Kids express their dreams in Basilan peace event PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 26 September 2014 12:54

TIPO-TIPO, BASILAN – Ten-year-old Kahdija Arsim gleefully made her final jump as she outwitted the other 10 contestants and bagged the first prize in a kiddie party game that was designed not only to generate fun and laughter but to challenge one’s memory and physical movement.

Arsim, a shy but competitive girl, shouted in excitement when she received a plastic water container as a token for her victory.

Interviewed later, Arsim, who was wearing the traditional Muslim hijab, proudly said that it is not the prize that matters to her but the joy that the games brought to the children in this town, which for years had been besieged by armed hostilities.

“We were so happy. I told myself that life is beautiful if the people are happy,” the grade-schooler said in Filipino.

Little Arsim was referring to the Kids for Peace event that was jointly organized by the local government unit of Tipo-Tipo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in the town plaza on Saturday (September 10).

Hundreds of children were here for the celebration of National Peace Consciousness Month in a fun-filled day-long event featuring kiddie party games, storytelling sessions, and visual art lessons. Magicians and clowns who astounded the kids with their tricks and skits were also present.

Kids for Peace was conceptualized for children in conflict-affected areas so they can learn how to respect cultural differences and value the environment. The kids were also given a chance to learn creative and nonviolent ways of resolving conflict, the organizers said.  It was a way of imparting to them the culture of peace.

Lieutenant Colonel Paolo Perez, the commander of the Philippine Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion, which maintains a camp here, explained that it is always children who are most affected when armed conflict erupts. If left unhealed, he warned that the trauma could have devastating effects on the children’s social growth.

Perez, a native of Basilan, said since he took over the helm as the commander of the military unit in this town two years ago, he has been actively been engaging with the communities to help them rise from the effects of war. He has also been organizing events to help children recovering from the effects of armed conflicts.

“Giving adequate attention to the children’s needs such as ensuring that they are receiving proper education and providing them a safe and secure environment are ways to address the root of the conflict in a long term,” Perez said.

Town Mayor Ingatun Lukman Istarul expressed the same vision of Perez, saying that their ultimate goal is to establish the foundations that are critical to the development of the children.

“We want to create an environment where these children can freely grow,” he said.

The weekend’s joyous event is uncommon given that residents tend to live with the constant possibility of eruption of armed hostilities.

This third class municipality and its neighboring towns, such as Ungkaya Pukan and Al Barka, are known to be the strongholds of the Abu-Sayyaf – a group that had gained international notoriety for launching a series of deadly bomb attacks in the country and kidnapped numerous foreigners and locals since 2000.

These towns are also the scenes of some of the deadliest encounters between state troopers and the bandits in recent years. These are the very places where soldiers were beheaded and mutilated during firefights in 2007 and 2011, respectively. The incidents sparked national public outcries for the government to exert all its military might to wipe out the armed group.

Although some of its founding leaders have been neutralized and its size has dwindled, the Abu-Sayyaf still pose a danger to communities here. Only last month, residents here were terrified after a roadside bomb exploded several kilometers from the town’s main school. There were no casualties, but the explosion wounded several soldiers.

With these encounters in mind, Arsim, who has been displaced a number of times due armed conflicts, said she remained hopeful that eventually their town will be free from banditry and progress will soon follow. “I don’t want war,” she said.

Arsim, along with her sister, is under the care of their aging grandmother. Her mother has been working as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia for years, while his father has just recently left them to work in Malaysia.

Arsim said she is determined to finish her studies to achieve her dream to become a lawyer so she could help others.

Fifth grade student Al-Rhazi Alpha also shared the same aspirations as those of Arsim, saying there is no other way but to continue living despite challenges. Alpha dreams of becoming a teacher someday.

The 12-year-old boy, who rejected life in the evacuation sites as hell during armed conflict, said the Kids for Peace project made him feel like a real child again.

“Masaya ako kasi maraming games. First time kong makakita ng clowns, magicians, and mascots. Sa TV ko lang sila nakikita,” he said.

Al-Ahmandi Iklama, also a fifth-grade student, expressed his visions of a progressive Tipo-Tipo through drawings. Using bold strokes, the child drew tall buildings, paved roads, bountiful farmlands, schools, and happy people.

“This is exactly what I want to happen to Tipo-Tipo. My dream is to become an engineer and make this happen,” the 11-year-old boy said as he held his masterpiece close to his chest.

The Kids for Peace event here is just one of the activities that OPAPP, through its Bangsamoro office is initiating for September, in celebration of the National Peace Consciousness Month.

Another sports tournament, Football for Peace for aspiring young players, is also happening in the southernmost island province of Tawi-Tawi. Matches are also slated to be played in Zamboanga City, where young players from Basilan, Sulu and the host city will play in a series of friendly games on September 27 and 28. The events were organized in partnership with the AFP.