Fostering Peace Through Friendship Amidst Diversity

21 February 2024

“Friendship is so powerful. We can begin building peace by capturing friendship among diversity, varied cultures, and faith,” shared Abel Moya, the director of Pakigdait Inc.

Pakigdait, meaning compassion, is an interfaith grassroots organization dedicated to peacebuilding and conflict transformation. This organization recently launched the Big Book titled Threads of Harmonies: A Tapestry of Peace Woven from Threads of Friendship Overcoming War and Conflict in Mindanao: For the Younger Generation.

Curated by Pakigdait Inc. in collaboration with Mensen met een Missie, and young artists from Iligan City, the Big Book features three inspiring tales of friendship: "Kape Dadang," "Dreamers of Kauswagan," and "Kambal Tuko." Each narrative intricately weaves the threads of friendship amidst diversity and highlights the universal values of peace and social cohesion.

Pakigdait held storytelling sessions about the book for 31 students at Christian Horizon School Inc. and 48 students at Iligan City National High School-Tambacan annex.

Reflecting on the long history of conflict in Mindanao, Moya highlighted the importance of addressing the trauma caused by wars and unrest. He emphasized the resilience of elders who had overcome past conflicts through the power of friendship, which can inspire the younger generation to embrace inclusivity and understanding across diverse cultures and faiths.

“We are doing this storytelling to capture the good story about peace, friendship, and social cohesion. For so many years, Mindanao has been a story of war and conflict.  We are all wounded; we are all, at some point in time, traumatized by war and conflict.  Where do we need to start to end these things? Before the war, there was a story coming from our elders, they could overcome and transcend the war and conflict,” he said. 

Pakigdait Inc. Director Abel Moya emphasizes how friendships foster peace and harmony. (ADD/PIA-10/Lanao del Norte)

Key to sustaining lifelong friendships

The storytelling session showcased the power of friendship, transcending cultural and religious differences.

Dolores Balucan, a Muslim, and Paulita Gerona, a Christian, storytellers from the Kambal Tuko narrative, talked about their 58-year friendship that began in the 1960s. They met when Paulita moved to Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, in Grade 5, and Dolores reached out to befriend her. Conflict in Kauswagan separated them; Paulita went to Iligan City, and Dolores went to Marawi City. Despite attending different colleges and rarely crossing paths, their friendship remained strong. Over the years, with Dolores starting a family and Paulita working in government for 50 years, their bond stayed intact.

They emphasized that their enduring friendship is sustained by love, respect, and trust, which have kept them connected for decades.

“Syempre nalipay. At least nashare namo amoang kabatan-on ug ang mga bata makabalo nga in-ana ang friendship, naa jud forever,” Dolores said.

 [I'm happy. At least we were able to share our youth, and the children will learn that there is forever friendship.]

(From left to right) Paulita Gerona, a Christian, and Dolores Balucan, a Muslim, share about their 58-year friendship that began in the 1960s in the Kambal Tuko narrative. (ADD/PIA-10/Lanao del Norte)

Meanwhile, Amenah Taratingan, a Muslim,  shared her lasting friendship since the 1970s with Biola and Zenaida, who are Christians. Their experiences are told in the Dreamers of Kauswagan story as they daydream at the boardwalk in Kauswagan.

They witnessed the conflict between the Ilagas and Barracudas, two armed groups fueled by prejudice and stereotypes. Despite being separated by the conflict, their love and respect for each other endured.

Amenah emphasized the importance of fostering lasting friendships centered on respect, love, and acceptance of diverse beliefs and cultures. She also encourages the youth to prioritize meaningful connections, as the new generation is influenced by social media.

“Karon, sa bag-ong generation, para sa long-lasting friendship, i-center lang jud sa friendship ang respect and love. I-respect ang faith, belief, ug kultura,” she said. 

 [Nowadays, in the new generation, when it comes to long-lasting friendship, it should be centered on friendship, respect, and love. Respect for faith, belief, and culture is also essential]

Amenah Taratingan, a Muslim, shares her friendship story to the students of Christian Horizon School Inc. In Iligan City. (ADD/PIA-10/Lanao del Norte)

Embracing friendship beyond differences

The students of Christian Horizon School, Inc., embraced the storytelling sessions and learned the value of friendship beyond religious or cultural boundaries.

One of them is Abdul Mohaymen Mamailao, a Muslim from Marawi City. His family transferred to Iligan City when the Marawi siege broke out in 2017. Their relocation was not difficult for him, as he gained friends, including Christians, and maintained a strong bond despite their religious differences. 

“I was actually happy nga naay activity nga in-ani kay nakarelate sa akoa ang storytelling, bahalag lahi nga religion. Akoang nalearn kay, we can work out the friendship without the concept of religion or anything else. Basta imong heart [sincere] para kanang tawo, pwede nimong amigohon,” he said.  

[I was actually happy that there was an activity like this because I could relate to it, even though we have different religions. What I learned is that friendship will prevail. We can foster friendships without the concept of religion or any other differences. What truly matters is that if your heart connects with someone, you can be friends with them, and it will work out]
 Similarly,  Jamera Casanoden, also a Muslim,  was elated to participate in the storytelling activity and emphasized the value of trust in friendships and the need for mutual understanding and communication to maintain strong connections.

The students of Christian Horizon School Inc. together with the Pakigdait Inc. and storytellers of Threads of Harmonies Big Book. (ADD/PIA-10/Lanao del Norte)

Despite some initial reservations about the event being boring, Aj Mae Pliego was elated by the narratives shared by the storytellers. She thought that the storytellers would be those who were their age. To her surprise, the storytellers were elders, which made the session more exciting as she remembered listening to stories from her grandparents. She also appreciated how the stories encouraged them to interact with others regardless of religion or race.

“Very thankful kaayo mi kay karon gamay nalang kaayo ang mag-organize og  in-ani, nga maghatag og ana nga programa.   Happy kaayo ko nga makadungog katong in-ato nga story, makaencoruage sa akoa nga makigbong sa uban,” she said. 

[I am  very thankful because now there are very few who organize such events and provide such programs. I am very happy to listen to those stories that can encourage me to make bonds with others]

These inspiring stories, threaded together, showcase how the love, respect, and trust of individuals, despite their differences, can foster peace and harmony. (LELA/PIA-10/Lanao del Norte) 


This blog was written by: LOU ELLEN ANTONIO and published by the Philippine Information Agency.