experience. It was heartwarming to see them there!

Mon Plasabas, in-charge of Balay Rehabilitation in North Cotabato

Mon Plasabas, in-charge of Balay Rehabilitation in North Cotabato

With Balay staff-- Nash, Bai, and Gigi

With Balay staff– Nash, Bai, and Gigi

     I was glad for another opportunity to see how the peacebuilding training modules that I had developed–using John Paul Lederach’s teachings on MORAL IMAGINATION (MI) and its four disciplines–would work in helping Balay Rehabilitation, our Mindanao-based partner organization, realize its objectives in providing its grassroots community leaders with training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

    I was told upon my arrival there that violence had erupted anew in two neighboring communities in Aleosan, and residents feared that this might escalate to such an extent that their lives would be adversely affected and endangered again. But despite the apprehensions our workshop pushed through at a venue about 1 and 1/2 hours away from the area of conflict.

Rey (Balay Field Coordinator for SHEG) & Lisa Ugay (Balay Rehabilitation, Manila)

Rey (Balay Field Coordinator for SHEG) & Lisa Ugay (Co-facilitator, Balay Rehabilitation, Manila)

Peace greetings

Coming to a Common Ground: Participants from five barangays meet and introduce themselves to each other

    Conducting the workshop was a huge challenge to me for various reasons. One of which was the fact that the participants were tri-people– composed of Maguindanaon Muslims, Ilonggo Christians, and indigenous Manobos– who all spoke their own dialects! So I had to switch from speaking Tagalog, the language that most Filipinos understand, to Bisaya, the language that is widely spoken in Mindanao (but is not generally accepted by Muslims because it is identified with the Christian settlers). Although I was born and raised in Mindanao, I now live in Metro Manila where Tagalog is the language used, and not Bisaya. So I was pleasantly surprised that, after some awkward attempts at first, I was able to switch from Bisaya to Tagalog with ease, and could understand a bit of Ilonggo (because my parents were from Iloilo).

    Those three days of training in Mindanao made me realize why I love the work that I am doing. This calls for designing and developing workshop programs on dialogue and peacebuilding, conducting them and engaging myself in the exciting process of training people in the grassroots! It is always awe-inspiring to bear witness to the “miracle” of transformation happening in our midst as the days unfold!

    While conceptualizing and drafting the workshop design, it is all I can do to hope that the modules and activities that I decide to include in it would work for the participants and serve them well. But as I go through the process of actually facilitating the workshop, I experience anew the humbling realization that what we are engaged in together is not happening because of my work alone. There is something bigger than myself that is always moving and weaving its Spirit within me and among everyone who participates in the experience! Thus, my workshops are deeply listening processes that are fluid and open to revisions and re-directions as we go with the flow of the spirit moving in our midst.

    It amazes me no end to see how these workshops become catalysts for self-awareness and transformation among us. It moves us in ways that are spirit-filled and “larger than ourselves” than I always imagine! It is like throwing a tiny pebble into a pond and seeing the ripples grow wider and wider or putting yeast in a dough and seeing it rise!

Beginning journey- Kumustahan

Beginning the journey- Kumustahan

     The participants came in the first day looking tired and weary, but they later seemed to come alive and become energized in the course of the workshop–with their eyes growing lively and attentive, bodies fully engaged in the creative work of the modules, and minds processing the experience with questions and reflections. As workshop facilitator and trainer, holding a workshop group together fully and completely in mind, body and spirit for three days is not easy. But seeing the transformation happening is always worth all the sacrifice!

    I was with them and, happily, they were with me too. We were one in the journey of heart and mind! And it was fulfilling beyond words to realize that the energy, positive thought forms, and heartfelt intentions that I invested of myself in the endeavor set into motion more energies, positive thought forms, and heartfelt intentions that inspired all participants together to commit themselves (individually and collectively) to engage in co-creative action in order to realize their shared visions of peace in their respective communities!

    Here are glimpses of how the days unfolded:

Sharing photo journey

What attracted me to this photo, and why

    DAY 1. We began the journey with INNER WORK FOR SELF-AWARENESS & TRANSFORMATION. This called for exercises that “unlocked the door to our inner landscape.” The journey inwards began with breathing exercises. Then, while engaged in mindful breathing, the participants slowly walked around in a big circle–the sacred space and common ground they had earlier created–and then around a table where black-and-white photographs were displayed. After another walk around the table, the participants picked a photograph that attracted them the most, took this to a quiet corner of the hall for silent reflection, then later gathered in small circles to share with others their reflection on what it was that attracted them to the photo and why.

Sharing a glimpse of my inner landscape

Sive’s hands expressing anger and pain

Hope & fear

Hope for peace vis-a-vis the reality of violence (Sive’s memory of seeing someone shot in the head)

Reflection circle

Inner Work Circle

    This led to reflections on conflict in their lives, and to exercises that enabled them to see conflict as “neither bad nor good” but as a turning point in human relationships that heralded opportunities for growth. A moment of guided reflection encouraged them to express their experience of conflict in their lives, to image their “enemy” in their minds, and to express negative thoughts and feelings with their hands through clay work.

Hamsiya's fence

Hamsiya’s fence of fear

Tug of war

Tug of war

    This exercise was followed by presentations on what conflict is, and John Paul Lederach’s six relational shifts that happen when conflict is not perceived as an opportunity for growth in relationships and addressed accordingly.

Listening Stone

Listening Stone, anchoring oneself in stillness

Sive's stone

What my stone said to me about me


Listening Stones on clarity of Yang & the passion of Yin

    The participants were given a glimpse of how thought forms affect human relationships. Then the Listening Stone exercise enabled the participants to anchor themselves deeply in stillness and listen to silence speak within themselves. Listening Stones were painted with vivid colors to visually express the beauty of the participants’ inner landscape.

Bailan's stone

Bailan’s Listening Stone


Creative reflection on the experience of war

Burning negativities

Burning negative thoughts and feelings that get in the way of conflict transformation

   The day ended with a ritual of burning negative thoughts and feelings.

Pembain’s resolve

DAY 2.
The journey continued with exercises that engaged the participants in the experience of awakening their capacities for Moral Imagination (MI). After the presentation on what Moral Imagination is as defined by John Paul Lederach (in his book Moral Imagination: Art and Soul of Building Peace), its four disciplines were explained in detail, followed by a guided visioning exercise on what peace looked like in their community in the year 2020.

Sharing visions of peace in community

    The participants were divided into four groups (according to barangays or community). Each participant in the group shared his/her vision of what their community would be like in 2020. From the vision sharing of individuals in the group, a big picture of the community was created by everyone as they participated in drawing and coloring their shared vision of what their community would look like six years from now.

Drama presentation of the practice of Moral Imagination discipline #1: Centrality of Relationships

Drama presentation on the practice of Moral Imagination discipline #1: Centrality of Relationships

Barangay Dungu-an & Dualing dramatizing Moral Imagination discipline on risk-taking

Barangay Dungu-an & Dualing dramatizing Moral Imagination discipline on risk-taking

  Then each barangay group discussed the current situation of conflict that they were experiencing in their community and, using the MI discipline assigned to their group, presented in drama form the steps that they would take to realize their shared vision of their community in 2020.

    One of the most powerful sharing was on the MI discipline of risk-taking. The feisty Pembain said that, for the sake of her ten surviving children–all girls in their teens and early thirties–she wanted to see the end of violence in her community. She said that she would take the risk of reaching out to the women in the “enemy camp” to encourage them to join her in the peacebuilding endeavor. She went on to detail her risky “covert operation” which to her would lead to all participating Muslim women wearing the same colored tondong (veil) and the Christian women wearing the same colored scarf around their necks as a statement of their stand for peace. This was received with applause by everyone around the circle. I could not help but wish that John Paul Lederach was there to witness this. In the silence of my heart I felt deep gratitude for this gift of awareness of the power of Moral Imagination and its four disciplines that I had received from him!

Being blindfolded and not knowing where to go

         The importance of anchor points (or people of influence) was brought to the fore in the process, and the steps that needed to be taken in DIALOGUE for conflict transformation and peacebuilding were identified by the participants themselves. The day ended with exercises in SEEING DIFFERENCES in Position and Disposition, and this gave rise to many rich insights and realizations concerning dialogue and relationship-building from the participants.



    DAY 3. The last day focused on Awareness of the Self in Relation to the “other.” It highlighted the value of DIALOGUE in relationship-building and conflict-transformation. Deep Dialogue was defined and practiced in small dialogue circles with the aid of the Listening Stone, and the participants were encouraged to listen deeply to the NEED of the “other” that lie underneath the POSITION, INTEREST, and VALUES of the person. Words of comfort and assurance (arising from their listening stillness) were given by each person to the other in their small circle.


Barangay Dualing-Symbol of Peace


Barangay Malapang- Symbol of Peace


Barangay Bagolibas- Symbol of Peace

Affirming community friendship and support

To prepare the participants to face the challenges of peacebuilding in their conflict-affected communities, an orientation seminar on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamroro (FAB) was given. This gave rise to many questions and expressions of apprehensions concerning the impact of the FAB on their lives. Lisa Ugay, who did the presentation, responded to them with reminders on how they could be the change that they wished to see in their respective communities, and make  something good out of this opportunity for transformative change to be possible in their midst.

Dungu-an women presenting their Symbol of Peace

Barangay New Leon-Symbol of Peace

Web of Commitment to Peace

   The closing ritual saw the participants transform the negative thoughts and feelings that shaped their clay artwork (during the first day) to one beautiful Symbol of Peace in their community that they all participated in shaping together. This they presented at the sacred space at the center of the common ground that they had earlier created, and a WEB OF PEACE was woven out of their individual pledge of commitment to hold in their hearts and minds the individual responsibility for ongoing collective conflict transformation and peacebuilding in their community.

Symbol of Peace- Dungu-an

Symbol of Peace- Dungu-an

Happy Ending

Happy Ending

    On my flight back to Manila, the sense of awe, joy, and gratitude for all that I have experienced in Mindanao kept my spirits high. It stayed with me long after we landed on solid ground. Bearing witness to the ways that poverty stricken and conflict-ridden people in the grassroots can become aware of and awaken to the power within themselves–for being the change that they wish to see in their world, and for being part of a co-creative peoples’ movement for social transformation—is a larger-than-life human experience that never ceases to amaze me!