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Peaceful Dreams for 2024

Caraga Civil Society Group Imagines Alternative Futures

Christmas and New Year are fast-approaching. Everywhere, it’s the time of the year when beautiful things are imagined for young children and for those young at heart. As their communities prepare for the Christmas season, civil society leaders and representatives from Northeastern Mindanao gathered to imagine beautiful things themselves: alternative futures for their conflict context and beyond.
Folded pieces of paper held together by strings
© forumZFD

Coming together at the end of November, just ahead of the Mindanao Week of Peace, civil society leaders and representatives shared what they want to receive for this year’s Christmas. While a few shared material things, mostly their Christmas wish circled around peaceful holidays for their family, relatives and communities. Reflecting on what they had wished for as children, they reflected on their previous dreams for the future. For some, looking back on their childhood dreams evoked painful memories of the barriers that kept them from achieving their dream careers. Others were thankful that their childhood dream of becoming a member of the police or military had not materialized, so that they had avoided being involved in armed conflict. All were happy that their paths had led them to become peacebuilders in the present day.

The group of peacebuilders is from the Southern Philippine region of Caraga. Despite having rich natural resources, Caraga remains the second poorest region in the country. Compounding all of this is the reality of the ongoing conflict between the New People’s Army and the Philippine Government, which, aside from the physical danger of frequent armed clashes, limits their lives in terms of freedom of movement and access to livelihoods and education.

forumZFD has been accompanying this group of civil society leaders and representatives over the past years to discuss how the current conflict between the state and insurgents are affecting the communities. A Systemic Conflict Analysis in 2023 with these partners affirmed the widely understood view that the root causes of the conflict are poverty, injustice, and systemic failure to change them.

CSO partners affixed their thumb marks using color of their choice to the bare tree on canvas. The completed Tree of Peace symbolizes their collective commitment to dialogue processes.

While previous attempts at peace talks happened primarily on the highest levels and offered limited opportunities for civil society participation, the group of peacebuilders sees an important role for themselves in addressing the conflict. Through their analysis and frequent exchanges with forumZFD and other peacebuilders, the group identified entry points where their community-based intervention can have an impact. Specifically, they have observed that it is often the voices from the communities, from those who are the frontlines of the tensions, that are not shared and considered in daily conversations about the conflict and the overall peace process. The civil society dreams of changing that.

The recent communique that the NDF and the Government of the Philippines are prepared to resume peace talks is a first opportunity for change and naturally welcomed amongst those most impacted by the conflict. For our partner peacebuilders in Caraga, they see a possible role for themselves to channel a diversity of narratives of the conflict experience into the public discourse, narratives that would challenge stereotypes of their communities, particularly indigenous communities.

And so, as the year ends and wishes are made for 2024, this group of civil society actors, hope that the dream of a sustainable peace seems a little closer.

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