BASILAN: FROM FEAR TO HOPE EXPERIENCE
When the name Basilan is uttered there is always the feeling that Basilan is a dangerous place because it is one place of the Abu Sayyaf who are responsible for many forms of terrorism and kidnapping.
The Silsilah Dialogue Movement is present in Basilan with an active group of respected Christian and Muslim leaders called INTER FAITH COUNCIL OF LEADERS (IFCL). They are involved in the life of the people and are active in many ways to help as a bridge of hope. This news is related as a good story of solidarity.
In June this year a big fire in the area of Kaumpurnah, part of Isabela City in Basilan, has destroyed hundreds of houses and six hundred families lost their homes. Almost all the people there are Tausug Muslims. They received immediate help from the government, but a lot remains to be done, especially to help them overcome the trauma of that terrible experience. Many families have been accommodated temporarily in the Elementary School and other places. The leaders of the victims of the fire also asked the help of IFCL. We, in Silsilah, started to reflect and share with the IFCL Basilan what to do and we agreed to visit the fire victims. The meeting was done in the Elementary School of Kaumpurnah. We listened to their sad stories and planned how we can help. One of the concrete plans was to facilitate in reaching out to the proper agencies of the government to ask more help. Silsilah also offered the possibility to give a special training on trauma healing for the teachers of the school of Kaumpurnah in Harmony Village, Zamboanga City. The atmosphere of tranquillity of Harmony Village helped the forty (40) participants from the Department of Education ( DepEd) of Isabela and the teachers of Kaumpurnah and other schools chosen by the main office of DepEd.
They have been trained in Harmony Village from August 5 to 7 . The experience was a great opportunity to share not only the fear of the fire but also other form of fears in the context of Basilan where people are already accustomed to see military in uniform and hear the sound of the fighting coming from the near forest area where they have “encounters” with the Aby Sayyaf. This kind of life is becoming “normal” for them. In reality it is not normal. We have a good numbers of Muslims and Christians who respect and help each other, but also others have deep prejudices. The teachers started to share how some of the Muslim students tell the teachers that it is possible to kill Christians because this is what their fathers say to them. On their part the Christian students say that they listen often from their parents biases against the Muslims.
These and many other prejudices and biases are indication that the traumas has many forms among the people of Basilan. They go beyond the fire, in the same time they learned to live with these traumas. But what will be the future?
The gathering of the teachers and the DepEd personnel of Isabela was a great opportunity to strengthen the friends among the Muslims and the Christians in the group and they gained some skills to overcome their own traumas and help others. We encouraged them to become “wounded healers”, people who have been wounded, but ready to help others to overcome their own wounds.
The reflection on radicalism and violence in general done during the training helped them to realize that in Basilan there is not only the fear of the Abu Sayyaf and the military, but also the unspoken feeling of looking at each other with fear. The great fear is the ideas that the people, and especially the children, learn in the family wrong perceptions of divisions among Christians and Muslims . The “ideology covered by religious wrong teachings” is the most alarming “fire” that we have to control in Basilan and in many other areas in Mindanao.
The effort to give help to the poor is something that has to continue and to be encouraged but we are alarmed by some help given as a cover up to spread wrong ideology that divide people. This is “more violent” than the violence of the Abu Sayyaf and unfortunately this is happening in Basilan and many other parts of Mindanao. Meanwhile, we in Silsilah, continue to say that we are brothers and sisters and we have to respect and love each other, Christians and Muslims, while other groups are committed to divide us. Why? And where we will go if this attitude will continue on the part of some groups who cover their identity with religious motivation? To these groups we say, “please respect the differences of religions”. We have to accept the reality that we are different in religions, but we can live together as friends.
We are happy that the training on trauma healing for the participants of Basilan was a great opportunity and a sign of hope and we pray that we, Christians and Muslims, are committed to work for the common good and move together with courage, to promote harmony and peace in society.
Fr. Sebastiano D’ Ambra, PIME
Founder – Silsilah Dialogue Movement