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Launch of Philippine-Australian peace project

Joy Balazo, awarded the World Methodist Peace Prize in 2012, returned to Mindanao for good after 20-odd years working as a peace builder in the Asia Pacific region. She worked in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, North East India, Burma, Philippines, Papua New Guinea (the Highlands and Bougainville) and the Solomon Islands in a bid to end conflict through grassroots negotiation and mutual understanding.

As Senior Executive of the Uniting Church National Assembly for 20 years, she worked on issues of human rights, justice and peace in the Asia Pacific region. In 2001, she launched the Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) program in Canberra with representatives from opposing groups of six countries. She took YAP to many countries, thereby engaging thousands in the peace process and employing local staff in eight centres across Asia Pacific.

Since returning home, she established the Peace Community Ambassadors Inc. (PCAinc), an organisation that focuses on the Tuburan sa Kalinaw or Wellsprings of Peace project. After completing a Transformation Peace Building workshop that Joy ran in 2010, Indigenous Subanen people told Joy that they want to help themselves rebuild their future. The Subanen lost their ancestral land in Zamboanga since the colonial times and had no land they could cultivate and no place they could call home.

With help from Australian donors, Joy embarked on a peace project with the Subanen. Ten out of 20 houses planned for the community had been completed. One donation came from the Filipino Community Council of the ACT Inc. in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy in Canberra last Christmas. Staff at the Philippine Consulate voted at a meeting in May 2014 to collectively donate a “house”. Other Australian individuals and groups have pitched in over the last two years.

The Subanen have planted and harvested corn, capsicum, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and are now self-sufficient in food. They trade the surplus from their harvest from a trading store (sari-sari store) that is now operational. The Subanen look forward to harvest time not only because of the money they earn but also because of the joy of gathering the fruits of their labour. On harvest day, they have lunch together, strengthening bonding, and developing trust and cooperation as a community.

Inspired by the community-building process, Governor Antonio Cerilles and Congresswoman Auring Enerio Cerilles agreed to send soldiers, police officers, teachers, public servants, Muslims, Christians and Indigenous people covering twenty-six municipalities in Zamboanga del Sur to do intensive five-day Transformation Peace Training Workshops.

The Balay Kalinaw (the Peace House) built for the project now stands to hold the workshops. It has two levels: four big rooms on the ground floor that can accommodate 100 participants; and training session hall, dining, kitchen and offices on the first floor. The attic includes accommodation facilities for the facilitators.

Six workshops a year are planned at $48,375.50 each year and involving 60-70 mixed group participants. Ten more houses need to be built at $2,400 per house. These workshops and the housing construction need funding.

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