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KISSA AND DAWAT: Weaving Peace

[Note: My acceptance speech as one of the five Peace Weaver awardees this year. The other awardees are Juanita Cabugatan, an urban poor leader; Alhamdo Cegales (posthumous), Sama Bajaw leader; Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Commander, Western Mindanao Command, Armed Forces of the Philippines; and Dr. Aboulkhair Tarason, ARMM Regional Mufti.]

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 4 Dec) – When I learned that I would be recipient of this award, I kept asking myself – what have I done? What have I done to deserve this? The phrase “Peace Weavers” kept running in my mind. I thought peace is what I want to be; peace is where I want to be; and peace is how I want to be.

Then I tried to dissect the second word – Weavers, weaver, weave. I realized as I kept the words playing in mind, I was ushered into a world that is all so familiar and emblematic of the artistry of many local cultures – the indigenous weaves – the Sama tepo, the Tausug baluy and pis siyabit, the Simunul boras, the Yakan tennum, the Subanen Amakan, and so on. The diversity in unity is in our fabrics and mats has always been there as part of our lives.

I think now, if we can generate the inclusiveness and respect around our weaving, then we will certainly begin to live colorful, complementary lives, not excluding, isolating or even killing each other; but every color bending and twisting to allow other colors to shine and together what we have is a beautiful tapestry of what we call in Chavacano or in Spanish – La Convivencia – cohabitation, living together in peace and with respect.

This traditional art reminds me of my personal diversity too. I come from diverse background – my father is mixed Tausug, Australian, Ashraf and Punjabi and my mother is Chinese, Bangingi and Sama Tawi-Tawi, and these were the beginning of my personhood – woven by various ethnicities and languages, cultures and communities. Isn’t this who we are as Moros, as Zamboangueños and as Filipinos?

In my first NGO immersion, I got confused big time – The HR advocates said human rights is important and I was convinced. The environmentalists said protecting and conserving the environment is important and I was convinced. Resolving conflicts is important and I was convinced. The religious said, inner peace is important and I was convinced … and so goes all the developmental arguments. I seize the opportunity to study peace education when it came. Inside the classroom, we studied and wove all these advocacies together and peace and development got new frame, not exclusive or competing, but mutually reinforcing and complementing each other.

In the beginning of my peace journey, I realized peace is not just what we shout in rallies, undertake in projects, write in modules, hold hands in assemblies and enforce or rectify through our laws. Peace is us – The peace we seek is the peace we expect not from others but from ourselves as well. In this sense, Peace is not anymore the goal to be pursued, but our way of life and living, to deal with everyday by ourselves, at home, in the community or wherever we maybe. From this mindset, I charted a new path that will become my advocacy, my work and my life; and gave up my initial dream of working overseas as a nurse and earning big bucks.

Someone once told me, “Nurse ka pala. Sayang hindi ka nag-abroad, alam mo yung kakilala ko head nurse na, may second citizenship na, may mansion at dalawang sasakyan na, at sa Europe na nagbabakasyon!” (So, you are a nurse, what a waste you did not proceed overseas to work as a nurse and to earn big time. There is a person I know who is now a head nurse, with second citizenship, with mansion and two cars, and often goes to Europe for vacation!) True, I will not enjoy these perks as peace worker. Peace building rubbed and transformed me and made itself personal and profound – these days, I think more about my kids and peace is a world where they are healthy, safe, happy and productive.

And so instead of a hospital abroad, I stayed behind in what is called a fragile environment, an open hospital defined by diseases such as protracted conflicts, poverty, ill-health, poor governance and recently, by the Marawi Siege. In a way, I was contributing in nursing our community back to health!

My first government job was to weave the health needs of school children with the competence of school nurses. When I entered development work, education was fertile ground for peace building and madrasah was not yet a popular topic of engagement. Still we were able to weave government support with madrasah development needs and I learned to date from colleagues from the Department of Education (DepEd) that more than three thousand Muslim learners are studying ALIVE in public schools and integrated madaris.

When I entered the Autonomous Regional Government as a political appointee, we tried to weave reform with public governance. Ghosts were among our major problems. We delisted 125,000 ghost enrolments and 100 ghost employees from the payroll. In a country with scarce resources, we cannot afford to lose to those who are only after self-aggrandizement to the detriment of the general population. However, the biggest challenge is personal – can I sacrifice personal desire with the altruism of common good and public welfare? When I became Assistant Secretary in DepEd-ARMM, I had a talk with my mother, that she cannot expect me to promote her because I will not do it. My mother responded that she nurtured me and expected no less than to be just. Here lies the rise and fall of so-called peace builders, development advocates, change makers, visionaries and reformers.

To this day, we continue to weave strengths to overcome weaknesses, opportunities to overcome threats, while not forgetting the end results and being continuously motivated by our aspiration – when our children are able to seat in the table of dialogue and conviviality, and will not be judged by their socio-economic status, the culture and religion they profess, but by their competence and purity of heart.

Firstly, the honor of this award I offer to my parents – Hadji Abubakar Saada and Hadja Salma Que Dionga – who have sacrificed a lot to provide and protect us in the fragile environment where money is scarce, but love is abundant; where there is chaos, discipline at hand and in times of success, humility and gratitude to the Almighty. They have showed us we need not seek public post to share and serve, we can share and serve in any capacity – a meal, an overnight bed and comforting words. To them I am perpetually grateful. For all of these, as we say in our prayer – “Rabbirhamhumaa kamaa rabbayaanii shaghiiraa” (O Lord, show mercy on them as they have nourished me when I was young).

Secondly, I share this honor with the generations of unsung peace weavers – especially those I have worked with in the past, those I am working with now and those I will be working with in the future. Each one has an impact on each other and in this awarding ceremony tonight, I remember you all and feel humbled to have journeyed with you.

Finally, let me share this honor to the people we are to serve and in whose name, we are here. From the hinterlands of Mindanao to the islands of Sulu Archipelago and across Luzon and the Visayas, I offer this award as a sincere way of returning back the trust that was given to us. I hope they will be fair in judging us when all we are just memories in the pages of history.

After sharing the honor, to the organizer, I say, I take the responsibility that comes with this award. It is a heavy one and I tell you, I have thought of backing out and I have thought about declining the award. But I trust in your wisdom and in the wisdom that this award can serve not only to recognize but to motivate us to work better and sustainably in the cause of peace.

My peace education professor once remarked, “Noor, your kind of passion and commitment will not make you rich.” I have accepted the consequence of this belief and action. I have learned to live on subsistence and simple living to be part of my life. Yes, I will not be rich in material things, but I’m hopeful, positive and forward-looking that the state of peace my children and their generation will inherit will be richness beyond compare – and for me this is the essence of this award. In Sha Allah (God willing!)

Maraming salamat po at nawa’y patuloy tayong lahat at ang ating bayan pagpalain ng Poong Maykapal (Thank you very much and hopefully all of us and our country will be blessed by the Almighty). Barakallahu feekum (May Allah bless all of you)!

Postscript: I am equally honored to have Manay Juanita Cabugatan, Nulhamdo Cegales, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez and ARMM Regional Mufti Dr. Aboulkhair Tarason as my Peace Weaver award batchmates.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

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