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In spite of a tense situation in the Philippines triggered by midterm national and local elections, the 2007 Young Advocates for Peace (YAP) Camp on May 20-30 gathered 71 youth leaders representing indigenous peoples, youth councils, school and out-of-school youth, and children of former combatants from the six political regions of Mindanao, the southern portion of the country. The 11-day camp is a continuing effort of the Kids for Peace Foundation, which also spearheaded last year’s YAP Camp in partnership with the Notre Dame University – Community Extension Services, Mindanao Young Women Leader’s Forum and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).

The initiation of Young Advocates for Peace started with the question “What if we involve the future of Mindanao themselves and prepare them to take on the leadership roles in the future and inspire them with ideas of peace and multiculturalism?”

The graduates of last year’s YAP camp initiated various peace projects, including:

  • peace-lantern making;
  • documenting positive stories on peace and multiculturalism in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao;
  • ‘culture of peace’ workshops using the arts for young community leaders;
  • strategic planning and team building;
  • youth-leadership trainings and team-building workshops for students running for elective posts in their respective schools;
  • message development on how to organize elections in Isabela City entitled “My Voice, My Vote, My Basilan”and
  • voter education with the out-of-school youth in Pansacala, Cotabato.

The young leaders caught the attention of other organizations, which invited the 2006 camp attendees to peace journalism workshops and peace videoconferences supported by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). Their stories also inspired other organizations to start their own youth programs or to strengthen their organizations, such as Makilala Youth Advocates for Development (MYAD). Four months after the 2006 Camp, the young peace advocates won one of three grants of the British Council Philippines for their Hatag Kalinaw Grants Competition.

The new batch of campers was inspired by the stories and experiences of last year’s young leaders, and looks forward to implementing its own peace projects. Campers want to influence more young people to gain confidence as leaders, to believe in themselves, and to believe in what they can do for Mindanao. The young peace advocates called the YAP camp unique, saying it accepted and trusted them and offered a chance to lead with dignity while working for peace in Mindanao.

The 2007 camp yielded results beyond expectations. Probe Media Foundation Inc., an NGO committed to improving the quality of media through the education and training of professional and aspiring media practitioners, requested YAP to submit a proposal to partner with the Kabataan News Network (KNN), specifically to manage the KNN bureau in Cotabato City. Independent filmmakers also committed to video documentation of YAP initiatives, and partnerships may soon develop with international organizations such as Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women-Asia Pacific.

The Camp demonstrated how young people, accepted and affirmed by their peers, can discover the value of peace and interethnic respect while building their strengths and leadership potential. In spite of their different cultural and religious backgrounds, the young leaders vowed to make a difference in their communities.

The YAP, thanks to the efforts of an array or organizations, has become a significant network of leaders advocating peace and multiculturalism in Mindanao. The shared experience of peaceful cooperation at the camp coupled with its training in leadership and project management skills has made it a step on the journey to peace both for these young leaders and for the region.

Published on June 18, 2007