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Looking back on my years at forumZFD

Farewell words from Dr. Máiréad Collins

Dr. Máiréad Collins worked as country director for our program in the Philippines for three years. On her last day, she looks back on a time in which she met many inspiring people, pushed forward several peace processes within the country, but also had to learn that “wounds are deep and complicated and won't be fixed with a simple bandaid”.
Team Philippinen
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My journey to forumZFD

Today is my last working day as the Country Director of the Philippines program. I am so glad I applied for forumZFD back in 2020. I was eager for a change in focus (I had worked on Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon for 7 years) and to do more conflict transformation work and I had heard a lot about Mindanao from a dear friend I met when volunteering as a human rights observer in Occupied Palestine. It was a leap of faith, I'd never heard of forumZFD (but another dear friend who worked here for GIZ-CPS insisted they were 'sound') and was moving to the other side of the world in the middle of a global pandemic to a place where I had never been before. Six months cooling time waiting on a visa in a very cold Cologne Autumn and Winter helped the motivation to move, it also meant I got to know a lot of the Head Office team and I'm always grateful for the connections and friendships that bore for me.

Thanks to everyone in my team

I've learned so much in the last three years, about Mindanao and the conflicts here, but also about the incredible depth of history and inspiring levels of resilience and fortitude of the activist peacebuilding community here who keep on pushing for better things in the face of so much. I have been so lucky to work with an amazing team in Davao, Cotabato and Butuan who taught me a great deal and provided so much 'craic' and laughter - Hope, Jo-Ann, Erwin, Em-em, Gideon, Venus, Lena, Rhea, Gabs, Star, Jan, Marilou, Zineb, Sophie, Roj, Zaide, Kyle, Ling, Brosh, Liza, Peggy, and Joseph, as well as Adrian, Zining, Bobet, Maya and Sven - Daghan Salamat!! To Dirgha, thank you for an easy handover and all the best for your future endeavours with the Philippines team. If I could thank the hills of Mindanao as well I would, I cannot describe how I will miss the beauty of the nature here, the fresh air in the hills of Toril, the views down onto the sea!  

It is impossible to reflect back on the three years and not think about the still devastating loss of our friend and colleague Betty in 2023, but it also brings up memories of how the team circled each other and looked after each other and continues to do so, 'Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine'. 

Dr. Máiréad Collins

The NGO world in general is not, I believe, for the fainthearted.

Dr. Máiréad Collins

Easy wins are few and far between and I would say no more so than in work relating to conflict transformation where wounds are deep and complicated and won't be fixed with a simple bandaid. Mindanao is no different than anywhere else in this regard, and yet in the last 12 months we have seen the potential for new peace talks between the CPP-NPA-NDF and the Government of the Philippines, and the Bangsamoro Peace Process has kept going in the face of so many challenges, and beneath his big processes, more importantly, there has been the ongoing grassroots work of community leaders and community members who refuse to give in to violence and corruption as the only option. 

The meaning of a handshake

I come from Ireland, another small island (less tropical) that has seen its own decades (and centuries) of conflict and armed violence and has experienced its own peace process, its own transitional justice attempts, and somehow a peace exists now that did not seem possible when I was growing up (albeit watching it from a comfortable and safe distance in the south of the Republic of Ireland). So, I'll sign off on this poem by a friend of mine (peacebuilder, poet, theologian and fellow Cork person Pádraig Ó Tuama) he wrote it reflecting on the historic occasion of Martin McGuinness (then deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, head of the Sinn Féin party and a former member of the IRA) shaking hands with then Queen Elizabeth of the UK, what might seem like a small symbolic gesture but which spoke volumes in reality in the context of the decades (even centuries) of animosity that came before it. For me, it sums up all of the pain felt by the everyday people in a society hurt by conflict, but also the difficult steps that have to be taken by everyone to move past it. 

Shaking Hands 

27ú lá Meitheamh, 2012

Because what’s the alternative?
Because of courage.
Because of loved ones lost.
Because no more.
Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day.
Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh.
Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader.
Much, much longer.

Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much.
Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied.
Because it is tough.
Because it is tough.
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
Because it has taken so, so long.
Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood.

Because lives have been lost.
Because lives have been taken.

Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man.
Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start.
Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking.
Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.

Because this just might be good.
Because who said that this would be easy?
Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.
Because solidarity means a common hand.
Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.

So join your much discussed hands.
We need this; for one small second.
So touch.
So lead

Pádraig Ó Tuama

So Slán go fóill (goodbye for now)

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